Each day, a small throng of tourists gathers near the intersection of 5th Avenue and San Carlos Street in Carmel, auto-focus cameras slung around their necks and self-conscious grins fixed on their faces. These days, however, their concentration centers not on Clint Eastwood's restaurant, the Hog's Breath Inn, but on a small, inconspicuous, gray-stucco storefront next door. This is Eastwood's drab mayoral campaign headquarters, and if the stakeout is successful and the tourists are lucky, they just might be blessed with a glimpse of The Candidate himself.
"There he is! Ooooo! Ooooo!" exclaimed one woman recently.
"Where? Where? Where is he?" her friend asked.
"Beige sport coat."
"Just gone by?"
"Oh!" said the friend, without a whiff of disappointment. "My fleeting touch with fame."
There are days when Eastwood never shows, although no one seems to know for sure if that's because he's out of town or simply out of sight. On the afternoons when he does come strolling down the street, usually alone, often on a casual campaign walkabout, it's tough for even the most cynical, celebrity-hardened Carmelite not to notice.
For one thing, there is the man himself: At 55, Eastwood is tall, slender, remarkably handsome and usually dressed in a casually elegant style. For another, there is his effect on people: Wherever he goes, people are there waiting; whenever he stops, crowds tend to gather.
Eastwood has been drawing more crowds than usual of late. He made headlines around the world Jan. 30 when he launched a campaign to become the next mayor of Carmel, the tiny, arts-obsessed beach town where he has lived for 14 years. He faces three distinctly different opponents. Incumbent Mayor Charlotte Townsend, 61, is an earnest, friendly, sincere "local neighborhood lady" who conducts her campaign by knocking on doors and preaching against progress. Paul Laub, 41, is Townsend's opposite--a brassy, funny, energetic entrepreneur who sometimes arrives for meetings in a flashy, silver 1937 Bentley drop-head coupe. Last on the ballot is Tim Grady, a 27-year-old dishwasher and self-described environmentalist who, when he is not hitchhiking across the country, lives in Carmel promoting harmony with nature and the Indian way of life.
These three candidates, however, are not what brought an army of reporters to Carmel, answering the call for details on the city's election: It's Citizen Clint who's the main attraction. For weeks after Eastwood announced, reporters of every stripe could be seen conspicuously wandering around Carmel's tree-lined streets, poking their heads inside the chichi shops on Ocean Avenue, jotting furiously in notebooks and interviewing everyone in sight. At times the crush of reporters was comical, with the Sacramento Bee following the London Daily Star following the Monterey Peninsula Herald.
But for the most part, there's not much to see. Signs are strictly regulated, so there's almost no physical indication of a hotly contested political campaign. About the only exception, aside from the understated (and uniform) VOTERS REGISTER HERE placards in some shops, is the front window of Ocean Avenue Realty. There, in tasteful array with pictures of million-dollar houses, sits a copy of the Jan. 30 edition of the local newspaper, the Carmel Pine Cone, with its easy-to-see banner headline: "Clint Runs for Mayor."
Two blocks away, one of the city's 37-or-so art galleries has filled a display window with a new masterpiece--a cowboy sitting at a desk and loading his gun behind the nameplate: "Mayor, City of Carmel." The tourists who gather around the picture agree that it was not painted with the current grandmotherly incumbent in mind. Other merchants have also sought to cash in on the new tide of tourists. One restaurant introduced a pasta entree, "Spaghetti Western," while Eastwood pal H. E. (Bud) Allen was offering a new libation at his It's Bud's pub: a concoction called "Clint's Breath," made by blending 7-Up, vodka and cranberry juice in a glass-stemmed mug, then adding a golf-ball garnish. Any person willing to pony up $3.50 can keep the mug and the golf ball.
Merchants aren't the only people to have a little fun with Eastwood's new endeavor. The local newspapers have been flooded with variations of Eastwood's most memorable line--"Go ahead, punk, make my day"--from "Sudden Impact," the last movie chronicling the extra-legal exploits of renegade San Francisco police officer "Dirty Harry" Callahan. Mac McDonald, managing editor of the weekly Pine Cone, finally pleaded in print for them to stop. "If I hear another 'Make my day' take-off, I'll scream," he cautioned, "or worse yet, write a long, involved editorial on the sewage capacity of (Carmel Sanitation District) facilities."