Heart Talk


The Tapestry of Laguna Beach

By James Utt

Most coastal communities look seaward for tsunamis. We in Laguna Beach look inland during the summer months and see a tidal wave of tourists, out of towners, or day-trippers headed our way. I hear the mournful cry of locals: “The people, the traffic, the strain of the city’s budget.” Furthermore, tourists are rude, they litter, they are unappreciative of our city. It is almost as if we are ancient Rome and they were the barbarian horde bent on sacking our city.

Not wanting to be the columnist safely ensconced on the Palatine Hill, I decided to wade into the tide of tourists one Sunday, notebook in hand to gain a better understanding of our visitors.

I always start my walks by going through Peppertree Lane to smell the sweet aromas coming from Gelato Paradiso. Here, I encountered my first family of tourists. The place was not open yet, but the children had their noses pressed up against the glass begging to stay until they could taste the sweet treats.

Emerging from Peppertree Lane, gazing across busy Coast Highway, one can see the ghost on the shore, The Hotel Laguna. Sad and shuttered, she was oblivious to the throngs of happy people passing in front of her. Beyond her was Main Beach, my first destination.

Here I heard and saw them all. Yes, a couple of homeless were there, bothering no one. Getting to the boardwalk I was nearly overwhelmed by numerous sights and sounds: countless out of towners taking pictures, locals walking their dogs, English mixing with languages from far off lands. There were those on the beach with bodies so white I could feel their eventual sunburns, toddlers sticking that first toe in the ocean, adults trying to boogie board, obviously for the first time. Beyond the waves were the paddle boarders. Damn their abs.

Farther up the boardwalk were two men playing chess. I know enough about the game to recognize bad players when I see them. They were playing too fast and with no discernable strategy. But, so what. They were laughing and having a good time. It is a game after all. Then it dawned on me. Almost everyone on the boardwalk or the beach was smiling or laughing. I don’t know if we have a city motto, but it could be, “Come to Laguna Beach and share our smiles.” Which is much better than Newport Beach’s motto, which is, I think, “Come to Newport Beach and see our Ferraris.”

Continuing my stroll, I came to the basketball courts. Years ago, excellent players, even some professionals in their off- season, came here to play. I am told the crowds of spectators were so large, bleachers had to be built. Those days are gone. The players this day were throwing up enough bricks to build a section of Trump’s border wall. But, again so what? They were having a great time.

I huffed my way up to Heisler Park and walked the many pathways. It was the same as Main Beach. People taking pictures of the breath-taking view of ocean meeting rocky shore, smiling faces pointing to sights that thrilled them, accents from the Deep South, the Midwest, and those from Boston. (Oh, no, Patriot and Red Sox fans!) All happy to be in my town.

A Christian group was having an outdoor meeting; a yoga class was in progress; lawn bowlers were gathering. The yoga class was all female, save for one guy. He seemed to be channeling my lack of expertise in this activity.

Walking back to my car, this way thankfully downhill, I drank in the sights, sounds and smells of my day at the beach with all these “day-trippers.” Again, what stayed with me the most was the happiness of the people I encountered: their laughter, the hand-holding, the harmony of humans and nature. This is the tapestry of Laguna Beach.

I am not a fan of traffic jams and huge crowds, but I know we live in a beautiful place, and we are going to have to accept the fact that we must share it with those who are not fortunate enough to live here. We can be grumpy about it. Say “they don’t spend enough coin here.” Be put out that it is harder to get into restaurants. Or, we can mingle with that happy tsunami that engulfs us every summer. I did and I enjoyed it.


James Utt is the author of “Laguna Tales and Boomer Wails.” He hopes that the ghost on the shore will soon reopen her doors.

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