Finding Meaning


 A Place of Healing

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

Ever drive through Time?  I drove up Coast Highway this morning, headed to Boat Canyon Barbershop for a haircut from Lonnie.  I left early, so it was a leisurely drive, filled with thoughts. At Aliso Beach, I recalled the Thurston family who homesteaded where The Ranch is now in the 1870s, and the Goff and Brooks families who settled along the coast.  The shore breaks at Aliso can be good for skim boarders but I remembered a visitor, Robert Firth, who in the ‘80s had his neck broken here. Bystanders pulled him from the surf, paralyzed.  At the hospital, doctors affixed him to a board where, unable to move, he studied the ceiling and pondered his future.  If you believe in prayer, his recovery was a miracle.  Laguna is a healing place.

Nearing Cress Street, I saw the Friendship Shelter, renowned for helping the homeless back to self-sufficiency.  And across Coast, on the corner, the old Hotel California, bringing to mind the song by the Eagles about the darkness of excess and addiction, that warns, “You can check out any time you like, But you can never leave!”  Except in Laguna you can leave, for the old Hotel California is now an addiction recovery center.  Laguna is a place of healing.

Downtown I checked the Hotel Laguna, empty and desolate, awaiting rebirth.  And across from Main Beach, the White House, in its 100thyear, Orange County’s oldest restaurant.  And up the hill the Laguna Art Museum, California’s oldest, celebrating the centennial of our LB Art Association.  A morning drive through Time indeed.  But I needed to get to Boat Canyon Barbershop by 8:00 a.m., to avoid the line.

I first came in the ‘70s, when the shop was still in Boat Canyon.  Lonnie, the proprietor, did more than cut hair and talk sports—he also mended lives. It started with Lonnie in front of a judge who told him the hard truth:  Lonnie had a drinking problem and was going to jail.  But, there was an option:  Lonnie could join Alcoholics Anonymous and report back in a year.  If he faithfully worked at AA’s 12 Steps, his conviction would be set aside.  Lonnie took the judge’s gracious offer and changed the trajectory of his life.  His many friends can tell you of Lonnie’s unique license plate number—the date he took the good judge’s invitation to sobriety.

Lonnie is in his fifth decade of cutting hair, talking sports, listening to problems.  He stayed in AA, helping others become sober.  The process is harder now, he noted, because addictive drinking is often complicated by drug use.  I invited him to church, to talk about his ministry, as some might call it.  He declined, uncomfortable with the setting, but offered to speak one-on-one to anyone in need of help.  He was about the healing.

This was in my mind as I come to the door where the sign says, “Boat Canyon Barbershop, Established 1972.”  A while back Lonnie sold the business to Connie, a Corona del Mar girl moving her barber practice to Laguna.  The deal allowed him to continue cutting hair on Sundays and Mondays, when she was closed.  But on this Monday, Lonnie wasn’t there.  A note behind the window told the sad story of a back that couldn’t take the strain anymore, a sincere expression of thanks, and his parting benediction, “The best to you all.”

Two weeks ago, I wrote about Laguna Presbyterian’s Pastor Jerry, and his last benediction after 46 years.  Doing the math, I realized Lonnie had served the same time.  They worked different sides of the street, but each ministered.   If you serve that long, you’re known by your first name.  And, like they say, Laguna is a healing place . . . thanks to folks like Lonnie and Jerry.


Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach. Email:  [email protected]


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

Salt Chrch, 8681 N. Coast Hwy, 10:00 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.



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