By Michele McCormick
New Year’s Eve in Paris, Hong Kong, Nairobi, Delhi, exotic spots all. Still, at the auspicious time, I’d rather be in Laguna. Not only because our town is one of the world’s most beautiful coastal cities, but also because I participate in revered celebratory rituals that simply cannot be performed anywhere else. Regardless of what is happening in the outside world, naughty or nice, constant or changing, living here inspires a desire to end and begin with a party.
In my 20s, bringing in the new year Laguna Beach-style was all about stealing down to the beach for a midnight ride. We raced along Crystal Cove’s sublime stretch of sand, carried from past to future astride our horses. In my early 30s, it was meeting friends at Boat Canyon at zero-dawn-thirty to run screaming into waiting winter waves.
In my 40s, it was a mellow gathering of friends by our cottage fireside to swap memories and spin dreams. We’d finish with a hearty toast and a group run through north Laguna’s tree streets to Heisler Park. Once there, we joined the sound of crashing sets with our cacophony of pots and pans. Under that expansive sky, everything seemed possible.
Now in my 50s, with the dream of owning a home in Laguna manifested, the celebration has once again changed. Toasting from the southern end of town plays well in this season of my life. Quaint Treasure Island Mobilehome Park has become the upscale but low-key Montage Resort and Spa with public access to their parks and coastline. As Others’ loss has been my gain.
Those of us who stay in town witness myriad change through the years, from Pottery Barn to Sapphire’s, from galleries to empty space, from Boom-Boom Room to Palm Springs, from The Cottage to Urth Café? While Laguna continually recreates itself, are we left less interesting, more gentrified, more homogenized? Will we be in some way diminished, less attractive?
It was the charming funkiness that first drew this conservative Dallas girl. A ‘70s yuppie, I found my way to Newport Beach. My familiar north Dallas by the sea. Searching for the challenge that is inherent in the quest for identity, I discovered a transfixing and transformative cornucopia of the unknown in Laguna Beach, artists, hippies, poets, musicians, gays, the Hari Krishnas, the rich and the homeless.
I recorded these adventures journaling alongside writers and musicians at the original Renaissance Café on Forest Avenue. I sipped espresso and watched liberal people do their thing. Down by Hotel Laguna, I ventured into Fahrenheit 451, a hovel of a bookstore that resembled Tolkien’s Hobbit world. It felt like a forbidden fascinating place. Raised a southern conservative, I feared the devil waiting for me around each corner, disguised as a beat poet. Stumbling upon a stack of Buddhist tomes, I was seduced by Wyndam Hill artist George Winston’s trance inducing piano riffs. I couldn’t stop myself.
Laguna was the island of the Sirens drawing me in like the tide, until it changed me. A couple of years ago on New Year’s Eve, I was perched high atop a Zen temple platform, pulling on a heavy rope with the full weight of my body. The rope was attached to a log that struck a massive iron bell to ring in the New Year in Bodhgaya, India. We then ate noodles together, resting in the knowledge that there is nothing to be done, simply to enjoy the present moment, the sublime still point between past and future.
Will our town continue to inspire such adventures, fueling our communal spirit of creativity and celebration? Or might we have to leave this place in order to reclaim it?
Michele McCormick is a writer living in Laguna Beach and a psychologist practicing in Newport Beach.