Driving Up State Street at Night: Christmas, Santa Barbara, 1955

By Christopher Buckley

We stop at the light on 101, turn right up State and
pull over to the curb . . . my father shifts the Hydramatic
of our shell-white Pontiac into Park, and the glowing orange
moon of the cigarette lighter rises from the dash
as my parents light-up their KENTs. . . .
                                                                  I lean over
the middle of the wide front seat to gaze at the arc
of decorations, the air sparkling for as far as I can see—
ice-colored stars and golden bells, red wreaths hanging
from each street lamp—and soon we begin swerving
around the wide white bases of 20 foot Christmas trees
stationed in the middle of the street.
                                                            Last week before
Christmas, and all the shops are open until 9:00, sidewalks
packed, cars jamming all four lanes.  There’s OTTS
with electric trains circling in and out of papier maché
Swiss Alps, a display of baseball gloves and bats—
The White House where we buy my school uniforms
the color of the sea.  To the right, De la Guerra Plaza
with blue, red, orange, and green bulbs strung between
the palms, and the bright, office of Western Union
where I once cut my chin on the marble counter top.
Carrillo Street, Silverwoods on the corner where
my father’s sport coats come from, a glow beneath
the Florsheim shoes . . . then the house-high windows
of Woolworths, our station wagon reflecting in them
as we stop at the signal, and I. Magnin where I sit
on the one chair while my mother looks at the new
beige fashions. We pass the smoky haze of Pelch & Sons,
the boxes of panatellas glistening behind the glass. 
I look out the back window to the tall Balboa Building
where my father reads the evening news on KTMS;
I point to a gleaming blue Cadillac gliding by.  
At Anapamu “Silver Bells” by the McGuire Sisters
is piped through speakers at the base of a tree,
and diners in line at the Copper Coffee Pot move slowly
in a glimmering hive.  Neon shimmers on the marquee
of the Granada Theater, and the spire of the Fox Arlington,
where I saw Peter Pan, disappears into the stars . . .
three of us, in the calm dark of the car, surrounded
by all the light it seemed the world would ever need.

Christopher Buckley has lived in Santa Barbara since 1952 and it has always been a source of inspiration. Star Journal: Selected Poems, The Far Republics, and The Pre-Eternity of the World, are recent books of poetry. His memoirs are Cruising State, Sleep Walk, and Holy Days of Obligation. Also by this poet: "Sparrows" and "Blossoms"