Christmas In Laguna:

The day before Christmas (2007) we made our annual pilgrimage to Laguna Beach. Eileen – always! - requires that we first stop at Marie Callender's in Hemet so that she can get her favorite berry pie. I would just as soon keep going. Three years ago we got totally lost trying to find the place and wasted an inordinate amount of gas doubling back. This year it was real nice to just let the GPS take us there with no hassle. I did get a Boston Creme pie out of it, which is okay with me, and she paid for it.

We then cut down through Elsinore around the Lake, up the Ortega Highway over the Santa Ana mountain range and down into San Juan Capistrano. There we stopped at the Trading Post where Eileen bought my Christmas present, a cowboy hat of felt which is great for keeping the high desert elements at bay. In 2001 she had bought a leather cowboy hat there which served me well for a number of years but eventually dried up and shrunk to where it would no longer fit – or my head got bigger. Hopefully this hat will maintain its shape. It did in fact proceed to keep my head warm through January and February, so it is off to a good start.

We went on to the Hotel Laguna to enjoy three days and 2 nights of Christmas in and around Laguna, breakfasts at The Cottage, dinners at various favorite places, a cornucopia of wandering ice creams, pastries and coffee in between. We took long walks with Molly on the beach and around Orange County which hopefully worked off the cornucopia. I bought Eileen a spacious brown leather pocketbook for Christmas at Laguna Leather and then we took her old pocketbook up the street to a thrift shop and sold it for $5. Its lining was gone. That was not the smaller black one that she had bought at Laguna Hand Bags two years before. She still uses that one but mostly I think for church.

Of course we probably could have gotten a better deal from a larger selection at Amazon's but that is not quite the same as meandering in and out of quaint little shops that smell like leather and cloth. Funny, that comment takes my memory back to the '60s and '70s when almost all Laguna shops smelled like incense and pot. What was once an endless variety of artist's commune-like consignment shops has changed into something closer to Manhattan's Madison Avenue. Something lost; something gained, perhaps.

One of my favorite things is to get up about 5:30 and head down to the Scandia Bakery, about a block away, and get a large cup of their excellent coffee. This is one of those moments you live all year for – that and returning later in the day with Eileen and Molly for their phenomenal pastry, all made on the premises. They use solid paper cups; not those lame foam cups that screw with the environment during manufacture and again in the dump as the chemicals leach out. Scandia also takes my card and in return I use my VISA instead of my preferred AMEX which would take a bigger cut of their bottom line. I hate paying cash for anything. Not only do I have to make a point of having that cash on hand but also it is difficult to keep accurate records of cash spent, whereas with the card it is a simple download into Quicken.

I was disappointed to find Scandia closed on Christmas morning but it is a family business. Fortunately I found a Starbucks around the corner – not as good but still very welcome. With coffee in hand I would take Molly for a stroll on the beach - with the leash which is a nuisance (leash jerking at left hand sipping coffee while right hand enjoying casual smoke). The alternative is to pretend not to notice as our big black dog barrels down on a curly little white thing (to play with or to find out what it is) and/or to capture joggers who are obviously ripe game because they are running.

The hotel opens their continental breakfast door at 7:00. It is a lavish presentation of just about everything. There I get my next coffee and Eileen a decaf tea. By now she is up and thoroughly enjoying the luxury of laying in bed watching TV. She doesn't get this at home.

Finding History:

One afternoon, I took Eileen for a ride up through Newport Beach, around and down a long peninsula that shields the billionaire communities and yachts of Newport Beach from the direct impact of the Pacific Ocean. The mere millionaire wall-to-wall beach homes of Balboa peninsula stand ready to absorb the worst that the ocean can throw at them. I worked there as night manager for The Sail Inn when I was in college. At the time those wall-to-wall beach homes were one step up from trailer trash. I used to enjoy walking that beach. Little did I know that my family had history there.

