COSTA MESA — The Grinch doesn't stand a chance against this Santa Claus, a Harley-riding veteran.
Bob Torres, 69, who served in the Marines the 1960s and '70s, has been one of St. Nick's jolly red-cloaked helpers for 26 years. He has nine consecutive seasons, including this one, under his ample belt as one of South Coast Plaza's two Santas.
In all those years, Torres, whose twinkling eyes are surrounded by all-natural white brows and a full beard, has been privy to thousands of surprising secrets.
Just this week Torres helped Jonathan Nguyen propose to his college sweetheart — a moment that brought tears to Jenny Hoang's eyes (she told Santa that she'd been a very good girl this year) and cheers from a crowd of onlookers.
"It made me feel tremendously good to be a part of that," Torres said in an interview. "They'll remember that for the rest of their lives, and so will I. And of course, they have the photos to go along with it."