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The Scenic and the Sad on a February Day


By James Utt

We are well passed the cold rains and winds of February, but the images of one particular rainy day stay burned in my heart and mind.

I have written in these pages about how Laguna Beach looks as the sun rises and sets; how Main Beach in the summer is a kaleidoscope of color, a cacophony of voices; how Crescent Bay Park calms my soul. But it occurred to me that never have I strolled Laguna’s beaches in the heart of winter as a storm is approaching. It was high time to experience such a sight.

To stay as warm and dry as possible, I reached into the deep recesses of my garage closet and pulled out my U.S. Army field jacket, which was issued to me in 1970 and served me well through two South Korean winters. That’s right, I own a 50-year old jacket and it still fits. Barely. The jacket, like its owner, shows its age. But one can clearly see my name, U.S. Army, and the United Nations insignia if you look closely. A battered Angle’s cap and my oldest pair of jeans rounded out my attire for this trip to Main Beach.

I had not shaved in several days and was overdue for a haircut. Add my old and stained jacket to this picture and I wondered if one might think of me as homeless. I did draw a few sideways glances as I crossed PCH and headed to the boardwalk.

Walking past the soon-to-be-restored (one hopes) Hotel Laguna, I came upon a nearly deserted beach. There were a few hardy tourists, some even in shorts, running happily around, but they were far outnumbered by the birds, who seemed to be saying, “This is our beach now.”

Looking out past the sand and surf I saw an ominous, yet beautiful sight. On the horizon there were bellowing, dark gray clouds, filled with rain, headed right for our city. The wind blowing the clouds toward me had a finer smell than any fancy cologne. Sunrises are inspiring, sunsets beautiful, but this scene of the massive storm moved me more than any other sight I have been privileged to see since moving here.

After a bit, the drops began to hit me. It was time to retreat to the warmth of my home. Turning back in the direction of the Hotel Laguna, I saw a homeless man walk to a spot on the grass, lay down, and cover himself with his sleeping bag. He moved slowly, deliberately. Old and weather beaten, he did not strike me as the type of transient that comes to our city to commit crimes.

Was he going to lay there and ride out the storm with his thin sleeping bag? I looked back at the rapidly approaching storm, then back at this solitary figure. The beauty and fury of the oncoming storm and this person’s feeble attempt to deal with it was a juxtaposition that hit me like a gut punch.

The better angels of my nature tried to speak to me. Go up to him, ask if there is anything I can do to help his situation. “Can I offer you some money, so you might find shelter from the storm?” “Sir, I don’t want to intrude on your privacy, but wouldn’t it be better if you at least got under a tree?”

Then other voices poured into my head. What if he just wants to be left alone? What if he is mentally ill and becomes angry with me for interfering with his life? What if he has a knife?

In the end, like so many others must have done in his life, I walked on by without doing anything. Six or seven minutes later, I was home looking out my large view windows at the storm now pounding down. Taking off my field jacket, a thought rocketed through my mind: Why did I not offer the jacket to him? I keep it simply as a relic of passed service to our nation. It could have kept him dry. Who had greater need of it?

It was a cold and rainy February this year.


James Utt is the author of “Laguna Tales and Boomer Wails.” He hopes there will come a time when no one sleeps alone and wet in Laguna Beach.



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