LA JOLLA — Wall Street would not have been much wilder Sunday had battalions of bulls and bevies of bears been allowed to run unimpeded down the pavement.
Not, mind you, that Wall Street, but the tiny thoroughfare that bisects the heart of downtown La Jolla and has become the setting of one of the season's liveliest and most ambitious annual parties.
Although most participants refer to this romp simply as "the street dance," its official title is "The Off the Wall Street Dance." And going off-the-wall on Wall Street (or going slightly crazy in an entirely haute monde, La Jolla, way) is the coyly chic idea behind this fund-raiser for the UC San Diego School of Medicine and Medical Center. Chic it may be, but Off the Wall is a family party, too, a kind of extended block or neighborhood celebration that contains elements both corny and carny ("carny" as in carnival; the scene abounds in games of skill and chance). Sunday's version, the fourth in the series, brought 4,000 ready, willing and able participants together for a four-hour extravaganza of eating, dancing, people watching and schmoozing.
The Off the Wall committee, headed by Bette Biddulph and assisted by more than 1,000 volunteers, began arriving at 5 a.m. to erect the three bandstands and the cloth walls that barricade the party area from surrounding streets. The job approached that of building a temporary village, since by the 4 p.m. curtain time, food and game booths had been built on either side of Wall Street; a jail had been put in place (your friends and loved ones pay to have you incarcerated), and the vat beneath the notorious but beloved dunking booth had been filled with water as chilly as the season allows.
Building on the momentum generated by the previous street dances, the party filled up fast; in no time at all, it was possible to get mustard from someone else's hot dog on your shirt, while dripping your guacamole on his. And the food was important--rather as if they were intent on one-upping Julius Caesar, this crowd came, saw and ate. The two dozen or so food and drink booths were underwritten by various local businesses and individuals, with many favorites returning, including the Oak Tree's famous popovers and Tom Henry's noted burgers. It took a lot to feed this group; Gustaf Anders brought 70 pounds of cured salmon for its gravad lax booth, and Somerset Caterers simmered and chopped more than 110 pounds of chicken for its Mexican fajitas stall.
All this nourishment went to fuel a lot of purposes, one of which simply was to wander around and observe everyone else. Without expending much effort, one could take in a varied scene that included Off the Wall Godfather Jack Farris in his Commander Third Fleet cap; children being tugged along by balloons; other children with "Off the Wall" painted on their faces by street artists; one big kid with his business telephone number painted on his cheek; people desperately trying to look calm after swallowing Smith, Barney's still-sizzling pot stickers; stylish La Jolla socialites breezing along in spangled dresses created from out-sized T-shirts; local athletes in heated competition at the sinew-sapping bean toss booth; belly dancer Janet Orr employing a curved scimitar as her Fred Astaire; men costumed as grapes, who presumably just wanted to be part of the bunch, and the picture of Gallic poise in the form of caterer Michel Malecot, who calmly replaced his dripping toque upon his equally dripping brow each time he climbed out of the dunking booth. And he climbed out many times.
No one had to go far to dance, since there were three dance floors, three stages and enough bands to keep them busy at all times. Nearly every popular style was performed, from rock 'n' roll and boogie-woogie to whatever it is that contemporary kids seem to like. The Wall Street Blues Band took center stage to showcase the vocal talents of lead singer Todd Canty, who flew in the day before from New York and had to be back on the job on the more famous Wall Street by 8 a.m. Monday morning.
The party's committee expected to net $110,000 from combined admission sales and concession revenues; the proceeds will be divvied up among eight programs of the UCSD School of Medicine and Medical Center.
Among the many committee members were Mimi Morris, Carole Mayo, Bruce Sinykin, Robin Kellogg, Rudy Rehm, Dick Huddleston, Jan Schultz, Sally Bucko, Marge Palmer, Monique Gray, Linda Suckling, Jocelyn Vortmann, Judy Hedenberg, Melanie Fuller, Rene Roques, Rayleen Liebhardt, Patsy Kraus and Jean Johnson.
The terraced lawns that abut Ballard and Linda Smith's La Jolla home include several athletic amenities, such as tennis courts and a pool, but, interestingly enough, there is nary a batting cage in sight. The San Diego Padres' president presumably sees enough of those when he goes to the office.