Every Tuesday afternoon, just blocks from the Pacific Ocean, the wooden horses come out, and Santa Barbara's lower State Street is closed to all but the shopkeepers and restauranteurs on the sidewalks, and the farmers and pedestrians in the street. Then, onto the makeshift wooden tables tumble the cherries and lemons and berries, the eggplant and green beans and carrots, in a cascade of colors.
I feel right at home here. I grew up in an Italian family, where there was always someone imploring me to "try this - eat! eat!" Now the children of the farmers hold out their trays, and a bit more meekly than my relatives, offer samples from the earth's tasting menu. At some stands, all I want is one small red onion or a slender serrano chile pepper. As I reach into my pocket for some coins, I get waved away; like the samples and sunshine and the scents of the tuberose, the small stuff is free.
The misshapen heirloom tomatoes appeared and disappeared with the seasons, but I could count on the talk dark troubadour to be there always. With his guitar, big black stetson, and wide smile, he caught the eyes of the tots and the tweens, the grown-ups and the grown-olds, as he serenaded them. Some said he didn't have much family that anyone knew of. But when he died, they streamed into the Plaza Del Mar - the tots and the tweens, the grown-ups and the grown-olds - to smile back up at him and say good-bye.