Laguna Beach greeter Michael Minutoli is gearing up this weekend for what he’s calling a “greet-athon,” a 24-hour stint of dancing, gesturing and spinning joyously from the corner of Brooks Street at Coast Highway.
True to his multi-dimensional sidewalk performance, Minutoli says his greeting marathon will also serve several purposes: it will mark his fifth year greeting in Laguna, the first anniversary of his brother’s death and substitute for the lunch he never had with a young man who wanted to break bread with the greeter before he died.
Last September after a five-year struggle with a rare cancer, doctors told Tim Vorenkamp his lungs were filled with tumors. The teen, who spent just five weeks as a UC Berkeley freshman, made a bucket list “and Michael was on it,” said his mother, Petra, who with her husband Pieter, both from the Netherlands, relocated to the area 19 years ago. They have a second son, Patrick, 16, who attends JSerra.
Tim worked as a host at Sapphire restaurant, which also serves as Minutoli’s greeting spot. From under an elevated cornerstone statue of Eiler Larsen, one of the town’s earlier greeters, Minutoli carries on the local tradition for three hours a day.
“Tim knew Michael was homeless, but he saw a happy guy every day with a vibe about him,” Ms. Vorenkamp said. “He felt a bond.”
While his lungs were too weak to sky dive, Tim managed to complete much of the remainder of his wish list, including driving 100 mph in an Aston Martin. Remarkably, before his death in January, Tim not only planned a paddle out from Oak Street for himself, but established a foundation, Live for Others, to pursue a cure for synovial cell sarcoma. He informed his parents they needed to mind his legacy.
Tim’s foundation will be the beneficiary of whatever tips the greet-athon generates, said Minutoli, who doesn’t panhandle. Even so, he receives many unsolicited contributions of clothing from familiar passersby, food from local restaurants and sometimes remarkable tokens of appreciation. A letter pressed into his hands credits his welcoming greeting with dissipating a woman’s suicidal intentions.
“I had no idea I would inspire people,” said Minutoli, 56, who was featured in a recent film
documentary, has served as the subjects of paintings and whose trademark gloves and hat are mimicked in local Halloween costumes.
While some scorn Minutoli’s antics out of fealty to Larsen, Ms. Vorenkamp thinks such criticism is unjustified. “He does it from his heart,” she said.
In the late hours of Saturday, she plans to round up her son’s friends to support Minutoli’s effort on her son’s behalf. “College kids can stay up all night,” she said.
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