For a man who can deliver all the world's toys in one night, Santa Claus can be quite the slowpoke when he is off the clock. On Wednesday, he took nearly four hours to travel a measly 30 miles from Carpinteria to Nyeland Acres.
Granted, this Santa wasn't used to much traveling -- he is a 5-ton, chicken wire-and-plaster statue that for more than 50 years had adorned a candy store roof in Carpinteria.
And it didn't help that Santa's magic reindeer were mere humans in fancy trucks and motorcycles.
Whatever the excuse, Santa created quite a scene as he left Santa Claus Lane in Carpinteria on his way to a new life in Nyeland Acres, a blue-collar neighborhood just north of Oxnard's east end. Escorted by two California Highway Patrol cars and two pilot trucks, Santa provided an impromptu parade for the locals and a real headache for the folks in charge of getting him to his new home safely.
"That Santa wasn't made to be moved down the 101," said Mike Barber, a local businessman who owns the parcel where the statue will be placed. "I'm sure the people who built him never envisioned this."
At 8:30 a.m., Mike Watson, coordinator for Specialty Crane & Rigging in Goleta, briefed his crew. The night before, a small group of them had covered St. Nicholas in 1,800 feet of shrink wrap, nylon straps and red and gray duct tape. A padded wooden brace was built to support Santa's famous waving arm.
Santa would travel through the south end of Carpinteria to the Ventura Freeway, with worker Lee Claude riding in front of the statue in a pilot car equipped with a height pole. If the pole hit anything, everyone would stop.
The Highway 33 crossing posed the main challenge. With Santa and his flatbed truck measuring 17 feet, 3 inches, he was too tall to clear the overpass. So workers took Santa off the truck, placed him on rollers and pushed him underneath.
The entourage then took surface streets, down Harbor Boulevard to Gonzales Road to Rice Road. A couple more turns and Santa was home.
For all that could have gone wrong Wednesday, the odyssey was relatively problem-free.
Carpinteria residents gawked and took pictures. Elderly women waved from their cars. Parents placed their children near the freeway entrance to take snapshots with Santa.
Past the palm trees, the bank, Carpinteria City Hall and the golf course, Santa went.
Most were sad to see him go.
Whitney Abbott, 30, was still in her pajamas as she took some final pictures. She grew up in Carpinteria and had become used to telling people she lived near the "giant Santa." And yes, he is kind of tacky, but she and the rest of the neighbors didn't mind, she said.
"We definitely made fun of it, but every town needs a little bit of tackiness," Abbott said. "I don't know anybody that's happy that it's going. It's like an old neighbor whose taste you don't really like but you think is just hilarious, so you put up with him."
For more than half a century, the Santa statue was just one of many attractions on the Santa Claus Lane commercial strip in Carpinteria. With its toy shops, merry-go-round, train ride and restaurants, the strip was a favorite destination for local families. But it was Santa, waving from the candy store roof, who attracted the attention of thousands of motorists making their way down the coast.
As time passed, though, the yule-themed attractions closed down and Santa's owners finally decided the statue had to go. After much debate and an outcry from local preservationists who deemed the statue an example of "roadside vernacular art," Santa Barbara County officials allowed its removal from the roof. And if no new location had been found by the end of January, Santa's owners had the right to trash it.
Enter Mike Barber, president of the Garden Acres Mutual Water Co. in Nyeland Acres, who just happened to have about half an acre of property near the freeway. Invitations were tendered, permits were granted and Santa was on his way to Ventura County.
On the freeway Wednesday, Santa wobbled along the coast at 30 or so miles per hour. Unfortunately, he had been placed facing the mountains, so old St. Nick didn't get to see much of the coastal scenery. In Ventura, a small group of picture-takers and even a class of preschoolers were gathered.
"Bye, Santa, see you later," 3-year-old Braedon Baum shouted as the statue made its way through Ventura.
In Oxnard, ranchero music blared near fields as bewildered farm workers stared.
Tuesday night, city officials in Oxnard had unanimously voted to express disapproval to county officials of Santa's relocation so close to their town. The statue does not mesh with the improvements and developments leaders are trying to attract to their city, Mayor Manuel Lopez said.
"We don't have anything against Santa, but it's so close to our city, and we should've been made aware of this," Lopez said. "As far as anyone coming from L.A. or Camarillo is concerned, the statue is located in Oxnard. The people in Carpinteria were unhappy that it left, and we're unhappy that it's here."
But Santa and his supporters didn't take much notice of Oxnard's concerns.
About 1:30 p.m., Santa was finally home.
His new digs consist of a dirt lot behind a barbed wire fence, wedged between a used car dealership and a mobile home park.
Some Nyeland Acres neighbors said they were initially wary of Santa but had grown to like the idea.
"He's been around for so long and it's kind of an honor to have him here," said Soledad Trevino. "Who else can say they have a Santa Claus this size in their community?"
Santa's new owners plan to unwrap him, install some lighting and add a concrete foundation. But they will do that later. The old man was tired.