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John Lennon, Schlock Mercenary and The Rodeo Grounds

June 22, 2018

“Let me take you down
‘Cause I’m going to Strawberry Days. . .”
– John Lennon (sorta)

I live in a small town. If you drive through Pleasant Grove, in Northern Utah, you probably wouldn’t notice. You might notice a Pleasant Grove Blvd exit, but that’s really the only indication from the Freeway.

State Street run straight through my town. But, even if you were on State Street, you wouldn’t notice my town. It’s not a “blink and you’ll miss it” situation, it’s just that in Utah county, one town sort of blends into the next. Lehi is pretty recognizable. But, even I’m not sure when you drive from Lehi into American Fork. And AF, as it’s called flows into Pleasant Grove without a break. The only difference is the street signs reset. Continuing down the road, PG flows into Lindon and then Orem and finally Provo.

With the towns so close together you might think that my town is swallowed up into the “Greater Orem” area.

Not so. And the reason is Strawberries.

See, each little town in Utah has their own summer celebration. My city has Strawberry Days. Strawberry Days is the longest running city festival in Utah and possibly the country. I’m sure it relates back to some story about strawberries growing in our area. But, most of our strawberries come from California.

My friend Howard Tayler has a web comic. It’s Schlock Mercenary and it has run every day for the past 18 years. Howard started it as a hobby and about 10 years ago he made the switch to doing it full time.

Like many small businesses, Howard struggled to make Schlock Mercenary into a successful business. One model he used early in the process was volunteer labor. When he had a new book to ship out, he’d send out a casting call for volunteers to come and help pack orders.

It was always amazing to me that Howard was able to get people to show up and work for free. Full discloser, I was one of those helpers. Howard was my friend, but total strangers, fans would show up. Schlock Mercenary has grown a lot in the past 10 years. Today, they have a warehouse and a pretty well oiled distribution and shipping process. I, along with many other friends and fans miss the shipping parties. But, this works better for his business, of course.

Today I went to another shipping party. Not at Howard’s for a new book. No, this time I went to the Pleasant Grove Rodeo grounds to cut the tops off strawberries.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered at the rodeo grounds to prep strawberries

See, Pleasant Grove may not grow a lot of strawberries anymore, but strawberries are a big part of Strawberry Days. And those strawberries have to be prepped to go into strawberries and cream.

The only casualties were the strawberries.

That’s where I, my daughter and about 150 of my friends and neighbors come in. We gathered at the rodeo grounds and cut the tops off of thousands of strawberries. I only got a couple pictures and I have no idea how many there were.

Pretty sure this is a single day’s allotment of the sweet fruit

Why did I spend part of my Friday evening crowded around a table cutting up berries? I think it’s the same reason I used to show up at Howard’s shipping parties. Strawberry Days is one of the things that distinguishes my little town from the towns around it. They have their own city celebrations. Some have happened, some are later this summer.

Volunteering brings a community together, whether it’s a group of comic fans in a game store, or a group of neighbors at the rodeo grounds. These are the things that make the difference between a neighborhood and just a collection of houses.

If you’re in and around Utah, come by Pleasant Grove this weekend. The parade is tomorrow, the rodeo finals are tomorrow night and there will be plenty of Strawberries and Cream.

Rodney M Bliss is an author, columnist and IT Consultant. His blog updates every weekday. He lives in Pleasant Grove, UT with his lovely wife, thirteen children and grandchildren.

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(c) 2018 Rodney M Bliss, all rights reserved

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