Hansen: Trolley brings Laguna together

With his arms raised in triumph and smiling like he had won the lottery, Charlie McClung stepped onto a Laguna Beach trolley Sunday afternoon and yelled, "Yeah! First trolley of the year!"

The trolley does that to people.

Smiles come easily and linger. Children squeal and jump up and down like adrenaline-powered pogo sticks.

When the trolley bells ring in Laguna, they elicit more joy than church bells.

People run to catch them, laughing, happy to yell in mock seriousness, "Wait … wait for me!"

And the trolley waits, making each person feel special.

The trolley has become a moving summer landmark. It brings together residents and tourists alike, all eager to share in that "something."

It's a combination of carefree vacation and community know-how; it's a free, open-air acknowledgement that everyone is on the same bus, regardless of rank or manner or color of bathing suit.

Even veteran locals enjoy the ride, knowing that it is almost always more effective and hassle-free.

Sure, it can get crowded at peak times, and the wait sometimes exceeds 30 minutes, but if you're lucky to time it right, it definitely beats a long walk in heels.

Plus, there are other unique benefits.

You get to see the beach at new angles because you're sitting higher, uncovering nestled coves and longer stretches of sand. Because you're not driving (and speeding), you see public beach-access signs overgrown by vines that normally go unnoticed, such as West Street Beach.

You get to hear the Hawaiian-clad trolley driver announce names like Catalina, Solana, Pearl, Cleo and Wave.

You find yourself daydreaming, having the luxury to actually stare at the water, certain that this time you will see a whale.

All the smells are here, including the tanning oils and surf wax on the skimboards.

There are teenage boys with salty, cracked hair and freckled noses. There are girls with fruit-flavored, plumping lip gloss and rhinestone flip-flops.

The teens usually don't stay on long, sometimes only one stop because they are too lazy to walk.

There are senior citizens with shopping lists, and hired labor catching another bus.

There are beach bags and camera phones and farmer tans. Fancy sunglasses and tattoos and foreign languages.

It's easy to imagine yourself in Italy, but it's unnecessary because you're in Laguna.

Each beach you pass, you realize how many beaches you have yet to visit. In your mind, you create a bucket list of favorites: Table Rock, Shaws Cove, Camel Point, Woods Cove.

Occasionally, your reverie is broken by an impatient driver or a loud Harley.

And as you get closer to downtown, the clutch of traffic thickens, the air stalls and car exhaust sometimes wafts through like hot breath.

The brakes on the older trolleys can hit an annoying pitch, but you quickly get used to it.

Everyone overhears everyone else, hoping to eavesdrop themselves into a conversation.

If you're not talking to a stranger by the time you leave the trolley, you're not doing your job. You are not playing your role. It's the role defined for you when you first stepped on.

It's you, the person we waited for — the reason Charlie McClung raised his arms in triumph, announcing himself to the trolley of humanity.

DAVID HANSEN is a writer and Laguna Beach resident. He can be reached at davidhansen@yahoo.com.

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