I'm sorry I missed this.
They drove through Houston's barrios Christmas morning in low-riders that jerked up from the pavement, blaring horns as loud as those on a train and wearing wildly-colored zoot suits that screamed for attention.
Children ran. Dogs barked. Police sirens wailed.
It was sheer joy.
Once again, hundreds of families in some of Houston's Hispanic neighborhoods received a bit of raucous holiday cheer Thursday from local hero "Pancho Claus" and his friends in low gear.
The procession of 10 souped-up cars wound its way through the streets of the East End, the north side and the Heights from morning into the afternoon, dispensing toys and smiles to many children who found nothing under their Christmas trees.
"We're trying to give them a Christmas surprise," yelled Richard Reyes from the bed of a pickup piled high with toys as dozens of children gleefully clamored for gifts. "To some of these kids, this will be the only gift they have."
Reyes, a 52-year-old actor, has become legendary in the barrios for his annual Christmas appearances as Pancho Claus. Donning a red zoot suit with a matching red tie and a black fedora, the tall and goateed Reyes easily stood out from the couple of dozen helpers who wore more subdued suits or regular clothing with Santa hats.
Reyes said this was his 20th consecutive Christmas passing out presents as Pancho Claus. Members of the Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club took part for their 12th annual appearance. For several years, Harris County Precinct 6 Constable Victor Trevino has provided officers to accompany the procession of cars.
"We're very thankful and happy for the presents," said J. Refugio Hernandez from the porch of his home on Runnels at Everton. "The economy is bad and I lost my job, so I wasn't able to buy my (four) kids presents."
Jasmine Corona grinned as she ran back to her mother clutching a baton covered in colorful sparkles.
"I'm very happy," the 7-year-old said shyly.
"Christmas is a little better," said her mother, Aurora Corona.
Pancho Claus is a revered icon in many Hispanic areas in Texas, but he typically wears a red poncho and a large sombrero in serving as a symbolic bridge between Latino and Anglo cultures.
Reyes said he thought of the zoot suit get-up to infuse cultural pride in the poor neighborhoods he visits. The outfits, which consist of baggy pants and matching-color jackets, were popular in the 1940s, and often were worn by Mexican-Americans and blacks.
"We want to give the kids something to look at with pride and let them know we have a history in fashion," Reyes said.
Reyes, who operates the Web site panchoclaus.com, has an acting troupe that performs Pancho Claus plays throughout Houston. He also plays in a rhythm and blues band with the same name.
He said he could not reach so many children and give so many presents without the help of two primary sponsors, Union Pacific and Multicultural Education and Counseling through the Arts.
The Latin Fantasy Lowrider Car Club raised $3,000 for the Christmas giveaway in a recent car show called Juguetes Para El Barrio, or "Toys for the Neighborhood."
"I always ask people, 'Do you believe in Santa Claus?' " said Sotero "Shorty" Villarreal, owner of Shorty's Hydraulics low-rider shop, who distributed presents with his wife and four children Thursday. "If they say no, I tell them, 'That's the wrong answer.' "