The sun came out just in time to welcome hundreds of bike riders into Old Town Seal Beach Saturday for the annual pre-St. Patrick’s day party, known as the Peddler.
If you haven’t heard about the Peddler, you’re not alone. Organizers of the event pride themselves on maintaining the party’s underground status; in part, because the word-of-mouth invites preserve secluded nature of the event but also because of the Peddler’s murky legal status.
The concept for the Peddler is essentially like that of a pub-crawl. Instead of walking from pub to pub, partygoers ride their bikes to a series of house parties drinking cocktails At each stop.
While there are many rumors about the origins of this beach town tradition, the original Peddler was started by the founders of a local clothing company in the late 80s. When the company took off, the founders got too busy and left it up to their friends to carry on the legacy. One of those friends Shipley, has been doing just that since 1992.
“Everyone has a different story about how this all got started,” said Shipley. “But, I was there! Back when it was only 50 people, and everyone knew each other.”
A treasure trove of stories from Peddler’s past, Shipley has seen it all. “My old house used to be the Jell-O-shot house,” said Shipley. “One time, we had made a huge bowl of Jell-O shots, and the guy who used to run the Peddler ate the entire bowl for $20.” Her friend burst in to finish the story, “And then, he smashed the bowl. I remember because it was my bowl.”
For years, Shipley’s house was the last stop of the ride.
“Being a stop is not that fun,” Shipley recalls. “You need to have a big yard, a big enough house to hold everybody and some very understanding neighbors.”
After parking their bikes along the street Saturday, people lined up to be carded by Shipley, who was easily identifiable in her signature green cowboy hat. So long as they were 21, the bikers received a green wristband and were required to contribute $3 to the alcohol fund.
“Every house is different,” said Shipley. “If you don’t want to charge you don’t have to. Each house has its own drinks and its own traditions.”
In the past, there have been as many as eight stops and as few as three. This year, there were four.
The first stop beaconed oncoming bikers with large metallic shamrock balloons. When people entered through the side gate into the backyard, they were given a red solo cup filled with the house’s signature drink. More unique than the drink, however, was the receptacle it was held in—a large trashcan bought earlier that day.
Veterans to the event proudly display their old Peddler T-shirts. “The reason they spelled it Peddler, and not Pedaler, like someone who rides a bike, is because when it started, the original guys would sell their shirts there. So, it was like they were peddling something,” explained Shipley. “Or, at least, that’s what they said when we told them they spelled it wrong.”
Mark Turchyn has been going for the past seven or eight years, but this year he brought along a few first-timers. One them, Lauren Marquez, didn’t have to be persuaded to come out.
“Riding from house to house drinking? Sounds like fun,” she said.
Another Peddler virgin was Bill Thomas, who recently moved back to Seal Beach. He’s been living in Washington D.C. for the past 20 years and figured this event would be the perfect way to commemorate his return to Seal Beach.
“I spent all yesterday cleaning my bike,” said Thomas. “But I just put some new ape-hanger handle bars on my daughter’s bike so, I’m riding my 16-year-old daughter’s light blue cruiser,” he laughed.
Since it’s illegal to drink in public, and since so many people have been ticketed for it in the past, the organizers made sure to warn everyone to stay off the sidewalks. So long as they stayed on the lawn, they would not be ticketed. Hundreds of people stood shoulder to shoulder on the lawn drinking, talking, and having fun while police on bikes patrolled the party from the street.
One arriving cyclist joked with the cops, “Are you our police escorts?”
Sgt. Ron LaVelle explained the police presence.
“Our interaction is based on the conduct of the crowd,” said LaVelle. “If everyone is being safe, we’re pretty hands off.”
LaVelle appreciates that the people who run the Peddler are doing the right things by carding drinkers and making sure everyone stays on private property. However, he does wish the event had food. “Get some food in their bellies,” said LaVelle. “It will slow down the rate of absorption, and then people won’t get so drunk.”
He added, “But that’s not always the objective of the people there.”
LaVelle first heard about the event 20 years ago when a waitress at Woody’s asked him if he’d like to go. While he declined the invitation to participate, he says he’s patrolled the event on the job five or six times.
Ultimately, LaVelle said he understands the Peddler is “a long standing Seal Beach tradition.” So it’s in the police department’s best interest to work with the event organizers to ensure peoples’ safety, he said.
“It’s usually a good experience,” said LaVelle. “It’s the young and young at heart.”