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You Must Remember This: The Greeter and then south to T Street beach

By NANCY GARDNER

One of the big treats when I was young was going to T Street (Trafalgar) in San Clemente in the summer. The fun started in Laguna. Bart and Edna McHugh were friends of my folks, and they owned a toy store on PCH just past Forest. As we drove past the store my mother would call out, “Ba-art!” We’d continue on our way, but before we’d gotten a block we’d hear, “Ka-ty!” and look back to see Bart standing outside his store. I looked at the cars around us with a puffed-up air.  None of them could do that. But that wasn’t the only treat Laguna had to offer.  There was The Greeter.

It seems impossible that everyone in the world doesn’t know of T dhe Greeter, but just in case, there was a real person behind the statue and the restaurant. His name was Eiler Larsen, a Dane with long hair and beard who knocked around the world before somehow ending up in Laguna where he decided, at some point, to stand on a corner of PCH and bellow out greetings to the people passing by. Eventually he was designated the official greeter of the city. His presence made for a very big deal, especially going south. He was on the far side of the street. Would he even see me, and if he did, would he remember me? After all, we hadn’t been by in a while, and there were so many people driving by every day. The closer we got the more nervous I got, and then there he was, and yes! He was waving at ME! He remembered ME! The main part of the trip south now over, I could sprawl (no seat belts in those days) in comfort in the back seat for the remainder of the trip.

T Street itself was a big, long sandy beach with good waves, and that was part of the charm since I was already a pretty fair bodysurfer. Often as not, some stranger would comment on my ability, affirming my good opinion of myself, but the really cool thing about T Street was the railroad trestle. The beach backed up to a bluff, and at the base of the bluff were (are) railroad tracks. Metal stairs and a metal bridge had been built to take you from the bluff over the tracks and to the beach. While you were sitting on the beach, you’d hear the train’s horn, and there would be a mad scramble by the kids at the beach to get on the trestle. The train would thunder under us with a deafening roar, all that metal rattled, shook and shuddered – it was like a ride at an amusement park.

At the end of the day, we got in the car and drove home, and it was a quieter trip. Mother didn’t call out to Bart going this way, and as far as The Greeter, it wasn’t nearly so nerve-wracking. Now we were on the same side of the street, and it was only a few hours since we’d gone by. Still, if we weren’t in the right lane another car might get in between us, and I was a little sunburned and my hair was all flat with saltwater which might confuse him, but then there he was, waving at me. I should have known he wouldn’t forget.

Of course, there came a time...it was sort of like Santa Claus when I got old enough to realize The Greeter waved to everybody and that I was just one more blur going by, and with that, one more little bit of magic vanished from this world.  Sigh.

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Nancy Gardner, former Mayor of Newport Beach, longtime resident and daughter of Judge Robert Gardner, is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.