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First Person:

Remembering Mom, honoring the Boom

April 24, 2009|By John Keitel

When she passed six days before my 35th birthday, I took solace in being able to be with her, holding her hand as she took her final breath and we said goodbye. I remember sheepishly setting the pine box containing her ashes on the table next to me at the Zinc Cafe for one last meal together before heading north on PCH. I took the long way home that day.

It would be seven years until I saw Laguna again.

Fred Karger was a guy I’d met during my Laguna years. He had grown up in the suburb just next to mine back in Illinois, and we shared a hometown camaraderie.

So when I received his first e-mail blast about the Boom’s sale and imminent closing in June 2006, I gave it a dutiful read. It was slated for redevelopment as a boutique hotel and restaurant. Just what Laguna needed. It was another sad passing, but it had been so long since I’d been down there. And I was determined to keep the past in the past.


When I bumped into Fred at a party a few days later, I expressed my regrets and wished him luck. But Fred’s not just any guy. In my regrets he heard resignation, and anyone who knows Fred knows that’s not a good answer. Before I knew it, I was heading down the 405 again, camera in tow to document Fred’s efforts to save the Boom. It was Fourth of July weekend, and I was back in Laguna.

The strawberry fields were single-family homes, Laguna Canyon Road a four-lane highway with a towering toll road cutting through the San Joaquin Hills above it.

Quaint oceanfront trailer parks had given way to five-diamond resorts, and the youth-oriented surf culture had become just another set piece for reality TV.

The earthy charms that had made Laguna an oasis of inclusiveness on the Orange County coast had become its main draw, and many people, the gays included, had been priced out of the market.

Armed with an arsenal of strategies honed during a career in politics, Fred succeeded in extending the Boom’s life span by one year. Documentaries have a way of hijacking a filmmaker’s life, and this was no different.

Every time I found myself heading south for another petition drive, protest, or City Council meeting, I secretly cursed Fred and his moxie. His “Men of Laguna Beach Calendar” contest was hatched, I’m convinced, just to keep me hooked.

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