The Avocado of It All

4 min read

They were newlyweds… and had come to town to witness the nuptials of other newlyweds just like them. But before the day was over, they would find themselves lost in the frenzy of the crowds, mountains of produce and a river of America’s favorite dip. Yes, their world turned that unmistakable shade of green on a fall Saturday at the 31st Annual California Avocado Festival® or AVOFEST™, for short.

I’m talking about my girlfriend Kris’ daughter Kaitlyn and son-in-law, Nick. They had just been married three months before against their own deep green mountain backdrop in Park City, Utah. Now they were in Santa Barbara for a friend’s big deal, hoo-ha evening wedding. They had the better part of the day to kill before gowns and tuxedos.

We drove up from L.A. to see them.

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You’ll find this big avocado festival in the seaside town of Carpinteria, near Santa Barbara. An annual event, I had missed the last 30 of them. I had also somehow missed Woodstock, Monterey, Lollapalooza and Coachella. This avocado festival is where I would draw the line. The fun starts now!

101 North

It’s a pretty drive from L.A. up to Santa Barbara. You pass buttery, oaky hills and farm fresh fields. Then a lovely stretch of ocean with a view of the Channel Islands… deep across the Pacific. I had been there camping and kayaking several times with my son.

Santa Claus Lane

You also pass world-famous Santa Claus Lane. I can say, “pass” now, but years ago traveling with my kids we would have to stop for the candy and toy stores there. And take pictures of the 18-foot Santa that stood over this beach town, year-round.

Driving up the coast on this sparkling sunny day I wanted to supplement the picture book drive with a recording of this new-age lady I sometimes listen to in the car. She advises us to breathe deeply and to meditate. It would be a California moment.

But Kris quickly put the kibosh on that, recalling a similar outing in Oregon when I nearly ran us off the road blissing out to this same lady’s recordings (see “Our Own Private Portlandia”). I didn’t argue.

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Near Thousand Oaks we headed up the grade. This is a small mountain pass, peaking to reveal vistas of strawberry, lemon and celery fields. You can really pick up speed on the downhill side and when I tapped my brakes the car started to rattle. I braked harder and the rattling increased. Suddenly it was like driving over a lava field… or down a railroad track. 

Kris informed me, “You should have that looked at.”

Where was this coming from? The road… my brakes, the bearings, the bushings? What? The rattling had the distinct feel of…. money, spilling out along the roadway. I was mentally calculating just how much and which account I would raid to pay my coldblooded service advisor when my eye glasses… collapsed, drooping lopsided on my head.

Now speeding down the grade with the car rattling, my glasses slid down my face. What is this?!  I yanked them off and the left stem splayed out at a weird angle like it had been in a skiing accident.

No… This will cost as much as the brakes… or is it the bushings! Damn, don’t you hate it when two things go wrong? You were just making your peace with the first item and now you’ve got to start all over.

“It’s all right. Just breathe…”, Kris rubbed my shoulder.

“You just told me not to breathe!” I shouted over the chattering car, my wounded glasses swaying from one finger.   

State Street

But I soon calmed down. I decided not to be so dependent on my glasses or my brakes. They were a crutch, removing me from the true spirit of adventure.

We exited the 101 at Santa Barbara and reconnoitered our way using the old ranger technique of angle of the sun, wind direction and Google Maps. 

We were to pick up the kids at their hotel on State Street.

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Santa Barbara is a charming city but its downtown is a tight little affair. Parking’s tough and traffic patrols are everywhere. We coasted down State Street looking for the Santa Barbara Hotel. My Google maps indicated we had a few blocks to go. But the lady in Kris’ Google Maps kept nagging me to slow down, that the hotel was nearby. Kris also told me to slow down.

But my Google Maps has rarely failed me – he’s my trusted guide. I guess Kris felt the same way about her lady navigator. We quickly became proxies for our phones, each of us arguing for our set of directions as if standing up for our kids. Funny how possessive we get with our stuff…

Of course, we passed the hotel. With a smile Kris shoved her phone in my face. All right, we’d follow the know-it-all lady in her phone and circled around the block.

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Nearing the hotel, we suddenly spotted Kaitlyn & Nick out on the street, waving. I jerked to a stop. A little parking scooter came right up my tail. We jumped from the car like a Chinese Fire Drill, to do quick hugs just as the parking patrol flipped on its special, yellow, scary flasher. We finished hugs and jumped back into the car. It was like one of those 4.1 second pit stops in an Indy race. The parking person signaled to me and I took off.

Carpinteria

Kaitlyn is kind of a take charge gal and had done some research about Things To Do. She suggested the Avocado festival in the nearby town of Carpinteria. So, it was back to the 101 South.  

Now heading down a pretty stretch of ocean road, we shifted into the high-speed chatter fueled by the first moments of a rendezvous… how was work, the dogs, the dress for the wedding?

Also, Kaitlyn and Nick always get us up to speed on the newest new things people are doing because they were always up to something new.

Their latest thing was… you guessed it – genetic testing! Just spit in a cup and discover hundreds, maybe thousands of years of your genetic history. From the back seat the kids recited a newly revealed lineage of English, Scottish, Scandinavian - even some surprise Asian ancestors riding with us in that car.

