Santa Claus spread his cheer through the Torrance streets with "ho ho ho's" and "Merry Christmases," pausing only to pass out candy canes to neighborhood children. The jolly man wasn't atop the vessel the city's residents are used to, but it warmed hearts just the same.
Torrance's sleigh-like Santa float would have celebrated its 51st go-round, but gathering restrictions due to COVID-19 shuttered the beloved tradition this year. So Tony Trutanich Jr., owner of Old Tony's on the Pier in Redondo Beach, found a way to restore the city's Christmas spirit amid the sad news.
The alternatives the Torrance Police Officers Association attempted to come up with didn't cut it, the union said in a statement last month.
The hunt for a substitute celebration, however, was not sufficient according to Trutanich.
"Santa should be the last guy on the chopping block," Trutanich said in a Christmas' Eve's eve interview. "I think when (the city was) trying to come up with solutions they were stuck in this big production box mentality and lost focus. The kids don't care if Santa's driving a Rolls Royce— the city could've given Santa a beach cruiser with a horn and the kids would've loved it just as much. They just want to see this magical person who brings them presents every year come to life, that's it."
Upon hearing the news "It broke my heart because one of my best memories as a very young kid was going to my sister's house during the Redondo Santa tour and just waiting to see Santa, then hearing the police siren and having my parents say 'Tony, hurry up Santa is coming,' running to the street watching in total awe as Santa floated by the house."
That vivid memory is 45 years old, he added, so Trutanich knew he couldn't let the impact of the Santa tour be taken away from the city's children this year.
"I kept thinking to myself 'I'm not going to allow the coronavirus to take everything we have," Trutanich said. "So far it's taken businesses, jobs, homes, relationships and lives; now it wants to take away Santa? Not going to happen under my watch."
Trutanich rode around town for up to four hours a night in a "Santa Wagon" — his pickup truck strung with lights, ornaments and a siren blaring from a PA system hooked up to the roof, letting families know it was time to come outside and say hello to Santa, who waved from the truck bed. A friend navigated from the passenger's seat through Torrance's 22 map tracts as songs like "This Christmas" played through the speakers.
"This is awesome," residents said with thumbs up Wednesday, Dec. 23 evening as they walked back toward their homes. Community members have also showed gratitude through Facebook with comments such as "that was a really cool substitute" for the typical city-organized event.
"It was amazing to see everyone coming out from their homes and just waiting on the curb to watch us very slowly drive by," Trutanich said. Not only children wanted the experience, but "To see the 80-year-old couples come to their front doors and wave with huge smiles on their faces was just priceless."
He initially thought he would be able to hit every house in the city in two nights, Trutanich said. But after hitting only one area the first night pre-Christmas weekend, Trutanich realized what he'd signed himself up for.
"I'll be still doing it the day after Christmas" possibly until Dec. 27, Trutanich said, reaching every house on every street in Torrance. "The last day is when I get everybody," he added. "There's about 50,000 houses I've got to do." He'd just about hit the halfway mark before his fourth night out the day before Christmas' Eve.
Trutanich and his Christmas crew drew out about half of the families on each street, he said, some running to the next block to catch the appearance a second time. The kids look at Santa in awe, he added, and the parents behind them with thumbs up mouthing the words "thank you" makes it all worth the while.
If you heard Christmas music coming from a black pickup truck on the Torrance roads in the daytime, lit up with red, green, blue and white lights by night, you'll know who it is.