As downtown L.A.'s very own town crier, Don Garza is on a mission to bring Old World color and decorum to a 21st century city. A gig that started as a nonpartisan way for the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council to publicize an election in 2002 became something of an institution soon after with a resolution making the unpaid position official. A Gulf War veteran who has been diagnosed with demyelinating peripheral neuropathy, an autoimmune disorder, Garza, 33, lives on disability in single-room-occupancy housing in downtown’s Central City East area, where he volunteers as a community activist when not on town crier duty. Garza offered us a few proclamations.
What does it mean to be the town crier for downtown Los Angeles?
Town criers are ambassadors of goodwill for their communities. Just to be seen, that’s the biggest duty, to let people know that we’re a residential community, not just a commercial community. I celebrate every part of downtown, whether it’s the streets, or artists-in-residence housing, or SRO-type housing or the new market-rate housing in the lofts. Neighborhood councils must have posting sites for agendas, minutes. Having a town crier go out and post in those places is something I’m supposed to do. I emcee the Artwalk in the Old Bank District. I come up with my own ideas on how to bring pageantry and ceremony to the community.
Tell us about your town crier outfit.
Somebody from the Fashion District donated a couple hundred dollars and I went out looking for something to wear. I wanted it to be the way town criers looked, but not associated with the English colonies on the East coast. The gold coat, of course, is L.A., City of Angels. The scroll was made by Qathryn Brehm, an artist who lives in the [downtown] Arts District. The bell was donated by Lesley Taplin, [who was active in the formation of the neighborhood council]. Since breeches were too small, I wear tuxedo trousers.
What is the deal with, “Oyez, oyez”?
All it means is, “Listen up.” “Hear ye, hear ye,” is just a stereotype. To make it official, you want to make sure you say “Oyez, oyez.” You want tradition. You don’t want to be a stick-in-the-mud, but it’s not just being a street performer.
We understand that you network with other town crier groups and are planning a town crier contest. What goes on at a town crier competition?
When you go to a competition, you proclaim how wonderful your community is. You write your own cry, a limerick or whatever you want. We’re going to try to put one on in June. L.A.'s tough; it’s a big place. I’m hoping to get more criers here.
How would an aspiring town crier go about making the dream a reality?
I think the most important thing is to be community service oriented. Then just go present yourself to your city and say, ‘I want to be a town crier.’ If Pasadena comes up with a town crier, or West Hollywood or Santa Monica, that would be great. Beverly Hills would be cool, if only because for a competition, hey, the host crier traditionally provides lodging.
What are some of our favorite downtown spots?
One trick I do is, I go out and find someone I’ve talked to, or I know on the street. I’ll say, let’s go eat, go to a movie. I’ll go to the Bonaventure, up to the third or fourth level, get a slice of pizza. Don’t tell the doctor. And then I’ll go to the Laemmle Grande, see what movie’s playing. Buy the ticket. Go back to the Bonaventure and drink some ginger ale. The Bonaventure and Pete’s Cafe have the best ginger ale.
OK, show us your stuff.
“Oyez! Oyez! On this day we are here to celebrate, and having been authorized and recognized by the city of Los Angeles, in my role as the downtown Los Angeles town crier, it is my humble pleasure and duty to welcome and celebrate those of you who live and work in downtown Los Angeles, and those of you who are here as tourists. Welcome to our beautiful and wonderful and beloved downtown community.” And then you go, “May God bless our beloved downtown community, and may God, of course, bless these United States of America . . . .” 'Cause the other criers are all, “God Save the Queen.”