Local Currents: Real Angels


…And if we have an angel at the tomb,

Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom…

–John Updike’s “Seven Stanzas at Easter.”


col local currents David Vanderveen by Gabe Sullivan-2968I think I met a real angel the Saturday before Easter on the beach. He was picking up cigarette butts. That day and the following week reminded me why we are willing to trade so much time, money and other resources to live in Laguna Beach.

Now if we only had a plan.

John Updike wrote a poem for Easter that makes the point that if a body of believers is going to organize around an idea, like the resurrection, then make it real or don’t waste your time pretending.

There are people in Laguna who work to bring heaven to Earth in big and little ways.

Beach clean-ups are a little way to make the world a better place. When my family and some friends were cleaning the beach from Oak Street to Main Beach during the Eco Warrior led Adopt-A-Beach program recently, I caught up with a man I didn’t recognize picking up trash ahead of us.

There are a lot of cigarette butts and straws at the Pacfic Edge Hotel’s deck bar, and as we stopped there to sift sand, we introduced ourselves. I can’t recall his name, but what I do remember is that he was from Colorado Springs, Colo., and he has been coming to Laguna for 35 years to vacation.

A man who is willing to invest a Saturday morning of his vacation picking up trash on a beach that’s not his own is an angel or a saint or something mythical, magical and real. He was by himself. He was quiet and he was doing a simple and beautiful act for his “neighbor,” for people that he may not know but he has come to love.

After the beach clean up, the high school boys’ and girls’ tennis teams hosted a parent-student tournament. My son, Willem, and I played about five hours of tennis on a warm and sunny day against a variety of other parents and students. It’s the kind of activity that gets parents talking about how great our school is.

Principal Joanne Culverhouse (known as “Dr. C”) showed up to say, “hello” and watch some sets on her day off. I kept overhearing parents saying things like “why don’t we do this more often?” Playing doubles tennis with parents you might not have met is a great way to get to know people you might not otherwise.

Our family has been lucky enough to have Dr. C as a principal since our kids started school at El Morro Elementary. I’m continually amazed at the way she delivers her personal care to our families. She is another real-life angel.

So as we played our sets on the high school courts—courts that are a shared asset with the City for joint use — it is obvious that they are in horrible disrepair. The courts are so cracked, chipped and dirty that some teams have refused to play our high school boys at home.

Over the past few years, tennis parents have worked with frustration to try to get the school board and the city to fix the courts. Laguna Beach taxpayers passed a bond that created a fund to guarantee Laguna Beach High School facilities would be kept up to minimum standards. That obligation isn’t being met now.

The real problem with the courts is a problem in our school district and city at a strategic level; we don’t seem to have a real strategic plan. We can’t fix high school tennis courts. We can’t figure out parking for less than $200,000 per new space. We fight over tactics because we don’t have a vision for how to organize our city and schools in a way that generates more than it takes.

Laguna needs a strategic vision and plan and a real angel, “weighty with Max Planck’s quanta,” to bring us together to execute it.


David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is [email protected]

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