Editor's note: As 2011 wraps up, Los Alamitos-Seal Beach Patch will be looking back at the year's local news. Through New Year's Day, we'll be reprinting some of the stories we were privileged enough to cover.
One of Seal Beach’s longest running and quirkiest traditions, The Peddler, rode into town Saturday morning.
It was hard to miss.
Starting at about 10 a.m., about 300 bicyclists amassed and rode as a herd from house to house steadily drinking alcohol before ending the evening at Main Street pubs. It’s a traveling circus made possible by the bemused indulgence of the community.
Roughly 23 years old, each year the event is guaranteed to yield citations ranging from public drunkenness, to underage drinking and urination in public. But, for the most part, it goes off without a hitch, say police and peddlers.
“This year, the group seems to be OK,” said Sgt. Steve Bowles, a spokesman for the Seal Beach Police Department. “We are here trying to make sure everyone has fun in a safe and law-abiding way.”
At one point, The Peddler included 13 local stops, but on Saturday it was narrowed down to five Seal Beach stops from Old Town to The Hill. From groups of two to 300, riders arrived at each house with a roar of cheers, jeers, honks and laughter. At the first stop, Jeff Olson’s house, riders filled their cups from a 33-gallon trashcan filled with vodka, juice and ice with mint leaves for garnishment. Homeowners accepted $3 “donations” from each peddler.
Olson’s home has been a Peddler mainstay for years.
“When they come around the corner, it’s just a big wall of people,” said Olson. “You’ve never seen anything like it.”
Seal Beach resident Karen Mceniry hadn’t. She drove up upon the mass of people blocking Harbor Way Saturday morning.
“This is pretty funny. I think in the old days you could get away with this kind of thing because laws weren’t as strict,” she said as she turned around to find another route out of the neighborhood. “I can’t believe there are so many people. I don’t have a problem with it, but I can see how the police department would.”
While most of the peddlers and police who patrol them have been doing it for years, even they don’t know exactly how it began.
“The legend goes that at least 20 years ago, there were a couple of guys who were bartenders in town, and they could never celebrate St. Patrick’s Day because they always had to work. So they decided to do something the weekend before. Instead of going to bars, they rode their bikes to each other’s houses,” said the founder of the Sunset Beach Surfer Joe's Summer Longboard Classic, known locally as Surfer Joe. “It’s a local thing.”
Seal Beach resident Debra Donley has been a peddler for four years.
“This is truly a community event. There is no advertising—it’s all local word of mouth,” said Donley. “Everyone just gets together and has a good time.”
However, as the Peddler has grown in popularity over the years, it’s drawn more and more people from neighboring cities such as Long Beach and Huntington Beach.
This year, Jill Jermain came from Yorba Linda and suffered the first scraped elbow of the day when her flip-flops got caught up while riding.
“If I could get a green band-aid, I’d be fine,” she said.
Many of the cyclists dressed for St. Patrick’s Day, including Shipley, the woman who organized the event for years before stepping down to play a support role Saturday by checking identification cards and issuing green wristbands for riders over 21.
“Last year we had a lot of kids trying to get in, and I kept having to kick them out,” said Shipley. “But for the most part, it’s just a good time.”
Over the years there have been a lot of crashes, and Shipley has the scarred elbows to prove it. But there have been some special moments, too she said. For example, eight years ago, a couple met at the Peddler and came back the next year with their bachelor and bachelorette parties, Shipley said.
On Saturday, Shipley made a point of talking to the police officers who monitored the crowd from the outskirts at each stop.
The relationship between the police and the peddlers is a complicated one.
“They’re between a rock and a hard place,” said Olson. Because his house is the first official stop each year, the police always know where to start monitoring the event. Saturday morning, the police came by before the riders and warned that they would be cracking down this year, said Olson.
Because it’s a popular local tradition, people would be upset if they broke it up, but, at the same time, they can’t turn a blind eye, he said.
On Saturday, police ticketed the blatant violators.
Rome Fiore, who wandered 20 yards away from the crowd gathered at the last stop at the 12th Street alley Saturday, was cited for having an open container of alcohol in public.
“I don’t know why they singled me out,” he said. “But I’m not going to let them ruin my day.”
Peddler duty can be a frustrating day for the police officers—several of whom had to work overtime to monitor the event.
“It is a cat and mouse game,” said Bowles, the police spokesman. “We could be a lot more aggressive, citing them at every stop sign, but we try to be good partners by letting people enjoy themselves as long as they are not crossing the line.”
The department does get complaints about the Peddler but not many, added Bowles.
“I think people who live in Old Town have a certain tolerance for parking issues and noise issues. We know what the threshold is and when to step in,” he said. “I think the more seasoned folks and organizers are pretty good to work with. It’s the people who come in from the outside who don’t have regard for the neighbors.”
A neighbor of the last stop of the day, Rick Brown has dealt with the boisterous crowd every year since he moved in five years ago.
“It gets bigger and bigger every year, but the cops follow them and make sure they don’t stay in one place for more than a half hour,” said Brown. “They (the organizers) put up outhouses in the alley, and it’s pretty amazing that so many people can get together without any trouble.”
Kurt Augsberger lives next door to the last stop and has been watching the Peddler grow for 20 years.
“I am the Peddler chaperone,” he joked. “I don’t mind it at all. The people are cool, and when you live at the beach, you have to expect a little something like this.”