By Dennis Taylor
At 63, Gary Traylor is still that child who was raised by a village — specifically, Pacific Grove, a community that has collectively embraced him for decades.
“America’s Last Hometown” showed its deep affection for a favorite son recently by donating more than $25,000 in 2½ days to a GoFundMe campaign after learning that Traylor and his roommate — both developmentally disabled — had been evicted from the Marina apartment where they’d been living for two years.
The generosity helped set up Traylor and his roomie, whose name is Richard, in a new residence — also in Marina — and averted the likelihood that California’s Department of Social Services would relocate him to a group home in the San Jose area, far from anyone he knows.
“I was very worried, not knowing where he was going to go, or what’s going to happen, really having no control over it,” said his sister, Patty Traylor Yates. “Thankfully, this wonderful community pulled us out of the crisis.”
Creature of habit
Few Pacific Grove residents have become as universally recognizable through the years as Traylor, who, for the better part of four decades, seldom strayed from the daily routine that made him a local legend.
“If you lived here, went to school here, or just frequented PG, you remember Gary waving at cars from the corner of Forest and David almost every day, wearing the Pacific Grove High School letterman’s jacket that the school gave him,” said city Councilmember Jenny McAdams, a lifelong PG resident. “And then you probably saw him wandering into random businesses, talking to everybody he saw. It’s a small-town story.”
Pacific Grove native Sam Spadoni, who worked as a teenager at Michael’s Grill & Taqueria, remembers seeing Traylor almost every day.
“He’d always walk in and ask for a cup of water, and review the open/closed days of the restaurant (although Traylor can neither read nor write),” recalled Spadoni, a 2000 Palma High graduate. “Then he’d order a burger with no bun, and exactly 12 French fries — always exactly 12. If we didn’t see him for a few days, we’d get worried.”
Deep love for PG High
Traylor also was a regular at the Shell station, at Forest and Prescott, where he’d buy a Diet Coke, and would usually stop at multiple other establishments en route to his ultimate destination, Pacific Grove High, a school he adored, but never attended. (He was bused instead as a special education student to Gladys Stone School in Marina, and earned his diploma there.)
“I coached basketball at PG High for 15 years, and I literally cannot remember a practice that Gary didn’t attend,” said Todd Buller, who has been a teacher, coach, athletic director and vice principal over more than three decades. “I also coached football for a lot of years, and he usually came to those practices, too. He usually didn’t stay long, but he showed up just about every day.”
He also was a fixture at games, chatting up players, coaches, cheerleaders, and fans, albeit in sentences that rarely exceed three or four words.
‘Part of our lives’
“Gary was part of our daily lives. I think he attended more of my volleyball games than my own family did!” PG High alum Bonnie Brown wrote on a Facebook page entitled “Gary: Pacific Grove Legend,” a sounding board for Gary fans since January 2008.
“Gary was our biggest fan. He knew all of our names!” recalled another former PG volleyball player, Rachel Moody, on the Facebook page. “When I worked at PG Bagel Bakery in the late ‘80s, he’d empty the change from his pocket and say ‘chocolate milk.’ I’d make up the difference from our tip jar so he could have his chocolate milk and always get rewarded with, ‘I love you, Rachel.’”
Remarkably, Taylor seems to remember almost everybody he’s ever met — even if the meeting was just long enough for him to ask his usual questions: “What your name? What year you graduate? Where you live? Why?”
“It was a cold, foggy Pacific Grove morning, and my second day at PG High when I first met Gary,” wrote Farrah Lewis on the Facebook Page. “The first time he asked for my name, I kept my head down, kept walking and ignored this strange man. Later, I learned that this was Gary — harmless Gary. If you ever run across this gentle soul, introduce yourself. Don’t be a dork, like I was, and run away.”
Stories abound from PG High alums who were recognized by Traylor long after they graduated. He remembers their name, their graduation year, their siblings, what sports they played, what their address was.
