Tom Fulks

Goodbye to Mike Spangler, the nicest Republican I ever met

Mike Spangler outside his Shell Beach home in 2015.
Mike Spangler outside his Shell Beach home in 2015.

Mike Spangler is the nicest Republican I ever met. And the funniest, the most free-spirited. I’m going to miss the dude.

We first met in the water, surfing the reefs of Shell Beach. I don’t remember exactly when — sometime between 1976 and 1981, my college years.

Our introduction: He dropped in on me. It was blatant wave theft, a major disrespect in surfing. I hated him instantly, of course.

At my age of 18-something, I paddled by him and threw down the obligatory stink eye. He smiled real wide and said, “Hey!” It freaked me out.

“Great,” I thought, paddling on, trying to avoid further eye contact, “another psycho-killer kook in the lineup.”

The guy was big. And to me, old — like Jack Nicholson in “The Shining.” Just plain scary, I thought.

Over the next few years, we crossed paths in the water, me keeping a distance, him smiling, plotting to ax me into parts and stuff them into a freezer.

Then I met Mike on land, after I’d volunteered to be race director for the Sea Venture/Pismo Triathlon. Mike was pals with sponsors Rob Rossi and John King, who’d taken over Greg Hind’s popular Avila-based Sea-to-See Triathlon.

We moved the race to Pismo, changed the name, and that’s when I really got to know the remarkable character, Mike Spangler.

Of course, my original take was totally wrong — eye-to-eye, he wasn’t psycho. Rather, he was one of the nicest guys I’d ever met. His disarming smile betrayed genuine goodness. I came to love him, like a big brother.

Without being asked, he jumped in to help, full of ideas and energy, hustling to make the race a success, and it was for the next several years.

A serial entrepreneur, Mike owned a welding shop in San Luis Obispo, a garage with a bunch of cool cars in it, business property downtown. His main occupation was making money at having fun. He was good at it.

Surf dude, gear head, self-educated, rebel, rascal, raconteur, Renaissance man, rakishly debonair in his inimitable, rough-hewn, Bakersfield-bred way, Mike’s sandpaper veneer covered a gentle soul of crushed velvet.

He was always smiling, even when trying to convince the entire neighborhood of Sunset Palisades in Shell Beach that he had a brilliant idea. If only they had trusted him. Most didn’t. Almost naively, he didn’t get why.

That didn’t stop him from trying to build three houses next to his man-cave palace, which sits on 2 1/2 acres of fill between the freeway and Shell Beach Road, just north of the tennis courts, with an ocean view for the gods.

He bought the lot in 2002, and the city permitted Mike to build one small house on it. Neighbors were aghast at the size and opulence of the “modest” dwelling he built in about 2005. Some were incensed — including my longtime Cal Poly surf bud, John Steinbeck — who believed the entire lot should have remained open space.

For the record, not that it mitigates anything, Mike’s house has the most spectacular garage I’ve ever stepped foot in. Projects in various aspects of completion perfectly arrayed on spotless work benches. Impeccable tool management. Boards, wetsuits, man-toys along the walls in faultless order. Classic cars. A kegerator. Seriously, you can eat off the floor.

When Mike asked for my help to promote splitting the lot some years ago, he knew I’d resist. I mostly agreed with the neighbors: He wasn’t entitled to three more houses.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I hesitated. But he was so persuasive, so earnest, so convinced of his righteous path, eventually I agreed to canvass the neighborhood to gauge opinion about his plans.

“Mmm-kay,” I said, in that way you agree to clean mushy dog yack from shag carpeting.

Mike was saddened to learn, after years of trying, that many neighbors not only didn’t want more houses up there, they were annoyed with his remote-control model airplane buzzing the neighborhood on weekend mornings.

That nugget brought a raffish grin.

The Pismo Beach City Council turned him down, which escalated into a standoff with City Hall, which eventually shut off his utilities and tried to force him out of his house.

Smiling, cheerful, confident as always, Mike went to court and won the right to stay. But his fight with City Hall was largely over. Falling ill, Mike focused on family and friends, making sure everybody else was OK.

Forever positive, smiling, Mike always pushed forward, never stepping back, never comprehending the meaning of “no.”

Born April 20, 1945, Michael Robert Spangler died in his sleep April 6, 2017, just shy of his 72nd birthday.

I’m going to miss the dude.

Liberal columnist Tom Fulks usually appears in The Tribune on Sundays, in rotation with Andrea Seastrand. We’re publishing an additional Fulks column today in memory of Mike Spangler.