SANTA MARIA, Calif. — Next year, this ordinarily tranquil Central Coast city, a proud purveyor of broccoli and barbecue, will mark its 100th birthday -- probably with less hoopla than Michael Jackson's fans marked his arraignment here on child-molestation charges.
Folks in town are as divided as they are anywhere else on Jackson's innocence or guilt. But many agree on one point: Friday's event was the biggest criminal proceeding in the city's history and, at least for a while, residents have had about as much excitement as they can stand.
Police Chief Danny Macagni fumed over Jackson's dramatic grand exit.
"He was supposed to just walk out," said the 28-year department veteran, whose mouth is all but concealed by a bushy, brown mustache. "The crowd started inching forward, and he climbs on the SUV and starts dancing, riling them up. It caused us some issues. We had to physically push people off the road. We were not pleased."
Forty-five of the department's 107 officers helped control crowds outside the courthouse. That left other parts of the city un-patrolled, the chief said. Detectives who normally work gang cases or track narcotics dealers had to squeeze back into their old uniforms, and even with their help, the throng of several thousand at the courthouse taxed the department's limits.
"We didn't have enough hands," said Macagni, adding that several fans would have been arrested for obstruction if there had been enough manpower. Asked how he would feel if the trial were moved, Macagni smiled.
Others around town seconded the motion.
"We'd be 100% better off without it," said Trini Martinez, a 75-year-old retired lettuce harvester, between sips of wine at the bar of the Rancho bowling lanes. "And what'll happen if he's found guilty? You know the riot we'll have here in Santa Maria? You just watch!"
Santa Marians are not accustomed to a lot of sound and fury, nor to cameras beaming chaotic scenes at their courthouse into living rooms from Kokomo to Katmandu.
"Our big things are the strawberry festival and the Elks rodeo," Machelle Hammond said.
The city of 80,000 sees little crime, with an average of two homicides yearly.
It draws many new residents from Los Angeles, real estate refugees seeking lower home prices and a peaceful place to raise their kids. On Friday, as helicopters hovered over the courthouse, "People were saying, 'I moved out of L.A. to get away from these things,' " Macagni said.
At venerable Shaw's Restaurant, popular for its barbecue, friends gathered at the bar and jawed about their town's sudden fame.
"We were watching Mickey J. on TV all day long," said Derrick Doud, 33, from his barstool. "It's excitement for the community."
But like others, Doud was wary of media portrayals of Santa Maria as Dogpatch West. A produce worker, he is proud of the city's status as a thriving agricultural hub that supplies the nation with a cornucopia of broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, strawberries and other crops.
Sal Tolentino, waiting with his son for haircuts at The Barbery, fumed that he "heard some media saying we were just a podunk farm town. That's not fair. It's a small town, but we have a lot of interesting people."
Ralph Sanchez, 41, a produce company manager, looked at the bright side of the media onslaught.
"This is good for Santa Maria," he said between bites of barbecued steak and baked potato. "Nobody knows what Santa Maria is. It's good exposure."
About 61% of Santa Maria's residents are Latino, and Sanchez said Jackson is popular among them. Some of Jackson's Neverland ranch employees were flown by the star to Guadalajara for their team's soccer match.
"He's a very fine person," Sanchez said.
While opinions on Jackson vary, nobody argues that his trial is putting Santa Maria on the map, for better or worse.
Hotels last week were packed with journalists and fans, a windfall in the off-season for tourism. Local entrepreneurs such as Spencer Grew also made out well.
On Friday morning, Grew rented space outside his bungalow near the courthouse to vendors selling tacos and tri-tip sandwiches.
"I made about $150," he said. "I'm looking forward to Michael Jackson coming back."
Mayor Larry Lavagnino, who lives in a white brick home a few minutes from City Hall, said he doesn't mind the spotlight on his town. "Santa Maria is a boomtown," said the mayor, a gregarious hometown product who is proud to say that he's listed in the phone book. "A lot of people can't afford to live in Santa Barbara or San Luis Obispo, so they come here."
The median home price in Santa Maria is $310,000, a bargain compared with other cities in Santa Barbara County. With subdivisions and big-box shopping centers sprouting on the city's outskirts, the population has jumped by one-third since 1990 and more than double since 1980.