Tuesday, April 19, 2011

"Heyday of the greeter is gone"

The Southland has had some colorful characters over the years standing on corners just to give a boost to people walking or driving by. But most are gone now.
In this fast-paced, sophisticated and somewhat suspicious age, civic greeters don't seem to be getting much love.

A poet who was Laguna Beach's unofficial greeter for almost three decades died last year. No one has taken his place.

A Long Beach homeless man who waves to motorists from a street corner was out of action for several months after he was hit by a car.

And Rodeo Drive's official greeter was laid off in January, a victim of the weak economy.

"It's too bad," said Hossein Abbasi, proprietor of the Greeter's Corner Restaurant in Laguna Beach. "All the world needs a greeter. The human interaction is missing."

Certainly Laguna Beach is not as small-townish as it was in the 1880s when Old Joe Lucas, a Portuguese fisherman, started his daily ritual of waving to stagecoaches on their way to Santa Ana or El Toro.

He was succeeded in the 1930s by Eiler Larsen, a bearded ex-gardener famed for booming out to passersby, "Hello-ooo, how are you-uuu?"

Larsen, proclaimed the city's official greeter in 1963, once conceded that people "may think I'm crazy, but when a motorist comes to town, tired and weary of the traffic, and smiles when he leaves, does it matter what they think?"

In 1981, a few years after Larsen's death, his cause was taken up by Number One Archer (shown above), a poet who said he was so named because his mother was speechless when she gave birth to twins. (His brother was named Number Two Archer.)

Archer also had a trademark phrase. When asked how he was feeling, he would answer: "I'm perfect — just like you."

Now, Laguna's only greeters stand mute — two statues of Larsen occupy spots beside South Coast Highway.

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