YORBA LINDA — For a long time, Yorba Linda was a tiny town of avocado trees and lemon groves. In the past 10 years, it started to boom. On Tuesday, it exploded.
"The noise, the compressors, the sirens, the sound checks, the helicopters, the hammering. They've been going at it all night," Russ Watroba said, having just that morning engaged in a nasty spat with looky-loos as he tried to put his trash cans on the curb.
This enclave of horses and trees and low crime and almost no graffiti finds itself in the eye of a storm of media and mourners and rubber-neckers and cops as preparations continue for the burial of Yorba Linda's native son, Richard Milhous Nixon.
All the commotion is getting to be a pain in the birthplace. Homeowners can't go to the market for milk without being asked to show proof of residency to go home again. The helicopters are waking up babies. The dogs won't stop barking at all the invaders, and there is no place to park.
For all that, Yorba Linda wouldn't trade places right now with any other city in the world.
"It's a hassle," Brian Gibson said as he mulled over the idea of getting out of town when the real hordes converge today. "But how often does this happen? I might as well stick around and say six Presidents were 100 yards from my house on a single day."
They call Yorba Linda the Land of Gracious Living, and never has a motto been more tested. Cars filled with strangers prowl up and down residential streets searching for a place to park. The merchants on Main Street spent most of Tuesday morning shooing non-customers out of parking spaces and watching woefully as clients drove impatiently away. There were shouting matches in the streets.
"I've given up," said Leo Reilly, owner of the Yorba Linda Hardware store, where a young Richard Nixon once swept floors for pocket money. "I told one lady this is a 15-minute parking space. She waited a minute then got out of her car and left."
The Nixon Library & Birthplace is surrounded by California bungalows and mom-and-pop businesses where people take pride in being welcoming and friendly. This is a Quaker town, where grandsons live across the street from their grandmothers.
So why did Carol Sasaki find herself leaping from her car Monday as she fought to make a right turn into her son's school and hollering at the barricade of cars that refused to let her pass? "Do you \o7 know \f7 how rude you are?"
"There is just no privacy," said one resident, who has taken to putting on a pair of pants when he gets out of bed. "You can't walk through the house at night with a light on without somebody looking in."
If all of this was not imposition enough, there was talk of shooting off some kind of cannon. Rootless Southern California has never been much for protocol, but Washington is the brains behind this operation, and according to the rules set out by the U.S. Military District of Washington, the death of an ex-President is grounds for all sorts of tributes, including the firing of one gun every half-hour from dawn to dusk, a 21-gun salute fired at one-minute intervals during the funeral ceremony, and a 50-gun salute fired at five-second intervals when the burial is complete.
The Nixon funeral has attracted four ex-Presidents and one current one, several foreign dignitaries, media from around the world and Nixon devotees, some who traveled from across the country at great personal expense ($4,000 for a family of three from Washington, D.C., to Orange County) just to pay their last respects to a man they figure was long past due for some.
Members of Nixon's Cabinet coming to the funeral include former Labor Secretary Peter Brennan; former Commerce Secretary Frederick Dent; Elliot L. Richardson, former attorney general and secretary of defense; former Secretary of State William P. Rogers, former Defense Secretary James R. Schlesinger; former Secretary of Health, Education and Human Resources Caspar W. Weinberger and former Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr., who was Nixon's chief of staff.
The magnificence of it all was not wasted for a minute on Jenny Fae Sprague, who sat in a lawn chair in her son's back yard, a stone's throw from the little white house where Nixon was born 81 years ago. She had an Instamatic camera in one hand and her grandson's dog, Booger, in the other.
Booger had the run of the grassy yard until Monday, when his owner, 23-year-old Jamie Rice, gave ABC News in New York permission to erect a four-story metal scaffold in his back yard. As his grandmother was busy making a photographic record of the emerging scaffold, Rice was dragging two big trash cans into the street to save a coveted parking space for an ABC reporter.
"It's exciting," Rice said, smoking one of the five packs of Camels he purchased Monday so as not to have to go to the store in all this traffic. "Also, there was a little bit of money involved."
As long as they were going to be overrun, John Hansen and Jason Moquin, who live across the street from the library, figured they'd try to make a buck too. After all, Nixon was a capitalist, wasn't he? They and their neighbors sold parking spots in their driveways for $10 a pop. Moquin made some extra money by getting one taker at the television van rate of $100.
The anticipation seemed to undercut the sadness this community felt when word of Nixon's death came Friday. Yorba Linda had never blamed Nixon, and it is determined to give him a proper tribute one last time, all the traffic and noise be damned.
"We've watched him come in lots of times in helicopters. We were here for the opening of the library," Kay Rogers, a retired kindergarten teacher at the Richard Nixon School, said as she tiptoed through the mud to peek through the rails of a fence at the freshly dug grave, just a few feet from where Pat Nixon was laid to rest. "I think it's wonderful he's getting his due."