The street is flooded with people. Floodlights take away the magic of the night, and for a half-mile all I can see are drunken college students sporting their Halloween costumes. I try to move through the crowd without jostling too many people, but I cannot avoid the strange girl walking alongside me, screaming at the top of her lungs right into my ear. I feel a hand touch the top of my head, stroking my pink wig. I look back to see the culprit, a young man in a giant fuzzy red Elmo suit, and he just laughs. His intentional touch makes me feel uneasy; so far any other form of groping has been accidental. I try to walk away from him, but the wall of people sauntering in front of me, taking in all their surroundings, prevents me from getting any further.
Then, we stop. I look up, and 24 people run in a vertical chain past me, each one wearing a different letter of the alphabet. “Z” runs to catch up, panting as he struggles to keep up, getting more and more engulfed by the crowd by the second. I didn’t see “Y.”
On my right there is a group of three guys sitting by a makeshift table. Every time a girl passes them, they hold up a number and howl like wolves, showing their appreciation for the skimpy outfits. It is 50 degrees outside, and every single girl on the street is wearing a costume that barely covers her ass. I hear more howling. Glancing towards the table, I notice a girl wearing nothing but cellophane wrapped around her private areas.
It’s another Halloween in Isla Vista, the one-square mile town adjacent to the University of California, Santa Barbara. This particular year, 2008-my supposed last year in the Isla Vista debauchery scene, over 45,000 people came to Isla Vista to take part in the Halloween festivities. Over 240 law officers and 110 people from Emergency Medical Services, ambulance companies, hospitals, Alcoholic Beverage Control, and Search and Rescue from Santa Barbara County and other nearby counties come to Isla Vista every year to try to control the crowds and maintain a safe environment. Cops are everywhere: on foot, on bike, in cars (though with the number of people, they cannot drive anywhere), and on horse. Last year, there were 220 arrests and 400 citations over the Halloween weekend, although most of those arrests and citations were for out-of-towners who are not used to the way the Isla Vista Foot Patrol runs things.
As someone who lives in this crazy mess, I make sure to never hold an open container outside of a private residence, I try to blend in with the crowd, and I never let it show that I am drunk.
Isla Vista has been a happening Halloween party scene for the past 30 years, and its reputation was boosted in 1992, when Playboy listed it as one of the “best parties in America.” 50,000 people came to Isla Vista that year, and the chaos and riots that ensued cause law enforcement to crack down.
Now, students living in the dorms are not allowed to have visitors, no loud music is allowed after 6 p.m. during Halloween week-because this is usually a week-long celebration-and Isla Vista is in a sort of lock-down. Blockades are set up so people can only get to the town through one road, and emergency medical teams set up camp around town in case they need to treat people with alcohol poisoning. This year, because Halloween falls on a Saturday, authorities are expecting a crowd of 65,000.
This year, I find myself still living in Isla Vista-the result of being in a serious relationship with someone one year younger than me and still in college-and I also find myself in a situation even more restrictive than when I lived in the dorms.
My apartment complex has its own lock-down, meaning no one is allowed on the property unless they live there. If I am caught having a visitor, then I get between a 3 to 30-day eviction notice, depending on the circumstances. My landlord hired a security guard to check everyone’s ID once they step onto the property to make sure they live there, and he has put a fence around the entire complex so no one can “sneak in.” I pay to live here, and it looks like a prison.