I took a spin down Lincoln Blvd toward Manhattan Beach to see my friend Catherine - a native Angelean. You see it all – the spotty outskirts of Santa Monica south of The 10 with the auto mechanics and little cafes and Hawaiian barbecue, the dusty storefronts of Venice (could use a power wash and a coat of paint), then the expansive condos of the Marina and the ever-growing sky as the street widens and you approach the rather grand Loyola Marymount campus and soon LAX. I love to drive that section of Lincoln that parallels the north runway; you swear the planes are going to land right on top of your car. I nod at the iconic In-n-Out on Sepulveda, where all the visitors flock for a burger just after landing.
And on through El Segundo to Manhattan Beach – a part of Manhattan Beach that most people don’t envision. They picture a little elite fortress of a town, secluded from the rabble and decked out with charming merchants and eateries. And of course the pier and myth about beach volleyball being born here. No, I’m talking about the Manhattan Beach along the PCH, home of yoga studios and UPS stores and Ralph’s and car dealers. Yes, John Elway Toyota is here. Once I stayed at a tired Residence Inn next door to the Elway lot. This is the dealership bearing the name by the All-World QB? Like most things in the middle-class sections of Manhattan Beach (and LA for that matter) it’s quite modest. First, land is precious and lots are small and, second, being exposed to the relentless California sun gives everything kind of a shopworn appearance. (We put up with wood rot and general fade in Santa Monica because, hey, it’s Santa Monica. At the beach, a little of the right kind of shabby is okay.)
I parked in the snug, cratered parking lot near Two Guns Coffee. Catherine recommended it and I’m always up for something new. The strip mall – if you want to call it that – was chock full of random little stores (how do they stay in business?) and surprisingly, parking was at a premium. If you didn’t know this place was here you’d miss it. Unassuming comes to mind. Inside I found a few tables and a small counter and the aroma of some fine blend of coffee. I’m not that discriminating; I think all coffee smells good.
Catherine was waiting for me, croissant and cup at hand. Beaming as usual. Even when the chips are down, she has a ready smile.
“How are you?” I called to her from across the room. We hugged. I sat down. She recommended the pastry; I said no thanks I had breakfast. She had just come from working out. A light workout, she said.
“It’s great and you don’t perspire too much.” I’m not familiar with that type of workout.
Catherine was laid off a few months ago and we often commiserate about the job market. We worked at the same company for a time. Her husband was laid off from the same company but has since found work elsewhere.
Catherine lost a job, but found peace.
“For the first time, I’m really enjoying our south Redondo Beach neighborhood,” she said. “I used to work long hours and didn't get to spend a lot of time at home. My husband and I live across the street from the high school so the softball and football fields are always bustling with kids. I feel a part the community now. There's a comforting ebb and flow to each day that I never felt before."
Somehow I don’t think Catherine will suffer for lack of a corporate job. She’s had some interviews, but so far nothing. It’s the toughest market ever, in the toughest city in America.
Instead, she’s rekindled a passion for taking pleasure in the joy of others. We all know brides invest a lot of effort in their wedding day and want to preserve the memories, and Catherine has tapped into that sentiment. For several years she’s had a business preserving wedding bouquets so brides can have a lasting keepsake of their special day.
“I’ve been taking social media classes, learning about search engine optimization and such,” she rattled off, excitedly. “I’m really working at marketing my business.”
And this is what Catherine loves to do. She loves to see the expression on a newlywed’s face when she picks up her arrangement. This being LA and South Bay Floral Preservation being a one-person operation, there’s no earthly way she can deliver. Her customers must drop off and pick up, or they can arrange a FedEx delivery.
“I market within a 50 mile radius of Redondo Beach, but I’ve had brides from out of state use my services,” she said. “This is the biggest day of their lives, so they’ll go to great lengths to make it special.”
While Catherine has shared joy, she’s also witnessed grief. She’s been asked to preserve floral arrangements from memorials, and the stories are sobering.
“There was a girl – a teenager – killed in a car accident,” she said a catch in her throat. “It was so sad. I don’t know how people carry on.” A real earnestness in her expression.
And maybe Catherine’s contribution can assist with the healing – even in some small way.
I’m heartened by the pluck and determination of Angelenos – their capacity for finding a purpose. When her company gave her the boot, Catherine rededicated herself to her business.
Unlike those faded buildings, she’s intent on preserving beauty and following her bliss.