Starting Winter on a Roll : Leisure World Inaugurates Holiday Golf Cart Parade

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pasadena may have its Rose Parade. But, Orange County, make way for the Leisure World Holiday Golf Cart Parade.

That's right. Golf carts. Driven by retired folks decked out in Santa suits with reindeer horns.

As most of the East shivered under a blanket of snow and sleet, Southern Californians on Friday--the first day of winter--enjoyed a balmy, gorgeous afternoon.

"Great golf weather," said John Schmid, 67, who dressed in a bright red Santa suit and fake beard. "Those people in cold weather, they won't believe we do these kinds of things here."

The parade, the first of what residents hope becomes a tradition, was supposed to have more than 50 carts, but only seven participated. Organizers came up with the idea only a week and a half ago and, well, things move slowly here in the retirement zone.

Except the carts.

Many carts sported Christmas tree lights, ornaments and bright decorations. One had a big, stuffed teddy bear riding on the roof. Drivers got into the holiday spirit with bright red clothing and waved and honked as they paraded.

Leisure World resident Elaine Lewis, who came up with the idea for the parade, said she wanted to celebrate the holidays with something similar to the boat parade in Newport Beach.

"Well, we didn't have any boats. But we do have golf carts, so a parade was a natural thing to do," Lewis said.

Lewis said she made up fliers that she and her husband, Bill, circulated among the community's golf cart set.

Leisure World has more than 1,500 golf carts. Many of them are used by residents not for golf, but to run errands inside the huge, self-contained community.

"I'm too young to drive a golf cart. I call mine a tennis cart," joked Dick Faulhaber, who made a great Santa.

How old is Santa Faulhaber?

"That's a question you shouldn't ask Santa," Faulhaber said.

Schmid said he spent three days getting his cart decked out in bright red and green paint, complete with wrapped gifts that Schmid and his wife, Helen, stuffed in the back.

"See? It's cardboard. I made the sides myself, and it took me three days to get all this together," Schmid said, surveying his cart after winning the parade's best creative and technical award.

Schmid said he drew two large Santa sleighs on cardboard. They then cut out the outline and with duct tape and wire, fastened it to the sides of their cart.

Under his breath, Schmid added: "I did the work in my garage."

Doing any construction work in the rule-efficient community is not only frowned upon but a violation, he said, winking.

Leon Cairo, 76, said he hadn't heard about the parade until he got a call from Faulhaber, his upstairs neighborhood, who invited him.

"I didn't have much time to decorate it. Dick helped me," Cairo said.

Cairo decorated his cart with lights, silver-colored trimming and big, plastic poinsettia blooms.

Cairo's cart came with music too. But not a Christmas carol or "Jingle Bells."

"Push in that eight-track tape for me, would you?" Cairo said to a reporter. Within moments, the Big Band sound of Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman filled the air as Cairo tooled along the parade route. "That's better."

Maggie Beegle, 71, was enchanted with the cart parade as it motored past her in the parking lot.

"You know, it's good to see something like this," she said. "It really helps you get in the spirit."

Debby Lamb, Leisure World's recreation director, was proud of the residents' first effort, even if only a few carts participated. Each driver received a special document certifying their role in the community's "First Golf Cart Parade."

Lamb said they expected more carts and participants but later learned that Friday afternoons are bad.

"I had a lot of men tell me that if it were scheduled on Thursday they would have come. Fridays are their golf days," Lamb said. "[But] a lot of people who saw them enjoyed it. I think it was just a great idea and I believe that next year we'll have more carts."

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