by Alice Daniel, The California Report
He’s been called the Turlock Tornado, but most folks watching the Super Bowl probably hadn’t heard of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s hometown until this year. Kaepernick’s meteoric NFL rise has put Turlock, a Central Valley agricultural town of about 69,000, on the map. And no one is prouder than the folks who live here.
During a recent visit by a reporter, Ruben Hernandez slowly turned his red vinyl barber’s chair as he dried a client’s hair in his shop downtown. Coca-cola signs and autographed celebrity photos line the walls here, and there’s also an antique cash register and a barber pole.
“It’s got the atmosphere of the barber shop in Andy of Mayberry,” Hernandez said. “I tell everybody we try to solve the world’s problems here.”
But this week, any problems the world may have are being trumped in Turlock by excitement over hometown hero Kaepernick's appearance in the Super Bowl, which is a frequent topic. “We were just talking about him,” Hernandez, in fact, said.
Hernandez said anything with Kaepernick’s name on it is flying off the town's shelves. He pointed proudly to a Number 7 jersey hanging on the wall, which he found at a local flea market.
“We’ve seen some of these out at the mall in Modesto going for about $260, and we were able to get this one for about $60.”
Hernandez said he's met just one person who isn’t keyed up about the Turlock Tornado: his current customer, James White, who looks like he’s under interrogation while talking about his Kaepernick ignorance.
“Actually I did not," he said, when asked if he knew before all the hoopla who Kaepernick was.
"Isn’t that sad?” said Hernandez. "I mean Kaepernick is here from Turlock. Everybody’s trying to Kap in on the Kaepernick phenomenon, you know.”
Kristina Hacker, the Turlock Journal's lone editor, couldn’t agree more. She reels off a list of items. “The Kaepernick cakes, the Kaepernick hotdogs, the Kaepernick hamburger.”
Hacker said she gets calls every day at her Main Street office about new Super Bowl promotions from local businesses. She said the excitement is at a fever pitch. "The last time we had this much attention in Turlock was when Sarah Palin came to talk at the university.”
Hacker covered Kaepernick as a sports reporter and says he’s a nice, down-to-earth guy. He excelled in football, baseball and basketball at Turlock's Pitman High. Before that, he played youth football as a 9-year-old quarterback. In fourth grade, he wrote a now- famous letter for a time capsule project.
I'm 5 ft 2 inches 91 pounds. Good athelet. I think in 7 years I will be between 6 ft -- to 6 ft 4 inches 140 pounds. I hope I go to a good college in football Then go to the pros and play on the niners or the packers even if they aren't good in seven years. My friend are Jason, Kyler, Leo, Spencer, Mark and Jacob
Over at Lisa’s Cookie Jar, owner Lisa Fernandez said she can’t make enough of her Kaepernick cookies. “It’s a traditional shortbread covered in fondant with a royal icing,” she explained. She couldn’t find a jersey-shaped cookie cutter, so she uses one in the shape of a baby’s onesy. "We’re cutting out the onesy and cutting off the bottom of it to look like a jersey."
There’s also a Kaepernick special at Main Street Footers, where twenty-year-old employee Molly Amant said their foot-long hot dog comes with chili, coleslaw, jalapenos and special sauce. "Unique, spicy and hot," she said, comparing them to Kaepernick. Amant has worked here four years and said sales have doubled in the last week. “It’s been crazy busy, like insanely busy,” she said.
Others said some are even driving from places like Reno, where Kaepernick played college football, so they can watch the big game in his hometown.
Back at the barbershop, customer James White was getting ready to leave. Barber Ruben Hernandez asked him one more time if he’ll watch the Super Bowl.
“I probably will have to now,” said White, laughing.
“He has a change of plans,” said Hernandez. “Earlier he said ‘probably not.’ I thought ‘oh my gosh.’”