He chuckles as he cuts the fresh steaks perfectly. Calvin Free, proud proprietor of the Beef Palace, arguably one of the best old-fashioned butcher shops on this coast (or any other, if you ask me), is in a good mood. Though he always seems to be in a good mood, whether he's talking to customers or employees, today is different. There's an extra, festive "oomph" in his cutting motion, and with good reason – he was recently named the grand marshal of the 48th Huntington Harbour Boat Parade.
"I am so proud I cannot even put it into words," he said behind the case of pork chops. "It's a complete honor, and I am making as much noise about this as I can. We want as many boats as we can get in the parade, we want folks to come out for the Cruise of Lights – this is just like the Fourth of July Parade in this city, a chance to show her off and get people excited about Huntington Beach."
Free's point is well taken. For almost 50 years, the holiday boat and home decoration activities have become signature Huntington Beach events. This year, Free has themed the boat parade to his own liking.
Have you seen the promotional signs around town?
"People are taking them as souvenirs," Free said.
Designed like an old-fashioned Western poster for a Wild West hoedown, the placards announce the "Wild West Harbour Hoedown and Boat Bonanza."
"Western theme this year," Free says. "Country music, country design themes for the boats – I think this is a first for the parade."
No doubt. And no doubt the Huntington Beach Philharmonic Committee is excited about who the grand marshal is. The committee's efforts in running the Cruise of Lights help benefit local youth and music programs, and that's what seems to excite Free the most.
"What these ladies do is amazing," he said. "They work so hard to help so many students, and that's the main reason I want to pump up the ticket sales. These events are amazing and so I, as the ringmaster, want to make sure everyone knows it. We kick it off with the boat parade, then there's the Cruise of Lights.
"When you see kid's eyes open wide when they see the decorated boats and how the houses are decorated, you get a sense of how magical these events are. This is sort of like Huntington Beach's version of the Rose Parade. Why would anyone miss this? You can come down and watch the boats from the island beaches. It's open to anyone and everyone.
"The frontier of the Old West is why we embrace the freedoms that we do, the independence we enjoy. I have a frontier mentality, and that's what folks will feel this year at the parade and cruise of lights. But please, everyone that can, get involved. Register your boats. Buy tickets for the cruise. This is going to be an unforgettable show this year."
The boat parade this year takes place Dec. 11 to 12. For information on how to register your boat for the parade, or to purchase tickets for the Cruise of Lights (Dec. 17 to 23), visit http://www.hhboatparade.org.
You'll know it's the right site when you hear the theme from "Bonanza" start up.
On another holiday note, I'll be signing books at Barnes & Noble at Bella Terra at 1 p.m. Dec. 11. If you'd like a signed book for someone this holiday, the store will have all of my local history books as well as "Roadside Baseball," "Hello, It's Me" and some of my other pop culture-related titles available.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 18 books, including the new "Hello, It's Me: Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.