While scores of garden enthusiasts were smelling flowers, chatting amiably with landscapers, and picking up pro tips for water conservation and compostables in Atascadero during the Seventh Annual Autumn Garden tour, a lonely man drove from house to house, frustrated and confused.
Patrick Kidd thought it was kind of odd that many of the homes on his map seemed abandoned and that no signs or hosts welcomed him to each location, but he’d never been on a self-guided garden tour before. Maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be, he thought, so he parked his car, milled about a stranger’s yard admiring shrubs for a few minutes, and moved on to the next spot.
After five hours of navigating the rural back roads of Atascadero, Kidd finally learned the error of his ways. He had just photographed a Buddha statue and befriended a horse in Michele Duero’s back yard, when she came home from the real garden tour and asked why Kidd was on her property.
“I looked again at my list to make sure I had the right address,” Kidd wrote in a lengthy letter to New Times, “and I asked her: ‘Did you know you are on the Autumn Garden Tour?’”
She wasn’t, although she had been two years ago, and Kidd apparently had the list of participants from 2010.
Earlier that week, Kidd bought his garden tour ticket from the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce for $10. The event was actually organized and run by the Atascadero Mutual Water Company as an effort to demonstrate how gardens could be beautiful without wasting water, but the Chamber helped by selling tickets and later depositing all of the proceeds with the water company.
Chamber president Linda Hendy explained that one of her volunteers tried to be extra helpful by going online and finding a list of participating homes for Kidd. Current lists weren’t available online, however.
“Unfortunately, our volunteer thought he’d help out by printing it off the Internet, but it was from a previous year,” Hendy said. “It says right on the ticket that they’ll get a packet at the first stop, though.”
Kidd went home with his list of addresses and a newly purchased city map to mark out his tour route. When he arrived at the tour’s starting point on Oct. 13, organizers gave him a stack of brochures, with information on the North County water shortage and a map of participating gardens.
“They gave me a bunch of materials that, at the time, I wasn’t interested in,” Kidd said. “I already had my map, and hell, I was ready to go.”
When Kidd came back to the Chamber seeking a refund and compensation for time and gas wasted, he was told that he’d have to contact the water company, but he wasn’t having that.
“In my viewpoint, I held [the Chamber] responsible,” Kidd said. “I know there was no ill intention. They didn’t do this on purpose, but nevertheless, it happened.”
He wanted Hendy to contact the water company and resolve the situation. Jamie Hendrickson, lead organizer of the event, said the Chamber called her, explained the situation, and told her to expect a call from Kidd. It never came, and she had no way to return the call.
“I’ve been waiting for him to call. I would gladly refund his money,” Hendrickson said. “I’m sorry he had to go through this.”
Kidd’s phone number isn’t listed anywhere, and New Times had to track him down by the return address from a letter he sent. When a reporter arrived at his doorstep, the retiree was arguing with AT&T over a charge on his bill.
He said he thinks he would have been treated differently if he were a business owner, but no one cares about a simple old man. He said he left his phone number with the Chamber, but hadn’t heard anything back from them. It’s been three weeks. In the meantime, he said he’s considering taking the $10 matter to small claims court.
“It’s not about the money,” Kidd said. “It’s the principle of the matter. I was on some bogus run-around for five hours wasting time and gas, etcetera.”
Hendy described the situation as an unfortunate misunderstanding. She said her employees go above and beyond to provide people with all the answers to their questions. This time, it backfired, but Kidd could get his money back if he’d only call the proper person.
“He is making it a little bigger than it needs to be,” she said.
Staff Writer Nick Powell can be reached at [email protected].