Trolley Tales – OB Street Fair 2009

by on June 28, 2009 · 4 comments

in Environment, Ocean Beach, San Diego


9:30 am. We arrived at the Sea World Drive parking lot shortly after Gary GIlmore had opened the gate-with bolt cutters. Gary says this has become an annual tradition. The gate is never opened by the City as planned and Gary has learned to never leave home on this day without the OBMA bolt cutters. Two shiny Old Town Trolleys were waiting there as the trolley drivers, Curly and Kaye marked off the boarding area with orange cones.

Curly is a veteran of this event. I told him that I had heard that the drivers were entertaining and part of the fun of the fair. He shot me a smile as he moved cones around and quipped “You got to be kind of silly to do this work in the first place.” Kaye, this year’s “rookie” driver was looking forward to the day ahead.

There weren’t many cars in the lot yet, but the trolley was almost completely filled when we left on the first run of the day to OB. Curly asked “How many of you are going to the OB Street Fair for the first time?” Hands shot up. “Where are you from?” “Mississippi.” “San Antonio.” “Eastgate, Los Angeles.” “Indiana.”

When Curly heard “Indiana,” he said “These trolleys are on a John Deere tractor base.” The family from Indiana knew the Deere’s and called up one of them on the spot to relay this piece of information. A small world–but I don’t want to paint it.

We arrived at Cable and Santa Monica in 15 minutes flat. The trolley riders were on their way to taste the chili and see what OB had to offer.


Around noon we decided to check out the action on the Robb Field trolley. This was Larry’s run, and when we met him he had the back gate of the trolley open and was lowering a passenger in a wheel chair to the street, and immediately afterward began loading a very large baby stroller back into the trolley. Larry is another veteran of the OB Street Fair. I was struck by how these guys never stood still, all the while talking and quipping, as people departed and entered the trolleys.

I interviewed the youngest trolley rider- a sweet child with damp ringlets framing his face. He looked at me with wide tired blue eyes and told me that the skate boards were the most fun. I asked him how old he was and he proudly held up two fingers. “Is it good being two?” He solemnly nodded his head “yes.” Remember that in case you have the opportunity to be two again.

By noon the streets were clotted with cars and bicyclists, skateboarders and pedestrians. Lots of dogs. The sun was hot, the day dazzling, the mood OB good. On the trolley ride I ended up meeting the legendary Mike James who recently posted an account on the OB Rag about the history of the OB Street Fair. The five brothers comprising the James Gang have contributed so much to the history and collective memory of Ocean Beach. Brother Rich, OB activist and muralist, received a tribute in this year’s program. He passed away last year. Mike has moved from OB, but OB has clearly never left his soul. We talked about one of OB’s most memorable characters-the Spaceman of Ocean Beach. I’m hoping Mike will write an article about him.

When we arrived at Robb Field there was a long line of people waiting. Larry couldn’t accommodate them all, so I had a chance to talk to the people who kept arriving. These were the serious fair goers and they have been coming to the event for years. A threesome had started off the morning with mimosas and they were looking forward to the bands and a full day of serious men&women watching. They also intended to keep partying after the fair ended- Jefferson Jay would be playing again at 9 pm at Portugalia and the day was still very, very young.

There were the lovers, Martin and Erica. Martin used to live in OB and keeps coming back from Imperial County every year to the fair. This was Erica’s first time. They hugged and kissed and you knew that everything else was sheer gravy. I hope they enjoyed the gravy too.

Haley Porter, Doug Porter’s daughter arrived with mom Lisa. Haley, with an OB Rag press designation on her sleeve, was going to take pictures. Stay tuned.


By 3 pm my beloved and I had had enough and queued up for the trip back to Sea World Drive. It was a very long line and kept getting longer. And longer. And longer. We imagined ourselves at the epicenter of a major traffic jam. The Robb Field trolley made two trips while we stood there and there was some grumbling. But nobody tried to hijack the Robb Field trolley for Sea World Drive or points beyond.

I talked to more people about their day at the fair. The oddest revelation came from a young couple visiting from Utah. They had parked their car in the Sea World Drive lot, and jumped on the trolley which they assumed would be taking them to Sea World. They got the OB Street Fair and a Shamu free adventure instead and just rolled with it.

The trolley arrived after a half hour wait. Kelly and Kristina sat behind me on the trolley. Kelly had a large bag of popcorn in her lap and they were both smiling and relaxed. They ate, shopped and listened to bands at the street fair all morning and had an all around good time.

Kaye, our rookie driver was still full of energy and didn’t seem perturbed by the mobs of people and cars. He joked and asked “Did you have a good time?” Of course you know the response. Then he put on some classic rock and we left OB.

I sat in the back of the trolley which was open to the wind and sea tang. The sun was still hot and bright on my face and the beach horizon was a shimmering nacre. “Street Fighting Man” was playing and I was feeling summertime beach sleepy.

And then we were home.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

lane tobias June 28, 2009 at 5:50 pm

thanks for this account Anna! Those of us who live in OB can easily forget that some people come from far, far away to celebrate here. That just shows just how great an event the street fair is.

I wonder, have these veteran trolley drivers ever been to the fair themselves?


annagrace June 28, 2009 at 6:06 pm

Glad you asked about the drivers Lane. These guys really worked non-stop all day. They were so busy that I never got a chance to ask them if they had ever been to the fair before (as opposed to working the fair). I don’t know if or how they got a chance to eat anything all day. Breaks? Can’t imagine how they got one.

I sure hope they got good tips and a good night’s sleep afterward.


doug porter June 29, 2009 at 7:24 am

of course, sharp eyed readers of this blog will have seen the UT article (monday) that has a pic & quotes from Anna, who just retired from the city library.


Denny Knox, Executive Director of OBMA July 2, 2009 at 9:23 am

Anna, thanks for a really great article about the trolleys. We are going to add a trolley next year because folks are totally into riding the trolleys during the fair. The Street Fair was crazy busy this year but everyone seemed pretty mellow. We had very few hassles. Thanks to Gary Gilmore, our trolley monitor for the day! I wish I had had time to ride the trolleys.


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