Crowds Jam Orange Street Fair, Shun the Beaches
Orange Countians shunned the surf and sand for a taste of the world Saturday.
As the Labor Day weekend got under way, lifeguards reported that crowds at the county’s beaches were surprisingly sparse compared to previous years.
But in Orange, organizers of the Orange International Street Fair were busy entertaining more than 100,000 people who formed long lines at food and art booths throughout the day.
“I’d rather eat than get too hot,” said James Chapel of Orange, explaining why he, his wife and two children had chosen the fair over the beach. “Besides, this fair comes only once a year. It’s a great way to see the world and try all the food in one day.”
While July 4th is traditionally the busiest time of the year for beaches, Labor Day is a close second. But from Seal Beach to San Clemente, crowds were thin even though the sun broke through hazy morning clouds and hit 70 degrees by noon.
Lifeguards and state park workers were struck by the low attendance.
“We’re all sitting around here twiddling our thumbs,” said Amy Hahn, a park aide at Doheny State Park in Dana Point. “There’s a lot of empty tables and space at the beach. I wonder where all the people are?”
“It’s a really mellow day,” said Huntington Beach lifeguard Dave Cavener from the city’s pier tower. “We had expected more. But it’s been mild.”
A moderate crowd of about 5,000 people showed up at Seal Beach, said lifeguard supervisor A. J. Summers. “We are not too busy, not too slow,” Summers said.
In San Clemente, a lifeguard spokesman estimated the crowd at 14,000, compared to about 20,000 on previous Labor Day weekends.
The surf at the beaches didn’t help much either. The swells were virtual ankle-slappers, reaching only 1 foot. Beach-goers had to be content to stay on their boogie boards or wade in shallow water.
The mood was more festive at the 19th-annual Orange fair, dubbed “Peace of Orange.”
The heart of the fair was centered at Glassell and Chapman avenues, where practically all the food groups could be had on a stick--ice cream, egg rolls, bratwurst and even salmon.
Crowd favorites included Viking sticks and Viking sandwiches. Both are hearty sausages, but one is speared with a stick, while the other is served in a bun. The Norwegian booth sold out their 100 sausage sandwiches within 90 minutes Friday night and had to grill extra meat for the crowd Saturday.
“I guess people were feeling really Norwegian this weekend,” said Ray Mickelson, 75, a member of the Sons of Norway. “Either that, or our sausages were really good.”
One booth featured artwork celebrating “Day of the Dead,” a religious holiday observed by Mexicans on Nov. 2 to honor their deceased ancestors.
“I take pride in being Mexican and sharing my heritage,” said 19-year-old Matt Southgate. “Sometimes, Orange County doesn’t realize how many cultures are here. And it’s good to share and display the different ethnicities we all have.”
Another popular booth was manned by the telephone company MCI, which gave fair-goers a chance to call anywhere in the world free for up to five minutes.
Becky McLintock, an Arizona tourist, and her brother, Bill Kolek of Orange, called their mother, who has been living in Sicily for more than a year. Telephone calls to their mother have been a rare luxury, so the two raced to the fair when a family friend told them about the free linkup. When they finally reached their mother, the world suddenly seemed a lot smaller.
“I miss and love you,” Kolek told his mother as he wiped a tear from his eye.
Times staff writer Davan Maharaj contributed to this story.