Scary time to be in Merced: hordes of the 'undead'

October 7, 2010 

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photo courtesy of Jim Kocher Jimmy (Keaton Williams, center) and Mary Lane (Melissa Beckwith, center) find themselves surrounded by Reefer Zombies (left to right Chrissy Pearson, Liz Wagner, Joe Hypes and Chente Cervantes) in Playhouse MercedÕs production of ÒReefer MadnessÓ opening October 15th. Ê

JIM KOCHER — Merced Sun-Star

"Merdead" is living up to its notorious nickname.

Hundreds of zombies will lurch down Main Street later this month, and dozens more will try to destroy their human counterparts on the UC Merced campus.

It's part Halloween revelry, part celebration of pop culture's latest fad.

Zombie walks have been held for years in cities such as San Jose and Sacramento.

"There's a huge zombie thing going on, and it's perfect timing with Halloween," said Sarah Macias, the brains behind the Merced Zombie Walk scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 23. Hundreds -- 543 people, in fact, as of Tuesday -- have signed up for the zombie walk on the event's Facebook page.

The event started as a small gathering Macias was planning for her birthday, but as interest grew, so did the scale of the action.

"I'm getting people who I would have never expected to see," Macias said. "Young kids, older people, all kinds."

Main Street will be closed to traffic from Martin Luther King Jr. Way to Canal Street. A number of downtown business owners are offering zombie-related specials, including a movie marathon at Red Sky Comics and an after-party at the Partisan. Live music from bands such as Gearbox, Deriva, Asiago and They Say I Say, is scheduled at Gottschalk's Music. The same weekend, Playhouse Merced will host its walk-through haunted house, called "A Nightmare on Main Street."

Makeup application assistance for zombie walk participants will be offered at Forte Yogurt for a $3 donation, which will help support Children's Hospital of Central California, Macias said.

The phantoms' walk will start at West Main Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way at 3 p.m. The basic route will lead the "zombies" west on Main Street and back again, while an alternate route suggests the undead-for-the-day travel down Main Street, turn right on Canal Street and to the intersection of Canal and West 19th Street.

Ernesto Mora, an engineering student at UC Merced, plans to participate in the zombie walk. "Merced is dull at times, so hopefully this brings more livelihood to downtown," he said. "Everyone wishes there'd be a zombie apocalypse filling the streets with zombies one day."

Across town, Mora's peers at UC Merced will be participating in a game called "Humans vs. Zombies," which pits students against one another in an elaborate weeklong game of tag. One student is chosen to act as the "original" zombie, and as he tags other players, he collects their color-coded wristbands as they join him on the zombie side.

Humans, meanwhile, are given missions they must complete as a group, so that they don't hide out in their dorm rooms all week -- last year, for instance, they had to retrieve a package from the library. The last three surviving humans, as well as the zombie with the most wristbands, are declared the game's winners.

The game is played once a semester among students living on campus. Organizers Jorge Ramirez and Christopher Duong say that so far, 25 students have signed up to play the latest round, but they expect many more. Last semester, around 130 students participated, they said.

"It's getting bigger and better each semester," Duong said. "Humans get really elaborate on how they work together, and it's fun to watch."

Sounds like a real thriller.

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