Changing Seasons, Changing Times


I’ve seen him a couple of times. A bent over man with a flowing white beard, hitchhiking along a rural canyon road. It’s Christmas, I’m thinking, and he looks like Kris Kringle. Still, I keep driving — feeling cautious and guilty at the same time. “What if he is Santa?” I ask myself. “What if I’ve lost the ability to believe?”

Then I remember last week’s hold-up at the Knitting Basket, where a man walked into the store with a gun. I remember the string of recent robberies in Montclair, catching shoppers off-guard.

The holidays bring out the best — and the worst — in people. We want to believe in the goodness of mankind. But for some, this is only a season to steal and to victimize. Santa is out there, but so is the Grinch. Let your heart be merry — but your eyes be watchful.

Speaking of Santa

The last of Santa’s workshops and photo sessions is this Saturday in Rockridge. Bring the kids from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Santa is set up at 5467 College Avenue.

And take a ride on the free cable car running up and down the busy street.

Chain reaction

Everywhere I go, people stop me to talk about the future of Montclair. My Dec. 3rd column on chain stores in the Village really touched a nerve.

Here’s more feedback: Robbie Neely with Friends of Montclair Village writes: “Hear, hear! As you might recall, voters in our survey last summer — what do you like most/least about the Village? — frequently mentioned the absence of chains and the uniqueness of shops under “like most.” And, under “like least” the lack of dining diversity was among the top vote getters.”

Montclair shopper Sheryl Nureck says she’s originally from New York and always seeks out neighborhoods with stores that make people feel connected to their neighborhoods. She, too, wants to keep that small-town feeling. “I hope in the end, it’s not just about money for the real estate owners (landlords),” she says.

But local Realtor Lydia Nayo (Coldwell Banker) offers a different perspective: “I want to believe Montclair is a sufficiently diverse community to be able to handle two ice cream shops with different ambiances and experiences to offer.”

Nayo says the Village has competition in other categories such as dry cleaners and restaurants, and “the answer will be for loyalists of a favorite place to keep it their favorite, and for the merchants to do their work and keep up with change.”

Animal tales

The raccoon and the pussy cat are the subject of two tales from readers. The “coon” nearly died while dining in the trash at a local swim club. How he got there was most unfortunate. The club’s cleaning crew unwittingly wrapped him in the nightly garbage — and tossed him in the Dumpster. He was freed when the day crew saw the trash take on a life of its own, with the bag flopping wildly in the bin. And you thought only cats had nine lives.

Speaking of cats, they’re part of the ambiance at Quinn’s Lighthouse on Oakland’s Embarcadero. Restaurant owner Bodo Eichler says he feeds four stray cats. They give him such joy, they’re like part of the family. All I can say is the fish must be really fresh at Quinn’s. You know how finicky cats can be.

Holiday surprise

What’s a good English Christmas without figgy pudding? Just ask Frances Jones, who says she’s stopped making the dish at her house, after a guest nearly cracked her tooth on the filling.

No, it wasn’t the fruit that was hard — in fact, this recipe was fig-less. It was the six pence hidden in the holiday offering — a tradition that required guests to cut their portions into tiny, bite-sized pieces. With no figgy pudding this Christmas, is there a void in the holiday season? Apparently not. “It’s like the fruitcake tradition,” says Jones. “You know, everyone hates fruitcake. We just kind of gave it up.”

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