“Go very light on the vices,” the legendary Satchel Paige famously advised. “The social ramble ain’t restful.”
Our admiration for the historic Hall of Famer’s nonpareil wit abides (“Don’t go to college, unless to get knowledge” is another Satchel tip we might have used earlier in life).
Ignoring his advice about the ramble, however, our elite Department of Society Coverage and Mr. Broadway Reporting spread out in force this week, chasing bashes, fetes and functions tossed on behalf of some of our favorite Newsmakers.
On Thursday night alone, a trio of civic revels marked the end-of-an-era retirement of Fire Chief Pat McElroy, the bittersweet departure of Indy journalist Kelsey Brugger and a congenial thank-you to readers by Edhat Publisher Lauren Bray.
Here’s our crack team's on-the-scene report:
Go Sic Trump. Scores of staffers, alums and friends of the SB Independent packed the patio of Wine Therapy, a hipster State Street joint featuring designer beers and chi-chi mimosas, among other things, neatly printed on a blackboard menu (served, of course, in Mason jars -sheesh) to bid farewell to ace reporter Kelsey Brugger, off to seek fame and fortune in Our Nation’s Capital.
But not before nonagearian Exec Editor and Angry Poodle scribbler Nick Welsh offered some Coltranesque improvisational speechifying that featured cranky pants anecdotes about the honoree’s blogging years and finished with a nice salute to her breakneck ascent up the journalistic learning curve:
“I learned more from Kelsey than she ever learned from me.," he said.
Editrix in Chief Marianne Partridge, who had the foresight and good sense to hire the phenom, accepted the tough challenge of following Nick's act, and laughingly recalled providing her nonplussed cub reporter the complex directions from Figueroa Street to the County Building the first time they let her out of the office alone.
Twin highlights: 1) the appearance of the handsome three-month old Elijah Lee Bryant, accompanied by Indy Publisher qua mom Brandi Rivera; and 2) presentation of a mock cover of the paper featuring a batch of joke headlines, including one that struck a low blow at “Newsmakers TV,." It referenced the in-studio insult war Brugger waged with Noozhawk political writerJosh Molina about Kelsey’s 20-something weltanshaung: “Leaving Molina to Mock Millennials with Methuselahs," it read.
Hardy, har, har.
The Great Woman herself, striking a Senatorial pose that suggested she's already boned up on Beltway voguing, declaimed that what she’d loved the most, beyond her colleagues, was the Indy's close connection to the community:
“People took the time to write,” she said. “Even if it was hate mail.”
We Want Roger. At the Cebada Wine tasting room. less than a hundred yards north on De La Guerra Plaza, Lauren Bray, Boss Lady of Edhat, meanwhile presided over a gathering of her tribe.
Billed as a celebration in recognition of the contest winners from the annual March Edness contest, the event drew an eclectic assortment of the site's community commenter cognoscenti to mingle in person with folks they usually only encounter online.
While the crowd put a serious dent in the inventory of Central Coast vintners, guests chowed down on fare provided by the Creekside Restaurant, Renaud’s, Santa Barbara Catering Company and Mesa Salsa while checking out a variety of Edhat swag.
Alas, Newsmakers failed to spot Roger, the site’s indefatigable police scanner DJ, although t-shirts with his image were on sale.
Hail to the Chief: The night’s biggest crowd packed the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, where about 200 pols, City Hall insiders and other hacks and flacks turned out for an homage to retired Fire Chief Pat McElroy.
The event featured the best nosh of the evening, an all-you-can eat choice of scrumptious beef, chicken, pork or, Lord help us, veggie, soft tacos with the all the trimmings, served up by La Colmena Catering (886-1331, plenty of free parking).
The hearty grub was essential to soldiering through, oh, 12 or 13 hours of speeches, proclamations, plaques, wisecracks. roasts, gag gifts (although several fifths of nicely-wrapped, high-end Irish whiskey will likely be put to more serious use) and appreciations of Pat's three-plus decades of lionhearted service.
Spotted in the crowd: Sheriff Bill Brown, front and center, and election challenger and department Deputy Brian Olmstead working the perimeter alongside campaign manager Mary Rose; soon-to-be Supervisor, Smilin' Gregg Hart; Former Mayor Helene Schneider, Mayor Cathy Murillo and Jason Dominguez, her chief council foil, along with colleagues Eric Friedman and Randy Rowse; City Administrator Paul Casey, joined by every department head, 'crat, commissioner and fire chief west of the Mississippi.
“Pat is a class act, not only as a fire chief but as a public servant and as a mentor to so many of us,” said Casey, capturing the overall warm and sincere tone of the evening.
Acting Fire Chief Lee Waldron emceed and, while he could have been more unflinching in giving the hook to a few of the windier orators, he nicely delivered a perfect deadpan recitation of early performance reviews from, um, McElroy’s personnel file.
“Appearance – satisfactory,” he read. “Attendance – Satisfactory…Ability to learn – Satisfactory.”
“Recruit McElroy paid attention and participated in class,” one training instructor noted early in Pat’s career.
Montecito Fire Chief Kevin Taylor, who’s only been on the job here since 2015, provided a bemused monologue that got big laughs, as he claimed wonderment about what other speakers found so marvelous in McElroy.
“In those three years, I haven’t seen any of those qualities that everybody’s talking about," Taylor said with a poker face. He added that SB's departing Chief had kept him at arm’s length for several years, before one day explaining that he hadn't bothered getting to know him because, “I didn’t think you’d pass probation.”
Foxhole buddy. The most heartfelt words came from retired Police Sgt. Mike McGrew, who concurrently worked the town alongside Pat, and also shared the joys of negotiating contracts for the cops with City Hall green eyeshades (shout out Jim Armstrong!), at the same time McElroy did the same for firefighters.
“He saved lives,” McGrew said of Pat's career. “He’s a hero. He’s my hero.”
By the time the honoree hit the stage, the Newsmakers photojournalism team had been dismissed, lest we had to pay overtime, and the society writer was poised to head out to the museum courtyard for a third serving of rice and beans,
At the last moment, we by good fortune hung in to hear Pat, voice breaking and eyes leaking, honor a roster of colleagues, friends and many among his firefighter fraternity. He disclosed that he'd planned to thank them personally - but five days before his retirement date came the Thomas Fire and its deadly aftermath.
McElroy ended with lovely words for his siblings, kids and bride, Bonnie, with whom he connected when both were Gauchos in the halcyon 1970s.
“We’re UCSB students who didn’t move home,” he said. “The transition to adulthood hasn’t quite happened yet.
“Bonnie – you’re stuck with me," he concluded, ".I love you, babe.”
Bottom line. With admirers surrounding him as the affair broke up, Newsmakers broke in to ask Pat if he felt like he’d had the singular good fortune to experience his own memorial service while still breathing.
“I was just thinking that,” he laughed. “I was thinking – where’s the casket?”
There were no injuries.
Images: (l-r) Kelsey Brugger, Marianne Partridge, Nick Welsh; Senator Kelsey addresses the people; Lauren Bray sporting swag; Pat McElroy nears his mic drop; Retired Sgt. Mike McGrew (photo by Josh Molina for Noozhawk); Former Chief McElroy.