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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Community Flavor vs. Panhandling

By Silvia Uribe

The issue of panhandlers is viewed by many as a nuisance, and by others as true social negligence. Some say that panhandlers discourage them from walking downtown. For me, this problem is not enough to preclude my enjoyment and pride for Santa Barbara, which doesn't compare to any other place I know. Here is why.

Last Saturday night for instance, I found myself standing on State Street, across from Paseo Nuevo, listening to a group called "The Blasting Sound". The rambunctious music was not ear splitting, as one might assume by their name. It was rather powerful, rhythmic, and definitely inviting.

Very much like a magnet, the young music players attracted groups of around 30-50 people each; passersby that stopped to listen, and left when the musicians took a very brief break after several songs. Altogether, about 300 plus people stopped for at least 15 minutes to listen to them.

People on the other side of the street were not immune to their magnetism. They were also clapping loudly after each song. Since I was not planning to leave any time soon, I decided to join those across the street, have a cup of coffee, and continue enjoying the serenade. The Blasting Sound played what seemed to be old European songs mixed with some Middle Eastern tunes for about 2 hours, almost non-stop. It was a real treat.

However, good music is not the only entertainment that you can find here. In Santa Barbara, there's something for everyone, and the entertainment happens everywhere, all year long.

You can find colorful balloons made by a world recognized balloon maker in the form of flowers, animals, or whatever else that pleases your taste. Or, exotic entertainment, like petting snakes big and small. There are drummers, and High School trashcan players. A dog, a cat and a rat piled on top of each other strolling down the street. There are random singers in English or in Spanish (how international!). There are skillful jugglers, and a street cartoonist capturing people's mementos.

If this is not enough, think about the entertainment that people like you and I provide for those who enjoy people watching, or about those who proudly drive their jumping low-riders, their impressive bikes, or their ultra expensive, envy provoking cars. And how about dogs? Small, big, medium, dressed up, in strollers, or socializing and allowing people to pet them.

For those who enjoy food, Santa Barbara is like the Garden of Eden, offering delicious, luscious, and at times, sinful bites; from traditional American food, to exotic dishes from around the world. A number of these eateries offer outdoor seating on the sidewalk, for patrons to enjoy the city's ambiance, and beautiful days and nights.

Not too far away from downtown, all sorts of festivals appear like wild flowers in the country during the warmer season: the French, the Italian, the Greek, Fiesta (for 5 days), ‘I Madonnari' for those who love art, music and food together, Earth Day, Cinco de Mayo, and a few more that escape my memory.

The social networking that takes place at any given moment right on the street is amazing. Living here, one can find (every three steps) some family member, friend, or co-worker. Lost tourists asking for directions (to the place right in front of them) and, at times, celebrities enjoying a rare opportunity for certain degree of privacy, and being able to take a calm stroll, just like anyone else.

We have the movie theatres, the many coffee shops, and all the shopping one might want. And, please don't forget the magnificent vistas of the ocean, and the mountains, the sunrises and the sunsets, and the unmatchable weather of the California Central Coast, which set our city apart from any other place.

No, I'm not being blind to the panhandler issue. But, with so much beauty, so much entertainment, and so many good and fun people around us, it is practically impossible for me to focus on one problem as opposed to enjoying all the good in our vibrant town.

How can we, then, deal with the panhandler issue? In the most effective way: with our volunteer work, and/or our money.

In the meantime, we can continue to dote upon the quality of life that we have in Santa Barbara, the entertainment opportunities that it offers, and the friendly (for the most part) community around us.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

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