Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lesson #28: Stop to take a whif, even if it's not your favorite flower

Merced is an often overlooked and underrated small city in the middle of the Central Valley, sometimes called "the other California." We're known for high crime rates, excessive gang violence, and some of the most overpriced housing and the highest unemployment rates in the country.

But there are things to love about this town. It's an hour's drive from arguably the most beautiful high country in the world. It has a colorful history dating back to the gold rush. The courthouse is one of the oldest historical buildings in the state. Majestic King palms line the streets of a quaint downtown where I hope to open a boutique this year. And the newest research university in the world opened its doors here a couple of years ago, which has flooded the area with much-needed intellectual stimulation and economic hope.

And today, Merced hosted the starting ceremony of the fourth leg of the AMGEN Tour of California, featuring Lance Armstrong. The racers circled our downtown twice this morning before heading down Bear Creek Drive (I live a couple blocks off this road), and up Highway 140, through my old hometown of Mariposa in the foothills, and on through the mountains and back down into the valley to end a little east of Fresno in a town called Clovis.

Normally, bicycle racing doesn't interest me. I ride a bike myself, and I know who Lance Armstrong is (who doesn't?), but other than that, I don't really follow the sport. Still, I was compelled to watch the race this morning since the street in front of my office is completely blocked off to traffic due to this race. So, at about a quarter to 11, I followed the crowd a couple blocks down the street to where the festivities were.

And I snapped a couple of pictures. The bikers whizzed by so quickly, there was no way to catch Armstrong on camera -- though, to be honest, I didn't care to pick him out of the crowd of racers anyway. On a bike, he's just another man racing a bunch of other men on bikes. As of this morning, he wasn't even winning the race. :) That didn't stop the crowd from cheering wildly when his name was announced on the loud speakers, though.

Participating in the event was more interesting than I thought it would be. Crowds have a vibe that you don't feel anywhere else. Excitement is palpable when there are thousands of people sharing it. When you get to feel that thrill and share something special with so many people, who cares what the event is anyway?

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