I never thought I would be grateful for this ankle monitor. From today’s SF Chronicle:
First lady Michelle Obama’s commencement speech at UC Merced on Saturday is the biggest thing to happen in this sleepy Central Valley city since, well, ever.
“This is something that puts the UC Merced campus on an international stage and gives our city a chance to shine along with it,” said Merced city spokesman Mike Conway. “We couldn’t be happier.”
For her part, the president’s wife will experience two things the area is best known for – picturesque cow pastures and blistering 95-degree spring days.
And for everyone else, there will be more good ol’ family fun than this town has seen since, well, ever.
A two-day “Cap & Town” festival that begins downtown today is like a county fair on steroids, with everything from goofy human-bowling-ball games to kids flinging themselves against Velcro walls.
Obama’s 1:30 p.m. speech, for which no tickets remain, will be broadcast on JumboTrons around town for those who weren’t lucky enough to score a pass to hear it in person, and every restaurant will be pitching its cuisine late into the evening.
The festival and the A-list speaker are firsts for Merced – as are many things this weekend, most related in some way to Obama’s appearance.
And because of that, everyone – from the 80,608 souls who call Merced home to the 2,718 UC Merced students – is filled with something approaching giddiness.
“We’ve just never seen anything like this before,” said David Martinez, bartender at the Partisan pub downtown, which is bracing for overflow. “We did have Arnold Schwarzenegger drive through here once, and he stopped at a Starbucks. That was pretty big.
“But I think Michelle Obama is definitely going to blow him out of the water.”
Until now, Merced has been mainly known as “The Gateway to Yosemite,” where you gas up on your way to the national park via Highway 140, and the hometown of actress Janet Leigh and serial killer Cary Stayner. The snazziest event most local can remember is February’s Amgen Tour of California bike race, which drew star cyclist Lance Armstrong and 15,000 attendees.
This “sleepy Central Valley city” is my hometown. If you count the unincorporated suburbs Merced is well over 100,000 in population, which is about four times the size it was when I was growing up. These days Merced is probably better know for meth labs than cow pastures.
I happened to be downtown the day Arnold’s caravan stopped for coffee at one of our three Starbucks. I was so excited I went into the used bookstore across the street and scanned the shelves for books by my favorite authors while I waited for my heart to stop racing.
I went to school with Cary Stayner, which some of you might think explains a lot. His younger brother Steven was kidnapped by a pedophile and held for 7 years before being found and returned to his family. They made a television movie about that.
Michelle Obama isn’t the biggest celebrity to ever visit Merced. President Jimmy Carter, Vice-President George H.W. Bush, the late Senator Robert Kennedy and George McGovern all gave speeches in Merced.
Merced is also the hometown of game show hostess Summer Bartholomew, who won the 1975 Miss California and Miss USA pageants. (you didn’t see the “Miss California” thing coming, didja?)
Michelle Obama is far from being the “biggest thing to happen” in Merced. Back in the seventies Ike and Tina Turner gave a concert at the fairgrounds, and the Goodyear Blimp visited the airport several times. Heck, we even had Phyllis Diller perform at our county fair one year!