He stands each day at Brooks Street and Pacific Coast Highway, shouting greetings to passersby and waving to motorists.
He is not the first greeter in Laguna Beach, nor is he the official one. That latter honor goes to Eiler Larsen, the only one of Laguna’s string of greeters to be approved by the City Council, the others having simply nominated themselves for the position.
Like the man with the short white beard, flashy jacket — or vest, depending on his choice for the day — sailor cap and white gloves who smiles and dances for those who pass by him.
His name is Michael Minutoli, and he’s homeless.
“Hi sweetheart, so nice to see you,” he says to a woman walking down the street.
“Have a good one,” she says to the man.
For about five years, Minutoli, 55, has aimed to arrive at 7 a.m. seven days a week at the well-traveled corner to dispense his amiable words and gestures.
As the city’s fourth greeter, Minutoli has inspired Laguna Beach-based Elestial Productions to film a documentary about the men who have adopted the role over its 125-year history.
Filmmaker Martin Yewchuk, owner of the production company, stumbled upon the idea after driving by Minutoli and watching him dance and wave.
“I wanted to find out why someone would engage total strangers in such a way,” said Yewchuk, a former professional hockey player. “It takes a unique individual to do what he does, so I went up to Michael, asked if I could interview him, and he gave me all these other names to talk to. It was like following bread crumbs — a detective story.”
“The Greeter” features interviews with long-time Laguna residents like artist Robert Wyland, film director and cinematographer Greg MacGillivray and author Arnold Hano. Yewchuk gives special thanks to the Townley/Olsen Gallery for hosting previews of the movie and related events.
“The Greeter” will have two screenings Thursday at the Laguna Beach venue [seven-degrees]. Yewchuk and his wife, Tabatha, said they are hoping to spread the documentary worldwide and have already entered the film in film festivals in Topanga, Ca.; Brooklyn, N.Y.; Maui, Hawaii; and Portland, Ore., among several other cities.
The 66-minute film, the Yewchuks said, explores the message of how each greeter shared a deep love for humanity, embraced their personalities and encouraged everyone to accept others and celebrate differences.
But the couple quickly found out that’s not the full story, because what story would be complete without controversy? Some people interviewed by the couple would talk about Larsen but refuse to discuss Minutoli. Others said they had complained about Eiler and had often told him to tone down his message.
“It was challenging for us because we quickly learned people made assumptions and labels, but we had to stay true to our gut reaction to the message of the story, and that was about a greeter who only wants to spread happiness and love,” Yewchuk said.
“Being that beautiful person he is and spreading love — everyone is benefiting,” Tabatha said about Minutoli. “Those who sit in judgment are hurting themselves and should ask why they feel that way. He’s living his passion. He’s truly spreading joy. He can’t wait to greet the day.”
The documentary starts with the background of each greeter, beginning with the first, known as Old Joe Lucas, a Portuguese fisherman who greeted stagecoach riders from the 1880s until his death in 1908.
Following him was Larsen, a Danish immigrant who migrated to Laguna Beach in 1940. The shaggy-haired, heavily bearded man, dressed in a red shirt, slacks and sandals, would grin and wave at visitors, booming “hello” and catchphrases like “Delighted to see you!” and “Are you alive?”
The City Council proclaimed Larsen the official greeter of Laguna Beach in 1963. He died in 1975 and is honored with at least two statues in town and a restaurant bearing his name. His footprints are embedded in the sidewalk at his favorite spot, and Laguna Beach Beer Company created The Greeter’s Ale in his memory.
No. 1 Unnamed Archer, who carried a tall staff and was known to say, “You’re perfect” to passing people, greeted from the early ‘80s to 2009.
Minutoli, who had been hanging out in Laguna Beach for more than 30 years, had always been into entertainment and pop culture, he said. He crashed concerts, award shows and Hollywood parties, taking pictures with the likes of Michael Jackson, Tom Hanks, Bill and Hillary Clinton and Harrison Ford.
When he worked at a market in San Juan Capistrano, he said, his co-workers would throw fat on the deli floor and Minutoli would spin in it for laughs and applause, he said.
“I’ve been a happy guy since I was born,” Minutoli said in his Massachusetts accent. “I can’t stand still either. Since I was in grade school, I was saying ‘Hi’ to 100 people before school started. Friends would tell me to shut up.”
Minutoli spent the first two years of his greeter gig at Forest Avenue and Coast Highway. At Brooks Street, he wears a music player and often dances to songs by Elton John and the Rolling Stones.
He said his smile and dancing has elicited thanks from strangers for making their lives better.
He said a 17-year-old who was dying from cancer made a wish list and asked to have lunch with Minutoli.
He said a young girl delivered a letter to him and asked him to read it after she walked away. According to Minutoli, her note said that she didn’t commit suicide because he brought her joy.
A Marine gave Minutoli a medallion coin he had earned in the service, the greeter said.
“I’m a sensitive guy and it all brought me to tears,” Minutoli said. “This isn’t a job to me, it’s a responsibility.”
He said the reason he tries to get to the corner by 7 a.m. is so he doesn’t miss people heading to work or school.
“I don’t do this for people to love me,” Minutoli said. “I do it because a smile and a wave can do something good for someone.”
IF YOU GO
What: “The Greeter” documentary
When: Thursday. First screening starts at 6 p.m.; second screening is at 8 p.m.
Where: [seven-degrees], 891 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach
Cost: $15 in advance and $20 at the door
Information: (949) 310-0915 or visit elestialproductions.com