I offered that my contribution to the group’s genetic mix was probably a few tired strands of Polish DNA. That got an all-American laugh as we sped down the California highway to the Avocado Festival.

Carpinteria is one of those towns you pass on your way to someplace else – usually L.A. or Santa Barbara. It’s known for its fine beaches, sea lions, tide pools, and since 1987, its Avocado Festival. We had arrived.

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Exciting the freeway, we passed the first of several “Guac” shuttle busses. And lots of signs for the festival. It had taken over the town.

In truth, I’m a big talker, going on about the festival, but we hadn’t really committed to a day here. So, to avoid all the Sturm un Drang of the shuttle experience I decided to get us close to the action.

My parking karma is pretty good so I pulled into a lot and within seconds - bingo! - a car pulled from its spot. But as I quickly scooped the space I saw signs indicating, “Customers only”.  For what? There it was: a pet store. And they had an employee standing guard outside, wearing a pet store polo shirt. He must have been all of 17, glaring at us.

Pet Supplies

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Well Kris has a dog and so do Kaitlyn and Nick, so we approached the unarmed teenager and slipped inside to buy pet supplies and earn our parking space. Walking the rows of chewies, Kongs, Tuffies, Hide-a-Squirrels, and plush Lamb Chops, we soon dropped over $60. 

All this doggie booty got dumped in the car and we even put a chew toy on the dash as a sort of parking pass – proof we were customers. Then we finally headed toward the music, the crowds, the awesomeness of the festival.

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“Excuse me, these spots are for customers only.”

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Wha…? I turned to see the pet store kid striking a pose – his newfound sense of authority hanging from him like an oversize coat on his scrawny frame. So I marched up and informed him that we had just spent $60 in his store and surely that entitled us to an hour of parking.

But also in that moment, I had to stop and laugh. Here I was standing in a parking lot in Carpinteria, debating my parking rights with a 17-year-old kid just so I could check out the Avocado Festival. Isn’t life special? 

But Kris’ daughter, Kaitlyn didn’t think it was funny at all. She went straight for the guy:

“You know, you can’t even legally tell us where we can park.”, she flung at him. The kid was speechless. Kaitlyn turned and marched off. As far as she was concerned, the deal was closed.

Wow, don’t ever step on the toes of a newlywed. Not at an Avocado Festival. I loved Kaitlyn’s moxie. I also liked the way our millennials make quick work of this new generation of ‘Z’ kids. These millennials aren’t snowflakes – they’re a blizzard. Gives me hope for our future. At least our Social Security system will stay funded.

Avocados

We finally marched on to the festival which seemed to be rows of food stands, featuring… avocado! It was funny – they had all the stock street food items but with “with avocado” signs added. Hamburgers, fries, shrimp now came dressed in green.

These food stand proprietors probably make the food festival rounds. They’d show up at the Garlic Festival, with little garlic signs - hot dogs… “with garlic!’” It was clever – pick your produce and you’ve got yourself a festival.

Still, the crowds, the community, the avocado everything and bands too, made the whole enterprise fun. We had heard the world’s largest vat of guacamole was here and were searching for that when we spotted signs for avocado beer! Nick announced that if nothing else, we had to quaff this crazy avocado brew.

The Right Side of the Tracks

We found the brewery at the end of the street next to a pair of perfectly fine train tracks. Here were more signs advertising the unholy concoction. So, into the sunny, cement beer garden we marched and sat ourselves with the other happy party goers, all of us enjoying the view of an empty lot besides the railroad tracks.

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I inquired about the special festival beer and learned it was made with avocado honey. That was the avocado part… the honey. I suppose we had expected fermented avocadoes instead of barley and hops. Still our host had attempted to instill the day’s theme into his beer, for which we were appreciative.

The beer turned out to be great – rich, amber, slightly sweet – with absolutely no hint of avocado whatsoever.

Everyone else at our long table concurred. This beer did not taste at all like avocado. But everyone was having fun chatting, drinking and relaxing in the middle of the day.

Then the train tracks started to vibrate in a quick prelude as the Amtrak Coastliner thundered by.

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This train was bringing folks from San Diego to San Francisco and all the way up north to Seattle. I’m sure as the passengers got a flashing glimpse of us in our cement beer garden they had no clue they were actually witnessing a world famous  Avocado Festival.

I wonder how many such things we are missing out on every day? There should be an app for that – All things all the time. No more FOMO.

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But how can you have fear of missing out when you’ve got friends and loved ones around you? Kris and I got to catch up with Kaitlyn and Nick and tales of their honeymoon, as we sipped our morning avocado beer and shared some guac. Do we really need much more than beer, guac and laughs.

And we got another good laugh when we returned to the car and found a ticket-like warning under the wiper from our friends at the pet store. It announced that this parking lot was for customers only. Apparently, the chew toy we left on the dash wasn’t enough to stop their wrath.

But Kaitlyn had been right – they couldn’t tell us not to park here. This wasn’t a real ticket. Just a pretend pet ticket. It was like a rubber version of the real thing, with little bark and no bite.

32 annual Avocado Festival

We never did find the great vat of guacamole but that leaves us something to look forward to next year. When once again we can spend fun time with those we care about, sipping a beer practically on top of the train tracks.

And really, isn’t that what Avocado Festivals are all about? 

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