One of Laguna Beach’s endearing facets involves its greeter. Laguna has had a greeter off and on since the late 1800’s starting with Joe Lucas, a Portuguese fisherman who died in 1908. A greeter who welcomes visitors personally makes their arrival different than other places. Some cities attempt to make you feel welcome with a fancy sign. Having a greeter is more sincere and is another example of what makes Laguna Beach special. Our newest greeter, Michael Minutoli, kicks it up a notch with dancing, a flashy jacket and a signature white hat, sort of a disco sea captain.
Minutoli, 54, keeps his white beard short and manicured. He takes up his self-appointed duties almost daily, often wearing a clean white shirt. Though gregarious as a greeter, he is succinct and humble in a one-on-one conversation. And he’s been homeless for seven years.
Equally fascinating are the 21 years he’s pursued a double life as a party crasher. In January, he found his way onto the red carpet alongside Lady Gaga at the Grammy Awards. In the January issue of People magazine, you can spot a photo of him with Lady Gaga in his signature white hat. If asked, Minutoli produces pictures of himself with celebrities he’s met over the years while slipping uninvited into A-list events. He keeps them in a white binder that is always with him.
He’s from a family of 10 kids and grew up in Southern Massachusetts. He is not with his wife anymore and wishes he had money to give his kids, who live about 50 miles away. He hasn’t had a regular job in in over two years, which is about when he started his greeter gig downtown. He’s changed locations, and now waves greetings beneath a sculpture of an earlier greeter, Eiler Larsen, outside Sapphire restaurant at Brooks Street.
Minutoli says different restaurants in town provide him with food. He doesn’t ask for the handout, he makes clear. And from his expression, it’s also clear he appreciates receiving it. Sapphire’s owner-chef Azmin Ghahreman told him he is welcome to whatever he needs. Others seem to have adopted him as well. He does his laundry at the laundromat and sleeps under restaurant decks that overhang the beach.
Minutoli appears satisfied with his life in Laguna as it is. He occupies his homelessness. June 27 will mark three years of greeting Laguna’s passersby.
With a contained, big smile, he answered a few questions.
Why do you do this? I love Laguna and have gratitude for this city. I want to keep the greeting tradition alive. I have the time. I love to be creative and to dance.
What’s your dream? God gives us all something special that we need to unlock. I am a performer. I want to make a music video or write a book.
How did you become homeless? The excuse I use right now is that you need education and skills to have a good paying job. I choose this lifestyle because I don’t want to do the “grind” anymore. I’m not an alcoholic, don’t do drugs and I am not a nuisance to the city. I don’t have a record or pan handle either.
What’s it like to be homeless? An inconvenience, but I choose it. People make judgments about you. I will probably always live on the beach. I like it. If I make money someday, I will have a condo on the beach.
Why do you stand at the corner of Coast Highway and Brooks street? I started downtown but this location is better because I get good radio reception on my headset.
If you could do anything else what would it be? I would like to greet people and wave in Red Square, Russia.
Where do you get your costumes? Thrift stores.
What’s the coolest car you have ever seen drive by? I have seen lots of cool cars like a Rolls Royce but those people never wave at me. My favorite is when I see a cement mixer. I think they are the greatest thing, especially if it’s a shiny one.
What makes you happy? I like to be happy for no reason.
Roderick Reed owns REEDesign Interiors in Laguna Beach. He lives in town with his wife Kathy and two sons Mason and Jack. http://roderickreed.com/.