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There was a mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on Sunday. We were watching the local CBS news when it broke and the station kept going through the evening. Three people were killed, two children and a young man. The reaction that speaks for all of us came from someone running away, who asked: “This is actually crazy. How do you shoot at the garlic festival? Like who you got beef with at the garlic festival?”

Gilroy is a smallish town on US 101, about 20 miles south of San Jose. Bay Area people know it well because you drive through or past it a lot. And it is famous for garlic. You can smell the garlic all around, and if you’re taking CA 152 to get over the hills to I-5, you switch from the smell of processing to the smell of plants. But it’s still garlic. Until the bypass was built in the 1970s, the freeway ended at the town’s outskirts and you had to drive through downtown Gilroy, which on a summer weekend could take you a full hour. The garlic festival started in 1979 and features every imaginable and unimaginable way to incorporate garlic into foodstuffs. It’s an institution and we all love to make fun of it in an affectionate way. A lot of people probably don’t realize that it is a major charity fundraiser as well:

Melone approached Christopher as well as his friend Val Filice to chat about putting on the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The trio decided to make it happen and in the summer of 1979 on farm land near Bloomfield Road, the first festival was launched. Organizers projected a first-year attendance of 5,000. They were shocked when 15,000 garlic lovers showed up. Admissions volunteers were forced to reuse tickets to accommodate the unexpected masses. Soon after that first year’s overwhelming success, organizers realized that there was a need to create the Gilroy Garlic Festival Association to put on the event every year.

Nearly four decades later, the Gilroy Garlic Festival is regarded as “the preeminent food festival in America” and even has international fame, with more than 3 million people attending over the years. Each year, about 4,000 volunteers from about 125 nonprofits in Gilroy, San Martin, Morgan Hill and Hollister participate in putting it on. More than $10.6 million for worthy causes has been raised throughout the festival’s history.

“We raise the money, cover expenses, and then that pot of money goes to charity,” Reynolds said.

The shooter was a local person whose family has deep roots in the area. Which makes it even more unfathomable to me. But then all of these are unfathomable in the end, at least in terms of logic.


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