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Side of Ranch

Santa's Grand Arrival Parade not without a Grinch or two

Traffic congestion at UTC in Sarasota caused the expected social media firestorm.

The Grinch, in this case Kingsley Sim, appeared at the Santa's Grand Arrival Parade at UTC. His job, however, was to make people smile.
The Grinch, in this case Kingsley Sim, appeared at the Santa's Grand Arrival Parade at UTC. His job, however, was to make people smile.
Photo by Jay Heater
  • East County
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So as I sat in the parking lot outside the new REI on Cattlemen Road at University Town Center, I had plenty of time to think about traffic.

The Santa's Grand Arrival Parade had just ended, the We the Kings concert was getting ready to fire up, and the fireworks display was impressing the thousands of people who had attended the joyous occasion.

It didn't take a lot of thought to understand the funnel of cars that had formed wasn't going to disperse like a three-minute egg timer. I knew it was going to take a while when I watched a man with a cane amble past the line of vehicles.

So I made the decision to sit.

These new-fangled automobiles have radios, CD players, and innovations such as Spotify, Pandora and SiriusXM. Even better, they have air conditioning.

I put on some soothing music, and opened my laptop to get a little work done. Outside the car, people were literally freaking out as they saw the roadblock that had formed.

I started thinking back to events I had attended over the years where the traffic was particularly nasty, but where the events were well worth it.

Having lived a little, I went back to October 1981 when the Rolling Stones performed at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. I knew the before and after figured to be a logjam.

So a buddy and I made the decision not to tempt the traffic fates by parking in the Candlestick lot. Instead, we went 3.1 miles to the west, parked in the Cow Palace parking lot and took a shuttle to the concert.

You have to understand I never leave a concert early. My ex once commanded me to miss the rush by leaving an Eric Clapton concert early. The disheartened feeling from hearing "Layla" echoing through the parking lot will stick with me forever.

We heard every last note of "Sympathy for the Devil" before negotiating the cattle stampede to the Candlestick Park parking lot, where we saw our shuttle busses buried behind literally thousands of cars.

We decided to walk the 3.1 miles. And after reaching our car, and getting to the highway, we could see the Candlestick Parking lot, still gridlocked with our shuttle busses in the same spot where they were when we left.

I guess the point is that people should plan for gridlock.

Living in the Indianapolis area 10 years ago, I used to go to the amphitheater in Noblesville, which is now called the Ruoff Music Center (the sponsor has changed often over the years). It seats about 24,000 fans.

The roads around the amphitheater were more than adequate for local traffic, but not suitable for a major concert venue. Therefore, cars were crawling that last couple of miles to the concert.

Since it was Indiana, the roads were surrounded by cornfields, which doubled as restrooms on concert day. You would see car doors flung open, then people darting into cornfield oblivion before reappearing with a relieved look.

The lesson? Don't drink beer before making that drive.

The venue's roads were similarly locked up after the concert. So I began to make the decision to do my tailgating after the event, watching motorists scream at each other because someone advanced one car length by cutting another vehicle off.

You have to plan.

The Santa's Grand Arrival Parade was no where near the jam you might expect at major venues in New York, California, or even the concert venue in Indiana. We are spoiled here.

While we can dispute whether the design of UTC roads has been adequate to handle its growth, along with an incoming aquarium, we should give the area a pass for its very special parade event Nov. 11.

As I did the salmon swim upstream against the human current, all I saw were smiles. Kids were having a great time, which meant the parents were happy.

I have to admit that I didn't plan ahead the year before. I was trying to get to the 2022 Santa's Grand Arrival Parade and I sat on University Parkway, unable to make a left into UTC.

And sat, and sat, and sat.

When I barely had moved in 45 minutes, I gave up. I worked my way to the far right hand lane of University Parkway, and zipped past the entire mess, giving up on the event.

I was a dumb butt.

Why wouldn't I expect to land in concrete shoes when I arrived an hour before the starting time? I vowed I would do better next time.

I did.

So here is the plan for those of you who went out of your mind this time around. Leave for the 6 p.m. event at noon.

There you have it. You might not like it, but it works. I arrived at UTC before 1 p.m. and had my pick of parking spaces. I then checked out the new REI on Cattlemen Road before doing a little shopping for my 5-year-old great nephew at Dick's Sporting Goods.

I brought my laptop, so I walked over to the Mall at UTC, found myself a chair and a table, and worked for a couple of hours in the air conditioning. Malls also make for great people watching, in case you haven't noticed.

When I tired of working, I put my laptop back into my car and walked over to Fat Point Brewing for a craft beer and terrific cheeseburger. The menu was limited due to the special event, but I ordered some tater tots even though they weren't on the menu. I made the day of others at the bar, who rapid-fire ordered tater tots after seeing mine.

The event arrived with Nik Wallenda doing his high-wire stroll across Cattlemen Road before a tribute to veterans and then the parade, fireworks, and concert.

It was all free, presented by UTC Sarasota, which hit a home run with the event. UTC Sarasota, besides footing the bill for all the entertainment, presented $75,000 in prizes to the nearly 50 parade participants, which included 17 floats. The fireworks were July 4 worthy, and the band kept its fans rocking into the night as cars snaked away.

Traffic is a concern of just about everyone living in East County. But for this one event, don't be a Grinch. Plan ahead, negotiate around and through it, keep smiling, and count your blessings for living in an area where people are willing to produce something so very special.



Jay Heater

Jay Heater is the managing editor of the East County Observer. Overall, he has been in the business more than 41 years, 26 spent at the Contra Costa Times in the San Francisco Bay area as a sportswriter covering college football and basketball, boxing and horse racing.

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