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Mike Tharp: Merced, how I love thee

Mike Tharp
Mike Tharp

Things I like about Merced.

In no special order.

Driving home from work listening to Wolfman Jack on KABX. Takes me back to the good ol' days when I could sing and dance -- or thought I could.

The clerks and checkout counter folks at Save Mart where I shop. They're nice, fast, often funny and want to help.

The young man at Goodwill who always thanks me for returning books I've bought a couple weeks before; he now recommends titles to me.

Melissa who cuts my hair. She's Vietnamese, and we always find something to talk about while she's trimming my Oakland Raider (silver and black) locks -- that war, this war, Kobe and the Lakers ...

Lowe's workers who've steered me right every time I go there looking for lawn stuff or kitchen gear.

One lady at Ross who's been ultra-courteous and super-efficient in all the dealings I've had with her.

Sarah, who you already know from my blog, at the DMV.

Dr. Christian Gallery, my doc, the best I've had since I was a kid.

Second Time Around Books in downtown Merced, where I'd spend most of my time and money if given half a chance.

My commute: two minutes, if I make the light at Olive and G, compared to 350 miles a week in SoCal.

Bear Creek Inn, where I stayed the first two times I came up here to look at the job and the town.

Wailing trains around 5:15 a.m. when I'm sittin' in the backyard, sippin' my green tea, before breakfast. My dad was a railroad bull (policeman) for the Santa Fe for 40 years back in the Midwest, so the romance of rail still outweighs the hassles of getting caught at our crossings.

The biannual appearance of a full moon at either end of Olive Avenue. Last year, Matthew Fisher, my Canadian war correspondent buddy, and I drove his rental way out of town, looking at that satellite loom like a pomegranate in the sky.

How the fields smell when I cross the county line heading north on 99 -- you know you're back on farmland.

The 30- to 40-degree temperature swing in the fall in these parts. Resort weather, my dad used to call it.

How close we are to Yosemite, one of Earth's truly stunning and unique wonders -- even when it's filled with tourists.

The scent of newsprint every time I come through the Sun-Star door. Lets me know where I work and what we do.

The lack of lines -- in stores, in traffic, in restaurants -- which means what you want is much more hassle-free.

Almond groves, sweet potato fields, vineyards, peach orchards, strawberry plants and dairy heifers -- all within a couple miles of the city limits. All living, breathing examples of the billions of dollars in our ag statistics.

Mercedians' sense of humor, shown by farmer Bob Chad who's installed solar panels at his place. I went there on a recent tour, and after he told us all the details about his set-up, he mentioned that behind the house he had "a solar clothes dryer." The veteran newspaper editor nearly went back to take a look.

How quick and sharp (in two meanings of the word) the commenters are on our Web site about our stories and our own blog entries. Shows we're being read, if not liked.

Hilmar Cheese and how the family-founded, locally owned company reaches out to kids in school with cool tours; and to the needy among us, with donations to food banks.

The depth of human character in most folks I've met. It reminds me of where I grew up, Oklahoma and Kansas, and whether you like the character or don't, you know just what it is. Who you see is who you get. (This is a 180 from the shallow, surface-obsessed people in SoCal.)

Paul's. Could've fit right in on Route 66 in the '50s.

More later. Dunno if it'll be more of what I like about Merced -- or what I don't. What do y'all think?

Mike Tharp is the executive editor of the Sun-Star. Reach him at (209) 385--2427 or