The tip of the peninsula is directly across the turbulent channel waters from the beach at Corona Del Mar. It is the outlet for Newport Bay which is the estuary for the Santa Ana River, now under strict control. As I understand it, my paternal grandmother, Phyllis Van Cleve Blakeman (later Church), guided a horse across that channel in a wedding dress as a stand-in for Gloria Swanson (I think). However, she had them cut the dress up to her hips on the downside of the camera so that she could properly guide the horse with her legs. While typing this, I looked her up and discovered something that hadn't been there the last time I looked:

November 6, 1908, Copyright © The New York Times
T. G. Blakeman to Wed Miss Van Cleve
The engagement of Thomas Greenleaf Blakeman, a grandson of the late Birdseye Blakeman of New York, to Miss Phyllis Van Cleve, a daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Ledyard Van Cleve of Melville, Mont., is announced. Miss Van Cleve, who is to spend the season in New York with Miss Katharine Doremus, daughter of Dr. Charles Avery Doremus and Mrs. Doremus, is a granddaughter of the late Major Gen. Horatio Phillips Van Cleve, United States Army. She is only seventeen, and is just making her debut here. The wedding will probably not take place until next Spring, and will be celebrated in Montana.

I believe my grandfather would have been 21 at the time. Strange as it may seem, my first wife was 17 and I was 21 when we married.

To the right is a photo taken around 1930 on what may have been Santa Monica beach, only because I believe it was near their old home in Pasadena. If you recognize the building in the background, please let me know. (Click on the picture to view it full size.) It shows my father, his mother, his step brother and step father; names: Thomas Ledyard Blakeman, Phyllis Church, John Church and Jack Church. I assume that my mother, Virginia Davidson Blakeman, is taking the picture.

John Church went on to write an interesting autobiography of his youth called Pasadena Cowboy : Growing Up in Southern California and Montana 1925 to 1947. I read the book when I received a copy around 1996 and I enjoyed it. I knew and loved his dynamic mother, my grandmother, very well, as I did John. I knew him as a perceptive genius, an unbeatable Scrabble player and a talented photographer. I had studied photography at Orange Coast College for 2 years, long enough to recognize that I did not have the eye for it. John has that eye. I would almost equate his talent to that of Ansel Adams but with the ability to capture the essence of an individual nearly equal to that of Andrew Wyeth.

Note 03/16/2015: has created a very nice page on Mr Adams. Check it out: Ansel Adams.

Roads Not Taken:

Before Eileen realized what I was up to I turned at the old Balboa Pavilion (built 2 years prior to the above engagement) and drove up a ramp onto the Balboa Ferry. Two more cars rode up behind us as a half dozen people also ascended the foot ramp, some with bikes. The attendants raised the ramps, swung a steel tubular gate across and locked it. Our wheels were chocked. The pilot revved the diesel engine to life as the ferry pulled away, churning the waters around it. The seaweed smell of bay saltwater and exhaust filled the air. Attendants collected the fares. These sounds and sensations were so familiar.

Eileen and I got out of the car to casually watch Newport Bay slide by as others enjoyed watching a solid and quietly observant black head projecting from a rear window of our car, just taking it all in. I used to make this trip almost daily. Thirty-some years earlier, there was a small green tugboat moored where we were now looking. How different my life might have been had my folks agreed to loan me the cash to buy it. I could have lived on it, like another Travis McGee, paying a mooring fee and paying off the loan instead of paying for an apartment. I had it all figured out, but they said No. What a life that was never lived. I might have become another John D. MacDonald; who knows.

Two of the man-made islands in Newport Bay are Lido Island, an old enclave of the extreme wealthy, and Balboa Island for the mere rich and the rest of us. I lived on Balboa Island in 1966 and 7 during and after my final days in the Marine Corps and I rode this ferry to my job at the Sail Inn. My address was 227 Agate Ave though in fact I lived on the alley that ran between Agate and Pearl. This is where Hobbit and I called home after leaving Laguna where she was born.

I got the place from a local realtor, Harvey D Pease, a gentleman not unlike an American version of Alistair Cooke, for $62/mo in exchange for fixing it up and doing work for him. This is also where I found my home-made box trailer abandoned in a vacant lot nearby, which I purchased from Harvey for $35 worth of additional labor. That is the very same trailer that has been rebuilt a few times over and now projects squarely from one wall of the aforementioned utility house that I built around it a few years ago. I was living on Balboa Island when I first heard about a place called Joshua Tree.

I have a faded picture of myself on the rear patio in the shade of an umbrella with a manuscript on the table, a manuscript that never found a publisher; another life that was never lived. That little single story cottage chock full of memories is now gone, replaced by a multistory condo or such. I wonder if there might still be a student climbing to its roof on late moonless nights to locate constellations assigned by a professor at nearby Orange Coast College.

In fact, after writing that, I ran a search for 227 Agate Ave. It is still owned by the same family, though I never met them. They live in the new place in back that replaced mine and are renting out the front cottage for $1600 per week.

