Photos and text by Shawn Raymundo
(From left) Emily Leifer, 28, and her mother Diane Leifer, 58, sweep up broken and used water balloons in front of the driveway of their San Clemente home on Avenida Victoria after thousands descended on the street for the annual block party that is the Office Chair Races—San Clemente’s yearly Fourth of July tradition.
“People bring a lot of balloons and then immediately leave, so it’s a super bummer because Victoria street goes straight in the ocean,” Emily Leifer said, adding, “I think it’s all fun and games until there’s a bunch of trash on our street.”
(From left) Friends of the Leifers, Amanda Wang, 28, of Orange, and San Clemente resident Kyle Reynolds, 30, assist in the post-races cleanup effort on Tuesday afternoon, blowing and sweeping used balloons into a pile in the middle of the street.
Speaking from her own experience cleaning up balloons in previous years, Leifer said it takes about a couple of hours to get the street back to the way it was.
“And you can’t pick up everything because usually you have to pick up the pieces by hand,” she said. “They’re wet so they’re stuck to the ground. So, unless you have a leaf blower, or like a broom it’s pretty hard to clean up.”
During the yearly races, neighborhood residents, friends and other spectators line the streets of Victoria and Avenida Rosa, where they launch water balloons, namely at those racing down the street in modified office and lounge chairs, tricycles, skateboards and, sometimes, couches or beds on wheels.
When the crowd clears to celebrate Independence Day elsewhere, the thousands of balloons used get left behind for the neighborhood to cleanup before they’re washed into the ocean.
One of those neighborhood residents is 36-year-old Jesus Sanchez, pictured here, broom in hand, loading up a trash bag with leftover trash from Tuesday’s party.
Utilizing a leaf blower, Pedro Ezquivel, 37, of San Clemente works to get the used balloons into single piles for his fellow cleanup mates.
(From left) A father and two of his sons visiting San Clemente—who asked not to be named for this story—help neighborhood resident Kalani Robb, 46, gather balloons into a trash bag, while Sanchez gathers more balloons with a broom.
Sanchez continues sweeping up balloons into a pile.
Austin Borchard, 35, uses a hose to wash balloons off his friend’s driveway.
(From left) Morgan Trevizo, 23, and Treyce Robinson, 29, participate in the cleanup efforts by sweeping the balloons into the middle of the street.
For the neighborhood residents and friends, the cleanup is a team effort, with everyone either using brooms and leaf blowers to relocate the balloons into the street, while others gather the debris into trash bags and buckets.
Spending the Fourth of July with his girlfriend and her family, Justin Vivanco, 18, of Laguna Niguel participates in the post-races cleanup by blowing balloons away from the driveway and into the middle of the street.
Clad in his patriotic gear for Independence Day, 46-year-old Joseph Latorre, a San Clemente resident who lives a few streets over from Victoria, sweeps up balloons on the ground.
Kalani Robb repositions an abandoned couch that was used during the Office Chair Races so he and others can clear our more trash and debris.
The collective effort of the neighborhood to work together cleaning up after the races, Robb said, is a testament to the kindhearted nature of the town.
“All of us neighbors, we don’t always speak because everyone has jobs (but) this is something we all do together,” he said. “It’s as cool as doing the balloon throwing because a lot of people get mad, ‘oh my God, I got hit in the face,’ and then they realize that everyone is getting hit in the face. That’s what they come here for. And then everybody’s like ‘oh my god, I don’t want to clean this up.’ No one does, but we do.”
Down at the five-way intersection, where Victoria meets Avenida Santa Barbara and Calle Seville—the races’ finish line—Dixon Kavanaugh, 59, of San Clemente picks up trash and debris such as empty beer cans from the gutters before they make it out to the ocean.
Across the street from Kavanaugh, 36-year-old San Clemente resident Natalie Betanen also pitches in during the cleanup effort, sweeping up balloons beside an abandoned Office Chair vehicle.
San Clemente resident Robert Anderson, 60, sweeps balloons out from underneath and around parked cars—which spectators oftentimes use during the races to take cover from the barrage of water balloons.
(Clockwise from left) Anderson and Latorre sweep up balloons while Robb collects them into a dustpan before dumping them into a bucket.
(From left) As they continue making their way down Victoria toward Seville, Jesus Sanchez and Robb exercise some teamwork as they gather balloons into a dustpan.
The differing groups of neighborhood residents and their friends begin to merge during the post-races cleanup, coming together at the five-way intersection and finish line.
(From left) Sanchez and Ezquivel make their way back up the hill of Victoria after cleaning up the street with their fellow neighbors.
The before and after shots of the downhill stretch of Avenida Victoria shows the difference the cleanup effort makes.
For Leifer, she said she would love for many of those who came out to enjoy the races to stay a bit longer and help sweep up the balloons.
“It could be a fun time. I’m happy—I’m happy to like to play some music, have a whole cleanup party,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be such a bummer, I think it would just be great if there were more hands on deck cause it takes a long time.”