The two tanned, middle-aged men on bicycles lazily cruised north on Newport Beach Boulevard, toward the bridge spanning the city’s main waterway.
Both stopped, then the man in the lead turned around to gawk at the massive crowd of supporters of President Donald Trump gathering on Via Lido.
“Dude!” the first yelled. “He’s coming right there.”
“No way!” the other said.
As it has numerous times over the last four years, amid protests and political rallies, Orange County’s beach culture collided with presidential politics on Sunday.
President Donald Trump’s visit to Newport Beach’s Lido Isle for a fundraiser drew three different groups in large numbers to the usually packed shopping district with serene harbor views.
Hundreds of supporters of the president mixed with a similar number of protesters waving Armenian flags all along Via Lido. Another smaller group of supporters of former vice president Joe Biden gathered on the Newport Boulevard bridge. And around, and sometimes through them, locals on their bikes or on walks with their dogs mingled among the dueling protests.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in this area,” said Natalie Lawrence, 27, as she walked across the bridge from her family’s home on the north side in Costa Mesa. Behind her, cars honked, and people blasted air horns and shouted through bullhorns. Lawrence was walking with her father-in-law, Robert, 58, who was taking his Aussie-doodle mix Saela for a stroll.
The two were just there after church to take in the scene. “I think it’s kind of neat to have the president visit,” Robert Lawrence said, noting Newport Beach has been a popular fundraising area for past presidents, most recently Barack Obama. “I would have been down here either way, just to see all the people who showed up.”
🇺🇲 Two Marines arguing on the Newport Boulevard Bridge 🇺🇲 pic.twitter.com/tQ5xfm5lPk
— Josh Cain (@joshpcain) October 18, 2020
Few knew the exact route Trump’s motorcade would take that morning, so there was plenty of speculation among supporters decked out in Trump gear as they lined up for a glimpse of him.
“Newport and PCH, those are your only options,” said Conrad Maag, 60, of Santa Ana, standing on the south side of the Newport Boulevard bridge.
“Your only other option, if he wanted to be sneaky, he could come through the back way,” he added, not specifying what way that would be.
“He could take the ferry across!” offered Maag’s brother, Gary, 58, of Westminster.
About a half-hour later, all traffic on the bridge came to a sudden stop. A handful of supporters on both sides — Trump supporters on the northwest side, Biden supporters on the south east side — gingerly walked out on to the now-abandoned roadway before California Highway Patrol and Newport Beach officers on motorcycles shooed them back.
After a few minutes, a fleet of police and emergency vehicles, sirens and lights blazing, sped down the bridge, followed by two presidential limos. Some of Trump’s family members waved to supporters from the first vehicle.
Behind them, Trump himself, maskless, poked his head out of his window and waved.
The sight of the president sent a huge cheer up on his supporters’ side. On the other, Biden supporters and other protesters jeered, some signaling with middle fingers held high, profanities and chants of “two more weeks!”
Eddie and Michelle Lee, a couple from Costa Mesa, were out on their bikes for what they hoped would be a leisurely Sunday morning ride. Not so today.
“Not the most relaxing atmosphere,” Eddie Lee said as they both rode down one of the off-ramps from the bridge. All around them, protesters shouted and waved flags. “I’m trying to convince my wife, let’s take another route and go get coffee.”
“The whole thing, all the conservative politics, you can’t really get away from it in Orange County,” Michelle Lee, originally from San Francisco, said.
George Vivanco and Brenda Arevalo biked down from where they live in the city of Orange on Sunday. While they were in for a surprise on their normal route, they weren’t inconvenienced much; after passing through the three rallies, they were starting on their hour and a half ride back home.
“Chaotic, definitely,” Vivanco said of what’s normally a laid-back scene.
The president’s approach drew a large police presence as well as numerous street closures, creating a traffic nightmare for anyone trying to drive to the Balboa Peninsula. At OC Boat Rentals just a few hundred feet from the main rallies, workers busily signed in customers Sunday morning. Many who sought to come to Lido Isle for a relaxed outing on the water were instead late by hours due to the closures.
“Some of ’em took an hour just to come down Newport Boulevard,” said Jay Cardenas, who works at the boat rental stand.
Locals and people employed at the docks and nearby restaurants got a heads up of about a day for Trump’s visit — many in the area said they got a noisy alert to their phones the night before.
“Lido Island residents: We are anticipating a dignitary visit this weekend. Parking will be impacted on Saturday …Traffic, parking and pedestrian access will be impacted all day Sunday,” the alert read.”Please plan your activities accordingly.”
The alert a day ahead probably kept some away. But it wasn’t much help to anyone with plans who didn’t live in the area.
“Maybe a week in advance would have been nice,” Cardenas said. “Twenty-four hours, not really enough.”