Off the ferry at 100 Agate Avenue we turned right at the stop sign onto Park Avenue and slowly drove to the village. We parked in front of the lounge this side of town where I used to hang out hoping to attract the attention of some lovely young lady. It never worked; I was not a Travis, but then he didn't hang out in bars; they came to him on his house boat. I had better luck just walking around the community with Hobbit who would catch their attention for me.

Eventually I did in fact catch the attention of a lovely youngish lady, though it took a bit more time than anticipated back then, and she was now strolling the village beside me with Molly. “Here's where I met Buddy Epson.” “Here's where I discovered my first teriyaki burger.Etc..

Before dusk we turned left onto Marine Ave and at the other end of town crossed the narrow stone bridge with its ornate iron and glass lamps to the mainland, turning right on Bayside Drive. Had we turned left at that point we would have been immediately below what had once been a favored bluff overlooking everything. I used to set my tripod up there on that vacant lot late at night and take slow exposure pictures. They never made it out of my dark room but the memory is nice. We followed the shoreline to Corona Del Mar and The Pacific Coast Highway, then back to Laguna.

A Corrupted Wireless Driver:

As with the years before I again had trouble getting a decent wireless connection in the Hotel Laguna, but this time instead of running around town looking for a hot spot, I just let it go until our return to Joshua Tree. Sometimes out in our car in the hotel parking lot a connection would magically appear which was just strong enough to download emails and orders, though not strong enough to send those orders back out to my client. For this reason I plan to check out another newer hotel up the street that claims to have good reception.

I think there may be another reason. Preceding our first stay at this hotel I asked for and got a discount. Had he not given it to us, we would have remained with the Laguna Riviera, a long hilly walk up the highway. I also liked the guy; he was friendly and helpful; not the usual reserved hotel clerk. In later years I could not get that discount. Recently I learned that the guy had been fired for giving us that discount. That is bad policy and it seriously puts a damper on my feelings about the place. Hotels tend to be nearly empty at Christmas; he filled an empty bed; his decision was a good one.

Though their signal was weak I got that connection, not really by magic, but by performing a minor procedure that I figured out back in Joshua Tree where we connect through our neighbor's wireless signal under a mutual trade agreement. I have never heard of anybody else having this problem but I certainly have it on this Gateway machine and on my previous Dell notebook which Eileen now uses. The wireless system seems to get locked onto our home modem where it works very well. Anywhere else the reception becomes weak or nonexistent.

Here is my solution: from the Control Panel: Network Connections: “Wireless Network Connection”, I click on the 'Properties' of the “… 802.11g Network Adapter”, 'Uninstall' the Driver, close out these boxes and Restart the computer. As it fires up it discovers the missing driver and automatically reinstalls it from its backup supply (called CABs for Cabinet files). Then the wireless works fine (if all else is well and if there is a signal nearby). There are various ways to locate the driver; this is just one.

New Year's Party And Summertime Visit:

The Bastrups hosted a New Years Eve party, always a good time gathering of locals and people from afar. There we found Bill Bolster, Carol Hiestand without Rick, other people, son Scott and his friends including Andrew Chavez, on Air Force leave from duty in and out of Iraq. We ended the night with Bill, Ron, Carol and Eileen playing poker for quarters, the latter for her first time, she says. She got a royal flush on her first hand and later a straight flush. All of the money was piled in front of her until the very last game when Bill came out of inebriated reclusion and raked it all in.

While talking about them, let's leap forward to July 9, 3 days prior to writing this paragraph. They dropped by our east coast home during their travels. It was laid back fun. They enjoyed exploring our 200+ year old colonial and otherwise spending the afternoon sitting in the shade of real trees by the pool on a hot day drinking margaritas and Heinekens and snacking on chips and a taco pie and 5 layer salad, both made by Eileen for the occasion. Ron had been stationed in Nantucket during Nam but this was Lauren's first visit to the East coast and being teachers they were soaking it all in perhaps to impart to thirsty students at a later date.

In the evening we strolled the historic town of Sandwich, passing by a story teller and a crowd outside the library, and then relaxed over a good Hemispheres Restaurant dinner, looking over the Cape Cod bay and watching for ships traversing the Cape Cod canal.

After dinner they returned to their Yarmouth lodging and were on their way to DC in the morning, stopping here for one more quick visit as they headed north to Logan Airport.

Copyright © 2008, Van Blakeman