Portlandia, eat your heart out.
When it comes to the wacky and wonderful, nothing beats the Ocean Beach Holiday Parade with its VW hippie van convoy, young skateboarders gliding down a blue tarp “wave” and thousands of Obecians (and their dogs) lit up like Christmas trees.
Credit the Kazoos.
Emcee Mike James, 66, retold the event’s origin story — how his late brother Rich in 1980 was looking for a way to bring the community together for the holidays.
“He thought about the Rockefeller Center tree,” James said Saturday at sunset, awaiting the 43rd annual parade. “We could have a community tree here in Ocean Beach. He decided to go up to Mount Shasta and brought down an 80-foot tree. They planted it here in the sand that very first year.”
With no publicity, Rich James founded the parade after going bar to bar on Newport Avenue and handing out Kazoos to all his friends.
“Then they just marched down the middle of Newport — no permits — marched down here playing Kazoos to the tree,” James said. “It was impromptu…. And it expanded from there.”
The Ocean Beach Town Council became the organizer in the third or fourth year, he said, “when the city came to us and said: Listen, you guys need to get permits.”
A mural down the street is dedicated to Rich, whose brothers also included Greg, Ron and Pat. Their James Gang T-shirt printing service is no longer family-owned, but still operates on Newport Avenue.
Saturday’s volunteer-staffed event included four sets of two announcers — with scripts on iPads (parade units supply the facts).
First-year announcer Greg Winter, an elected member of the OB Town Council, took the gig when someone couldn’t make it.
He hoped to see “how I could read under pressure.”
Gary Beneventi, a third-generation OB resident, has judged the parade and announced it five or six years.
“It’s fantastic to see the community involvement,” he said. “You see all the different floats, and everybody comes out this time of year.”
The announcing pair of Trudy Levenson and Keith Fink were ready to rock.
“I like to entertain and I like to see what’s going on,” she said before the 90-minute parade began heading west down Newport. “It’s just really, really fun. You see everybody. They’re all dressed up and you have to ad lib at times.”
She says she and Fink make a great team who get compliments like: “You guys are so funny. You made the parade.”
Levenson, 66, who works with developmentally disabled adults, had a famous cousin — 20th century kids-TV comic Soupy Sales.
“His mother and my grandmother were first cousins,” she says. “And I was working at Channel 10 at the time where they still had one live show called ‘Inside San Diego.'”
Fink, 67 — who saw Soupy Sales in 1967 — is retired from his job as a technician and lab manager at the University of San Diego, where he worked for 22 years, “a lot of fun while it lasted.”
He says announcing the OB parade is a great way to volunteer “with very minimal schlepping.”
Mike James, helping keep the family tradition alive, doesn’t use a script.
“I’m more the color guy,” he said. “I go out in the middle of the street with a wireless mic and I interview people.”
Asked about the rarity of parking spaces on parade Saturday, he could only smile.
“It’s pretty much status quo,” he said. “You can never find parking in OB the last 40 years. And as for being crazy and wacky. That hasn’t changed as well.”