"It's not like the L.A. car scene, where you are what
you drive," says Sherri Walker, editor and publisher of
The Catalina Islander. A quiet woman with short, sandy
blond hair, she sits on a bench by the sand, steps from her office
door. She looks up Avalon's main street at the line of nearly
identical white golf-carts parked nose-to-tail along the curb.
"No one points and says 'Wow, look at that golf cart.'"
In 1979, suffering choking traffic congestion and a critical
shortage of parking, this mile-and-a-half square
town passed City Ordinance No. 629 mandating negative population
growth for cars; two must leave the island before another is
allowed on. "The last person to get a new auto permit signed
up 13 years earlier," says Bill Loomis, the harried Vehicle
Clerk of Avalon, "and the wait is getting longer."
Only 718 remain, but the ordinance does permit one "autoette,"
in official parlance, per dwelling unit, so Avalon has slowly
become a city of golf carts.About 1300 populate the town.
The typical Avalon autoette is a one cylinder, 12-horsepower,
gas-fueled cart that does about 12 miles per hour. By tweaking
the engine you can milk a zippy 18 MPH from it. The town's speed
limit is only 20, so you don't need much more zip than that.
An autoette gets about 50 MPG from its six-gallon gas tank (unleaded
regular, $2.50 a gallon out here), although all this is a bit
hard to confirm since carts don't have speedometers or odometers.
Most are made by Yamaha, and most are white.
John Regalado runs the town's Yamaha dealership. Since the city
limits the number of carts, Regalado doesn't sell many new ones;
service is where the money is. His "showroom" is a
two-stall repair garage with a couple of newish models parked
out front. Compactly built, with California beach-boy looks,
Regalado's also a city councilman and mayor pro tem. He kindly
wipes the cart grease from his palms before shaking your hand.
"Kids here look forward to getting golf carts like mainland
kids wait to buy cars," he offers, "they go cruising
after school, and scoot out to Buena Vista Point to party at
night. You know, teen things."
Cars and kids and California have always made for a heady brew,
but it's hard to imagine that anyone ever got laid for the first
time in the back of their father's EZ-Go. Nevertheless, a sheriff's
deputy often stakes out the road by the high school to keep things
under control. "Autoettes are subject to all the laws that
govern any other vehicle in California," says Lt. Gary Olsen,
LA County Sheriff Unit Commander for Catalina Island. "It's
serious business. We write a lot of tickets every year, mostly
rolling through stop signs, but lots of DUIs, too," he says.
"That's a big problem, especially with tourists."
How do you tell a DUI at 10 MPH?
"Oh,you can tell," he responds, sagely.
Are carts ever used in the commission of a crime?
Any road rage?
"Nah. No golf cart drive-by's either."
How about a slow-speed chase?
"Nah. And no chopper pursuits for television. It would be
a hazard to the pilot. Too much laughing."
Avalonians celebrate their particular brand of freedom each year
on July 4th, when everyone decorates their autoettes with banners
and streamers for the big parade. Councilman Regalado pulls a
huge speaker trumpeting Sousa marches behind his yellow "tow
truck" cart. Dr. Wall, the retired dentist, waves heartily
from his deep-luster-red replica Rolls Royce-ette. The USC Marching
band is there, and 15,000 people show up to watch. The town gives
awards for Most Patriotic, Best Use of Theme, and Funniest.
Paraders include those rich folk from over in Hamilton Cove,
the new condo development on the outskirts of town. Regalado
thinks little of their custom carts, which they've imported from
the mainland.. "There's a stretch limo cart," he says
"and a 'Humdinger,' which looks like a Hummer. A few have
Mercedes grills. We won't fix 'em though." Neither will
the island's other mechanic, John Macktal, owner of Avalon Golf
Cart Repair. Macktal says "It's like sleeping with another
woman, having a kid with her, and then bringing it to us to raise,"
Macktal says. "You should marry the woman you know."