Greeting life on his own terms

On a recent weekday morning, Michael Minutoli rolled up to the Main Beach boardwalk on his bike, Starbucks cup in hand, and said "hello" to people sitting on the benches.

Those who didn't know Minutoli, wearing an "I Love LB" sweatshirt and pink bandanna, simply responded politely. But those who recognized the familiar face were ready to jump into conversation.

Minutoli, 51, said he decided back in May that he would become the new "greeter" of Laguna Beach.

"I had the greatest summer in Laguna Beach, and I've been hanging out here for 30 years," he said.

Minutoli said friends had suggested he become the greeter, but he knew some locals didn't want him stepping on Eiler Larsen's sacred ground.

He offered up alternatives. They can call me the host of the city, he said.

Minutoli said although there are some critics, he's had a mostly positive reaction while standing in his usual greeter position at the corner of Forest Avenue and Coast Highway.

"My first day of greeting, a family came up to me and said, 'Excuse me, sir, I don't know who you, are but you made my day,'" he recalled.

Besides being the so-called greeter in town, there's another reason people might know Minutoli's name.

For the last 21 years, Minutoli has been crashing concerts, awards shows and Hollywood parties, taking pictures with the likes of Bruce Willis, Britney Spears andMichael Jackson.

It started with a love for music, and he saved up money to go to concerts when he lived in Massachusetts. When he moved to California in 1980, he would scour the Los Angeles Times' Calendar section, his mind boggled by the amount of venues and musicians in L.A.

The party-crashing started with a Madonna concert in 1989. Minutoli didn't pay much for the tickets and managed to get his 4-year-old son in for free.

He said he didn't realize he was in the VIP line until he noticed actor Warren Beatty, Madonna's co-star in "Dick Tracy," was in line with him. Before he knew it, he was backstage.

Minutoli said he has never crashed a party the same way twice.

A few years ago, Minutoli attended a Beach Boys benefit concert at the Palladium in Hollywood. Backstage with the band, Minutoli managed to end up on stage and an upright keyboard was pushed in front of him.

Not a pianist, Minutoli said he "improvised" and sang along to "Fun, Fun, Fun" as if he was one of them.

"Three months later a DVD comes out, and there I am with Brian Wilson," he said, smiling.

His stories are endless: getting drunk with Elvis Costello and Bono at a Vanity Fair party, holding Lady Gaga's MTV Video Music Award and eating dinner with the Bee Gees.

"In my blood I'm a performer, and I love creative, eccentric people," he said. "When I grow up, I want to be a performer."

After mingling with the A-list crowd, Minutoli puts his tuxedo in a bag, hops on his bike and takes the train back to Orange County, or he sleeps on the streets. Minutoli has been homeless for the last four years.

His main mode of transportation is his bike, and he frequently makes trips to San Juan Capistrano to visit a storage locker in which he houses odds and ends from his past.

He supported his family — daughter Anthony, son Ashley and wife Debbie — as a salesman for most of his life until he was laid off and had a string of odd jobs.

Then he and Debbie broke up.

His last job was at a market for $10 an hour. It wasn't enough to pay rent, so he had to sleep on the streets.

He realized he'd have to have three of those jobs to make a living, so he decided to change his life and become homeless.

His kids, now in their early 20s, live and work in Corona. His daughter supplied him with a cell phone, which he always has on him.

Minutoli doesn't complain, but instead happily describes living in a city he loves. He starts his day with a Starbucks coffee and then goes to the beach to "chase waves," which for him means dancing and listening to music.

"We choose our own destiny," he said. "I wake up happy every day of my life."

The owner of The White House will offer Minutoli a free meal if he's hungry, and strangers have offered him their homes to shower. Being kind to others helps get him by, and they return the favor.

He doesn't go to homeless shelters.

"I feel like I'm better off than most folks that need it," he said.

When asked what's next for the greeter and party crasher, Minutoli was coy. He said one thing is for certain: He isn't over either of his hobbies.

Twitter: @joannaclay

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