Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Grace in Paradise

In my role as “Indy” traveling correspondent, the Beautiful Wife and I took a trip to Paradise. Hah! Back in 2018, Paradise was hell. I refer to the city 95% destroyed by the Camp Fire, the deadliest in California history. It was as though Laguna’s 1993 fire destroyed 8,000 homes, instead of 400. Here’s my report from Paradise.

Paradise, pre-fire about the size of Laguna Beach, was a forested community in the foothills of the Sacramento Valley. The town, above the worst of the summer heat but below the snow line at 1,800 feet elevation, was well named. One big difference between the two cities is today you can buy a lot in Paradise big enough for two homes for $30,000. Hah!

We’re getting the lot with a brother, who hopes to build on it. Our trip was to witness the test of the two septic systems, hoping they survived the fire. For a certain kind of guy, septic systems are fascinating. The bad stuff goes in and oxygen and water come out, cleansed for free by hard-working bacteria. Very natural; very green. The good news is our septic systems passed the test.

I heard an interesting story from the septic inspector, whose home was one of the few to survive. He had 80 acres of forested land, half fenced. He kept several hundred goats in the fenced part, around his home. When the fire hit, there was nothing to burn on the ground thanks to his busy goats, and the trees didn’t catch fire. The other 40 acres were left blackened. I told him about Laguna’s goat program and he thought us wise.

It was a long drive back to Laguna so I treated the Beautiful Wife to a taco. It was dark when we stopped, with a cold wind blowing. Outside the store a young woman sat hunched on the curb, cold and pathetic. Inside a young man was placing an order, but the communication was confused, stressed. The young woman came in from the cold, wondering, and he assured her he was getting plenty of food. When it was time to pay he fumbled through his wallet and tentatively offered a credit card. The card, not good, was declined. Awkward moment for all.

I confess to being a cheap guy, but my card was in hand and covered the bill. Awkward moment transformed. When I ordered our two tacos, the cashier wouldn’t let me pay. When the Beautiful Widfe returned she offered her a courtesy coffee. As we left, the young man and woman returned a “God bless.” We were all touched by this small moment of grace.

Don’t give me any credit. There are many good Laguna people who do far more than I do, and have done so for years. I don’t know a town that better lifts up the homeless than Laguna. But I do know that returning from Paradise, in a taco stand, four strangers came together in a moment of grace. There’s meaning in that.

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]

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