Club walks the walk

In their last official walk together, the Costa Mayberry Walking Club made it a ceremonial event on New Year's Eve.

They began their brisk, 5.38-mile walk in the afternoon from one of the Costa Mesa's oldest and coziest structures, the Diego Sepulveda Adobe in Estancia Park, to one of the city's newest and most gleaming, the 21-story Plaza Tower across from South Coast Plaza.

The group, led by Mayor Pro Tem Steve Mensinger, has been walking regularly for about a year, generally meeting before the sun rises — around 5:30 a.m. They got the name Costa Mayberry from the fictional 1960s town of Mayberry depicted in "The Andy Griffith Show."

The members will still walk, though. Tuesday marked the completion of their walking all the city's streets, during which they get a close-up look at what's right and what needs work in Costa Mesa. Mensinger said they may try something new in the future, like a sports club or "an old guys basketball team."

About a dozen of the walkers converged in front of the adobe around 1 p.m. Tuesday, most donning their Costa Mayberry hats and T-shirts. Mensinger told the group, before that day's walk, that they had traveled 664 miles of Costa Mesa streets. An estimated 54 people have participated through the months, he said.

He then asked Mayberry regular Lee Ramos, a 2014 council candidate, for a history of the adobe. Ramos, 70 and a lifetime resident of Costa Mesa, described how the house was built in the early 1800s and later restored by a community eager to find and savor its roots.

"You were here when it was built, right Lee?" chided Mayor Jim Righeimer, who has met with the group about 10 times.

The group then headed north along Mesa Verde Drive West. Chris Cox, who owns a Pipeline Promotions, a Costa Mesa-based marketing firm, was among them.

The Costa Mesa resident met Mensinger about nine years ago. Like Mensinger, Cox is involved in youth sports. He coaches football at Calvary Chapel of Costa Mesa. It was his first Mayberry walk and his first visit to the historic adobe.

"I just wanted to take a walk with Steve," he said. "I had the day off of work, so I wanted to come out and support what they've been doing."

A few minutes later, the group made a left onto Country Club Drive. Righeimer, Ramos and Planning Commissioner Tim Sesler were leading the way. A few others, including Mike Bargas, Estancia High football coach and Mayberry regular, stayed in the back of the group, which had spread out.

As the group passed his house along the well-kept tract, Mensinger noted that Costa Mesa is in a "metamorphosis of change" right now. Folks are out doing their thing: raising families, playing outside, going to school, tending to their yards.

"We have a lot of energy in the community," he said.

It's a seemingly different scenario than in his hometown outside Modesto. Out there, things haven't changed much and there isn't much to do, not much to bring people in, Mensinger said. The area is in a frozen state and it could be a ghost town years down the road, he surmised.

Communities need to attract young families, he opined, promote jobs and change with the times.

"If you don't evolve, you're never going to be anything more than what you were," he said.

James Heumann was recruited by Mensinger to get involved. The environmental engineer has done some 30 Mayberry walks.

With the hum of traffic from the 405 Freeway and Harbor Boulevard around him, he kept up with the group members' fast pace as they headed east down Gisler Avenue.

"You learn about the neighborhoods around you, and you learn more about your neighbors too from getting out there more often," he said of his Mayberry participation.

Heumann said he was drawn to move to Costa Mesa a few years ago, partially because of the natural beauty at Fairview Park.

Just then, nature made its presence known, squawking all the way. A group of parrots flew above the walkers and the power lines, heading in the same direction toward Fairview Road

"They're not native," Mensinger said.

Rick Brown lives in Huntington Beach, but his kids go to school in Costa Mesa. Tuesday was his third Mayberry walk. He admires the politicians across the Santa Ana River.

He likes how Mensinger, literally, walks the walk. With the Mayberry walkers, Mensinger will see things that are wrong — like a sidewalk in need of repair — and get it fixed, Brown said.

"I thought this is unique, and I think every city should replicate this," he said. "You should have politicians in the marketplace, engaging with the citizens in the community."

It's more than just shaking hands, Brown said.

As the group headed north onto Fairview Road, it passed the Segerstrom family farm, one of the few remaining agricultural parcels left in Orange County.

Ramos recalled how, years ago, he used to buy the fruit from the farm at the city's grocery stores.

He then revealed that, apparently, "what's talked in Mayberry, stays in Mayberry." The walkers discuss all topics, from politics to family and life in general. It's been their motto and they've kept their word.

The walkers headed into the Wimbledon Village neighborhood, said hello to a postal carrier and eventually stopped for a short breather in Wakeham Park.

Then they strolled around the corner to the front of The Cape. The apartment complex was the temporary home of a group of nurses during the recent filming of an MTV reality show "Scrubbing In."

Walking past The Cape's front entrance along South Coast Drive, Righeimer said he saw a few episodes.

"I didn't mind the parts where they would show the beach and say, 'Costa Mesa, California,'" Righeimer said with a laugh. "But I think parts reflected that Costa Mesa is a cool place to live."

The Mayberry hats and T-shirts were soon inside South Coast Plaza, but the people wearing them didn't shop or admire the indoor Christmas displays and carousel. Mensinger's wife, Robin, said Tuesday was her first time participating in her husband's ritual. She was kept so busy with her kids that she couldn't get out for the other walks.

"I thought I should probably go on the last walk to support my husband," Robin said, the water in a display cascading nearby.

The Mensingers' youngest son was on the walk, but he stopped at Metro Pointe with a friend and would probably expect a ride home later that day, Robin said with a laugh.

After posing for a photo outside South Coast Plaza — "We're tourists from Finland. That's why we're having our picture taken," Mayberry regular Chris Blank joked — the group crossed over the Bristol Street bridge and into the South Coast Metro of skyscrapers and arts theaters.

As they passed under the porte-cochère of the Westin South Coast Plaza hotel, the bus fleet carrying Florida State University's football team arrived. It was a welcome surprise. The Seminoles have been practicing at Costa Mesa's Jack R. Hammett Sports Complex this week in preparation for their championship game against Auburn on Monday.

After passing the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall's performer entrance and Samueli Theater — home of the inaugural Mayor's Dinner in April — the group was in front of Plaza Tower.

The César Pelli-designed silver office building gleamed in the unseasonably bright December sunshine. It was about 3:30 p.m. and 788 calories were burned, according to a smartphone app the walkers use to track their progress.

When asked about the walk's completion, Mensinger kept it concise. In the words of Plato, he said, "To be is to do."

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