A deeply tanned man swigged from a plastic Coke bottle and admired the latest Ocean Beach Christmas tree, freshly planted at 11 a.m. Tuesday.
“It’s a pretty one this year,” he said from behind yellow caution tape. “Looks pretty damn good.”
Not every Obecian was satisfied.
“We’ve already got complaints that it’s straight,” said Mark Winkie with a laugh, overseeing the annual sand installation at the foot of Newport Avenue.
Not to say the 2020 version wasn’t odd. Much of one side was naked of branches.
Like the Worden Street donation of 2016, the new tree — originally 65 feet tall — was a 30-foot remnant of a split trunk.
It had been considered for a few years, said OB Town Council events chair Grace Quigley.
“But we didn’t have that many options this year, so we were like: All right. Make it work somehow,” she said.
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So around 7 a.m., in a project budgeted at $5,000, crews cut down a towering star pine in the 4400 block of Del Mar Avenue and loaded it onto a flatbed truck for a 1.3-mile slowspeed trek to the beach near the OB Pier.
Arriving fashionably late around 10:20 a.m., the tree went up feet from where at least eight homeless people had been camped overnight. At least three San Diego police officers cajoled the crew to move on.
“Every morning when we wake up, I get rolled up by them,” said Belinda Giddens. “They’re like: Keep it moving, lady. Where am I supposed to move to?”
Across the street, it turned out. The 58-year-old Orange Glen High School alumna and widow, who said she’s on disability, watched the tree setup for a while and then left.
The tree was deftly lifted off the truck by Ryan Palmer of Bob’s Crane Service and maneuvered to a hole in the sand covered the rest of the year by a manhole-style cover.
At 11 a.m., volunteers Larry Thayer (20 years helping plant the tree) and Ken Moss (7 years) made sure the “nude” side faced the beach. They shoved wooden shims into the tight space around the base — ensuring stability. No tilt this year.
By early afternoon, Moss, cherry picker operator Danny Machado and others had affixed a star to the top and the electric peace symbol on a branch (after several strategic moves for visibility).
“We lit it right away!” Quigley said. “Typically we save lighting the tree until the night of the parade, and the lighting of the tree kicks off the parade at 5:05 p.m. However, we decided to give everyone a few extra nights of a lighted tree and kept the lights on [Tuesday night].”
About 75 small inflatable ornaments were added Wednesday along with about 40 wooden ornaments that OB residents bought for $5 each and decorated or painted.
Among the favorites of OB Town Council’s Corey Bruins and Stacie Woehrle were ones depicting a VW bug logo and another with a bikini motif. One captured the mood of the times: A Grinch’s hand dangling a face mask with the legend “2020 stink stank stunk.”
Ocean Beach Elementary School’s 400-plus students will add their own wooden ornaments.
“Kids from OBE have been invited down to the tree [Thursday] to see their ornament hung and wave to Santa who will be down at the tree from noon to 4 p.m.,” Quigley said.
The tree stays up until Jan. 5, she said.
Any thoughts on how this one compares with previous?
“Every OB Holiday tree is special in its own way!” Quigley said via email. “All 41 of them! But I think this year is particularly significant because everyone could, now more than ever, use an extra bit of cheer in their lives!”
She said this tree symbolizes OB still being a “great, beautiful place to be” amid the pandemic and politics — “and how lucky we are to have such a special, unique community.”
Quigley added: “It shows there are still things to be excited about, and even though we may be quarantined, being ‘Home for the Holidays’ in OB ain’t that bad!”