‘Savant kind of memory’
“In a lot of ways, he’s kind of like a savant,” said Buller. “He’ll see you and ask about everybody in your family: ‘How’s Kathy? How’s Bo?’ He tells me what year each of my kids graduated from high school. And it’s not just me … he can do that with everybody he’s ever met. He has that savant kind of memory.”
“The kids at our school loved him. Gary was part of our PG High family —part of our culture for decades — and I don’t think I ever saw anybody be mean to him. He was Gary.”
PG High staffers have shown their affection over the years by presenting Traylor with a new letterman’s jacket several times over the years, whenever his old one wears out.
The feeling has been mutual for Traylor, who has become well-known for ending almost all conversations with his trademark: “I love you, (insert name here).”
Yates, 13 years younger, says her brother was probably born healthy, but suffered from a series of ear infections and high fever that likely damaged his brain. Doctors in the early 1960s called him “mentally retarded” — vernacular of that era — a diagnosis that has since been updated to “developmentally disabled.”
A toddler mentality
“Gary has what I would probably describe as a toddler mentality for a lot of things,” Yates said. “He can’t explain or articulate things, but he can express the basics. He can tell me where he wants to go, what he wants to do. If I ask him what he ate today, he might say, ‘sandwich,’ but he can’t elaborate.”
He plays toddler-level games on his iPad. He listens to music from the 1960s and ‘70s on his record player (John Denver and The Beatles are among his favorites). He relentlessly watches old videos of “Monterey’s Cooking,” a cable TV show that was hosted for 25 years by legendary local chef John Pisto.
“My dad also loved that show, and used to tape it every day — he had about a thousand old VHS tapes of ‘Monterey Cooking,’” Yates recollected.
Gary adored his parents, and they doted on him, Yates said, and he was devastated when his mother, Marjorie Traylor, died of cancer in 1993. His father, Harry Traylor, owned a dairy company, distributing milk and other products around the Peninsula.
‘Gary be OK?’
“Gary and my dad were very close — best buds, and always together until Dad developed dementia,” she said. “I remember the day I moved him out of the apartment, when Dad went into the nursing home. He just broke down in my car, and said, ‘Gary be OK?’”
After living a year with his sister, Traylor moved into a group home operated by Gateway Center of Monterey, a facility serving adults with developmental disabilities. (Harry Traylor, who died in 2017, sat on the founding board.)
When the pandemic forced shelter-in-place mandates, Gary and other residents were locked down in the home, ending his daily treks down Forest Avenue to Pacific Grove High.
When the group home closed in 2020, Gary was excited to be relocated to a Marina apartment, enabling him to walk the streets, ride the buses, and socialize again. “He loves seeing people he knows,” Yates said.
When a water main burst earlier this month, flooding the apartment complex, Traylor and his roommate were evicted and temporarily relocated to a motel, while Social Services searched for a new arrangement.
“The only option, I was told, was to move my brother into another group home, outside the county,” Yates said. “I kept telling them, ‘You can’t do that to Gary … you can’t take him away from everybody he knows.’”
Friends became heroes
With motel expenses piling up, and the clock ticking, friends and acquaintances became heroes. Traylor’s plight was publicized on the “Gary: Pacific Grove Legend” Facebook page. Monterey County Supervisor Wendy Root Askew and McAdams, the councilmember, contacted his sister.
PG High alum Catherine Broz set up a GoFundMe page at 7 p.m. on a Friday night, Jan. 7, hoping to raise $10,000 — a goal that was eclipsed the following morning. After 24 hours, the fund exceeded $15,000. By the end of the weekend, more than 300 people had boosted the total to more than $25,000, funds that likely will provide Traylor with housing security, and also cover other needs for a couple of years, his sister said. The goal has since been hiked to $50,000, and the fundraiser remains active.
“I think that says so much about our wonderful community, but also about Gary, who is beloved by the people of PG,” McAdams said. “At the same time, I see it as a double-edged sword, because I know Gary isn’t the only person in our community who needs this kind of help.”
Twenty percent of the students in the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District are currently experiencing homelessness, McAdams noted, along with numerous others, many of them elderly.
Featured image: Gary Traylor tries to attend each Pacific Grove High football practice | Provided photo
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