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By John Grossi 

Photo by Monique Kuhlman

Your City, Your Magazine:

Gia Mendez graciously responded to our call for readers and followers to tell us about their “Happy Place” in Long Beach. While her story isn’t what we expected, it was exactly the reason we made a “call for stories.”

Gia Mendez walks 30 minutes along the water to the grocery store each week. She buys food, for one, at the Vons near the pier, then strolls back along the boardwalk to her Peninsula apartment, enjoying the wind in her hair, the smell of the ocean, and the sounds of the beach.

“I always dreamed of living by the ocean, but I never thought I actually would...” she shares. “You have to be rich to live by the ocean, I thought.”

Nothing about Gia’s life is how she envisioned it. “You never think you’re going to get divorced in your 40s and have to start over. I think there’s a lot of people like me, but we’re sort of a forgotten demographic. You have to do what you can to make yourself happy given the circumstance.”

Gia wrote to our magazine after we made a call for readers to nominate the people and places that make “Life Great in the 908.” Her story was not what we expected, but it is real. And it is a true testament to Long Beach’s beauty.

Gia was once a stay-at-home mom, living in a house in Long Beach. After divorce, she got a job with LBUSD and had to hunt for a place to live. She found a one-bed, one-bath near LBCC for $1,300 a month and lived there for four years while it increased every year to $2,000 a month. Renting a small studio by the ocean actually saved her money and she became a resident of her dream neighborhood.

Other than who she sees at work, Gia’s life is solitary. Her kids are in college now and she spends most evenings alone. “To meet new people stresses me out,” she said.

But the bright spot amidst it all is her neighborhood.

“Seeing the sunrise in the morning and the calm water. And seeing the waves crash at sunset and sitting there by myself in my chair. Just thinking that I can do this every day, that’s what makes me happy. Nature makes me happy and the beach makes me happy. I love to look into the big fancy houses and wish I could live in there. I wonder what they do for a living and how they got there. The water in the morning is really pretty and it calms me. I go there and stand for like 10 minutes each morning and then I make myself go to work.”

What’s next for Gia? She’s not quite sure but she says she knows she can’t give up. She knows there are others just like her out there, but it’s tough to connect because they’re all working to get by just like her. For now, she looks forward to the summer. Her daughter will be home from college and Gia can’t wait to explore the water during summer days together. She plans to take up kayaking because it’s something she can do alone, and further immerse herself in the natural beauty that surrounds her in the Peninsula “happy place” that she now calls home.



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