A Small Town of 66,000

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By: Saffron Sener | Editor in Chief

January 23, 2017

A well-timed observation can spark epiphanies. This is something I’m sure everyone is more than familiar with; when certain details are brought to one’s attention, the entirety clicks together like a puzzle, the final, hard to locate pieces laid in their respective spots.

Allow me to set the scene: it’s a Saturday night, an especially significant one to the town of San Clemente. “Puttin’ on the Glitz,” the annual commemoration of San Clemente’s snowless holiday cheer, a conglomeration of local business and residents basking in the chilly, mid-fifties degree weather, is at its peak. I am one of many San Clemente High School students performing holiday songs at the intersection of Del Mar and Ola Vista. People pass in droves, some stopping out of curiosity and some obligated to stay due to relation (let’s give a moment of appreciation to all the supportive parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and siblings), to watch us sing our hearts out to holiday favorites like “Carole of the Bells” and “Silent Night”.

We finish our set, and I depart from my fellow choir classmates to join my regular group of friends. As we begin our ascent up the crowded street, which is carefully decorated with glittering white lights, one of my friends turns to me, a thoughtful look on his face, and asks, “San Clemente really is a small town, isn’t it?” I nod happily, unaware of the fact that I will later revisit this moment with a sudden realization.

Later that night, after we all enjoyed pizza at LaRocco’s and the latest collection at the San Clemente Art Gallery, both quiet escapes from bustling Del Mar, I revisited the moment I had shared with my friend earlier. Despite San Clemente being the home of an ever-growing 66,000, the “Spanish Village by the Sea” has maintained its status as a deeply interconnected yet wildly diverse microcosm.

His nine-word sentence sparked a series realizations as I pondered its validity. It was not until that exact moment that the idea of San Clemente being a “small town,” or a “village,” like we refer to ourselves, had ever crossed my mind. To be completely honest, I never really thought of San Clemente as anything other than my hometown, the place I grew up in and felt most comfortable in.

Upon reflection, however, I completely amend my position. We are most definitely a small town, knit together by the entrancing binds of the ocean and united by a unique drive to remain an anomaly in the constantly growing world; San Clemente is committed to its preservation as a true beach town.

The ties of this town run deep. They’re evident in so many aspects of my life, personally, and the lives of my fellow San Clemente High School students. When you go to a school taught by a large proportion of teachers who actually attended said institution, the interconnectedness of a small town ideal is immediately apparent. My own father attended the exact same schools as I, living in the very same house as we do now. Funnily enough, we’ve actually had some of the same teachers (I’m looking at you, Mrs. Bassett), and a notable number of his middle and high school friends have been my teachers, too.

To further my understanding of this newfound San Clemente characterization, I researched the criteria of a “small town” and some fundamental ideals were established. Consider family-owned businesses a necessity; stores such as Sam’s Shoes and restaurants like Tina and Vince’s are just a fraction of San Clemente’s “ma and pop shop” contingent, satisfying this required component. Citywide celebrations are also a crucial aspect. With gatherings such as the Ocean Festival, the annual Fiesta and the previously mentioned Puttin’ on the Glitz, the qualification is once again met. Finally, a small town must be united through and through. This is undeniable of San Clemente; a prime example concerns the Toll Road. When this invasive highway was proposed to run through the beloved chaparral and therein threaten our coveted Trestles, us locals fought for years to bring the proposition down.

In my book, we are overqualified for the title.

Additionally, it is apparently necessary for a small town to be intertwined by a similar entity, namely a street. Well, in place of Del Mar, I’d like to acknowledge and appreciate the ocean.

883087_935571199855772_94049813422689171_oI don’t think it can be denied. We worship the beach in every degree. Business and team names reflect the water (I mean, we are the San Clemente Tritons). Murals and art galleries are incomplete without numerous homages to either the watercolor sunset or picturesque coastline. I feel incomplete if I drive to school and do not see dozens of surfers skateboarding or biking down to Trestles (a perk of living in south side). Despite our innumerable interests and intense diversity, San Clemente, as a whole, returns to the beach to connect; it is our one commonality.

With evidence like this glaring so greatly in my face, the fact that I hadn’t put more effort into understanding the spectacular nature of this town is a bit embarrassing.

San Clemente is a home. The older couples in my neighborhood have lived here for more than fifty years, raising their children and their grandchildren in the very same house. New families are buckling down to do the same. I am comforted in knowing that I can expect to find my parents here far in the future. I am comforted in knowing that wherever life may take me, San Clemente is the static component of my life that I can return to with the assurance that I will find the same businesses, schools, and surfers making their daily procession down to Trestles.

We may not know all of each others’ names, the size of my school may be enough to populate an entirely new city, and the traffic may be eerily similar to that of Los Angeles, but San Clemente locals are members of an undeniably amazing and wonderfully contradictive big small town.

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