Opinion: Village Matters

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Life/Garage Half Full or Half Empty?

ann christoph

We are always trying to predict what will happen if we pursue a certain course of action under the mistaken idea that we can actually control what comes next. Despite our best analysis things rarely work out the way we have so carefully envisioned. On the other hand having a vision can set the scene for success—a wish can actually come true. I’ve experienced a combination recently.

Because of the virus shutdown we lost a tenant in our St. Clair Building in South Laguna. The Brow Boutique left and for the first time in more than a decade there was a vacancy. I just put up a sign, made a temporary art gallery for the South Laguna Community Garden fundraiser and rented it temporarily to a student who needed a quiet place to study. There were lookers and offers, but I wanted a tenant who would complement the historic building, and one that would potentially enliven our commercial area. “I want a flower shop,” I dreamed. My friends were skeptical. “Any tenant in this COVID economy will be a miracle,” they pointed out.  I should take the best offer from someone who would actually be able to pay the rent, regardless of my higher goals for the building and the neighborhood.

Then there was a soft voice on the phone asking about the space for rent. “What is your proposed business?” “A flower shop,” she said humbly. That was the beginning for “Joyce’s Florist” who has been open for three weeks now. The flowers embellishing the front welcome passers-by, and provide another spot of liveliness and beauty—adding to the prettiest public parking lot in Laguna, at the corner of Sea Cove and Coast Highway, the pots with flowers in the front of Skyline Kitchen and Bath, and the Coyote Grill with its outdoor seating and customers out in front. With the planted medians, and street trees that are now large enough to create a noticeable theme, slowly we are creating a commercial area that is not just some place you drive through to get to somewhere else.

It is my job to repaint the signs for new tenants. These are wood signs that match the color scheme of the building, part of a sign program approved by the city  I used to depend on my husband Alfredo to take off the old letters and prepare the surface for the new lettering. This time I determined to do it myself. I thought he had used a belt sander. We knew it was in the garage somewhere but if any neighbors are reading this they could describe for you the complexities of the collected items that can be seen beyond the open space that is just large enough for my car.  Parking my car there is critical to some sense of order—if my car weren’t there every night, that space is sure to be filled with more broomsticks, boxes, tools and more found objects that could be used for something someday. Finding the belt sander seemed hopeless.

An exemplary garage. Courtesy of Ann Christoph

We did find the battery-operated drills and I thought, “Fine, I’ll get a wire brush attachment to scratch away the letters on the sign.” It was tedious—took hours. But finally I had worn away all the painted letters. Problem was when I finished you could still read all the words in the indentations left by the wire brushing. Now what?

“Well, let’s look for the belt sander.” We found a sanding belt, that was hopeful. We started to sort through the piles. We found things that could be given away or thrown away. We found a planer, more drills, a skill saw, but no belt sander. We found four pet carriers. We have only two cats. I was overjoyed to find something that was useful to others that we could actually deaccession. Alfredo had another solution, “We could get two more cats!” he suggested.

Finally miraculously, there was the belt sander. I tried it. Then sparks began to fly and there was the smell of burning rubber. An inexperienced operator, I had caught the cord in the sanding belt. The machine was eating its own power supply. Alfredo fixed the cord, but then the sanding belt broke. Trip to Coast Hardware for heavy duty belts. At last the belt sander evened the surface and the old words were gone forever. 

The laundry room workshop. Courtesy of Ann Christoph
Neighbor Tom Richeson installs the Joyce’s Florist sign. Courtesy of Ann Christoph

After several coats of background paint, and two days of hand painting lettering, we have the sign ready to put up above the door of the flower shop. A dream come true, with a lot of trials and diversions getting there. Then there are the side benefits—we have put the extra pet carriers on the free corner and the garage is slightly less full than before.

Ann is a landscape architect and former Laguna Beach mayor.

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