On Monday, it started with nachos.
And an irate lady.
My two little girls and I were enjoying some high-calorie chips with yellow jalapeno cheese goo glopped over the top of them in front of the Beer Garden at the “Fiesta Hermosa” when I noticed a Mexican family standing next to us. “Did you get one of these?” I asked as I offered each of them a million-dollar bill Gospel tract. They all smiled and snatched them from my hands.
Our joyful encounter was interrupted by a crackly voice. “You can’t hand those out here,” the gnarled fair worker scolded.
I looked in her direction and said reassuringly, “I certainly can; it’s my First Amendment right!”
“Are you from Hope Chapel?”
“Yes I am.”
“Then you know that you aren’t allowed to hand those out in the fair!”
“Of course I can; it’s my First Amendment right.”
I recognized the lady. She was a friend of the old woman I gave the million-dollar bill to on Friday night, the one who told me to leave.
“We’ll see about that. I’m calling Security.” She hollered into her walkie-talkie with the zeal of a Secret Service agent collaring her first terrorist. Since God gave me the gift of wisdom, I thought it best to leave. My girls and I quickly scooted out of the area.
We headed over to the kiddie area and wondered what ride to go on. Suddenly a big black man appeared, ecclipsing the sun. His Barney Fife assistant stood shakily next to him. “Are you the one handing out the literature?”
“Yes. It’s my First Amendment right to do so.”
“You aren’t allowed to do that here; this is a private fair.”
“Actually, I am allowed to do that here and if you don’t allow me to it, you will be violating my civil rights.” My courteous bluster didn’t faze him. He spoke directly into his walkie-talkie and called for the Hermosa Beach Police. I grabbed my girls’ hands and scurried away—again.
But they were right on my tail, and I couldn’t lose them.
This is ridiculous. I handed out three gospel tracts and now I’m the fugitive of the fair. I wonder if those costumed pirates we saw earlier had to endure this harassment when they were handing out their unwanted business cards?
“Daddy, why are they following you,” D.D. asked.
“I’m not sure. We only handed out a few million-dollar bills.” I had a brief thought, a silent prayer request as we made our way down Hermosa Avenue and turned onto Pier Avenue. Gee, I hope I see someone I know who can watch the girls. This is getting ugly.
Immediately, my best friend’s wife popped out of a shop. “Debbie. Can you watch the girls while I take care of some business with the police?” She was a bit startled, but after I explained the situation, she understood. She grabbed their hands and then D.D. burst into tears. She didn’t want Dada to go to jail. And to be perfectly honest, neither did I.
The cops were on the corner now talking to Security, and looking my direction. I decided to meet them head-on and walked on down to meet them. “Excuse me officer, what’s the problem?”
“You can’t be handing out that stuff at the fair,” Officer #1 informed me.
“But officer, this is my First Amendment right to do this. Look. Here’s what I’m doing.” I pulled a million-dollar bill out of my pocket and gave it to a passer-by who was listening in to the conversation. “Did you get one of these?” I asked.
“As a matter of fact, I did.” She looked squarely into the faces of the policemen. “And I appreciated it.”
“Listen,” Officer #1 said. You don’t want to waste our time tailing you around the fair, and we don’t want to waste your time tailing you around the fair, so here’s what you can do: you can hand them out on the Strand or outside the fair.”
“I guess I will have to go down to the police station to inform them of my constitutional rights.”
“Yes,” said Officer #2. “And carry the information on you.”
I left without making a commitment one way or the other. And I handed out another 40 tracts on the way back to my car. Then I saw her: Carla, the fair organizer! She was talking to Mr. Eclipse, the Security guy and a bunch of other rent-a-cops. I walked over to her and she apologized profusely. “I’m soo sorry about all of this. I know you wanted to enjoy the day with your family, but there was so much pressure on me. Next year, we’ll work something out. We’ll find a place for Hope Chapel; we’ll work something out.”
I walked over to Mr. Eclipse and made him apologize to D.D. for making her cry. In the faintest, wimpiest, softest voice you could ever barely hear, he whispered, “I’m sorry.”
What a battle. The entire weekend was a struggle. It was also a success. We handed out 3,000 bottles of free water, and over 16,000 million-dollar bills! We even have a promise from the Fair organizers to make it easier for our church to be represented next year. I’m also looking forward to clarifying my civil rights at City Hall.
But there’s so much more work to do… After our visit to the Fair, we went down to the McDonald’s in South Redondo. I gave a million-dollar bill to the cashier and asked her where she would go when she died, Heaven or Hell.
“In the ground,” she replied.
“Why do you believe that?”
“Because I’m Wiccan.”