After seeing to it that his passengers are safely off the bus, Juan speaks with pride about his job as a motor coach driver for a travel company.
“We like stopping in Merced,” he says.
Frequently, huge tour buses stop for a rest break at a few Merced area supermarkets.
Those buses are loaded with visitors, many from other countries. All of them are passing through town as they make their way to Yosemite National Park.
On a recent Saturday morning, visitors from three bus tours made their last stop before Yosemite at the Raley’s supermarket in north Merced.
One group was visiting from France.
Another group was from Taiwan.
Juan’s bus was a little late making it to the parking lot at Raley’s. The California Highway Patrol was pulling all motor coaches off a section of Highway 99 near Merced for a safety check.
“We passed,” Juan said of the impromptu inspection by authorities. “But that’s because our company has strict rules about keeping our buses safe.”
It’s the hope of tourism professionals in Merced that local businesses capture as much of the economic windfall as possible from a tour bus. The Visit Merced website displays plenty of information about activities motor coach visitors might experience while in the County.
The Merced California Tourist Information Center on 16th Street has all kinds of brochures, and they assign staff to help answer questions about the area.
But these visitors know exactly where they are going.
Yosemite is world renown as a destination anyone should experience.
“We’ll take them up there, and they’ll have a great time,” Juan says.
Drivers like Juan say the stop in Merced is perfectly timed.
“The prices here are better than what they see in the park,” Juan said. “Up there, a typical meal, say hamburger and fries, might run them twenty dollars. Here, they get different things and can save a lot.”
The visitors seemed impressed with the vast selection of foods and beverages than line the shelves.
One group of about six Taiwanese visitors gathered in front of a beverage refrigerator case discussing, in their language, what might be the best one to buy.
The group seemed oblivious to the other shoppers who were trying to pass by. Eventually, I caught their eye and smiled.
They immediately formed a single line to allow shoppers to pass.
According to the Ontario Motor Coach Association, an international organization for the industry, a bus filled with visitors can bring over fourteen-thousand dollars in economic benefit per day to a community.
That calculation takes into account spending on hotels, meals, admission fees, and souvenirs.
Even a small slice of that economic pie will suffice for restaurants, supermarkets, or a reasonably priced attraction such as Castle Air Museum in Atwater or the Fossil Discovery Center just over the southern Merced County line in Fairmead, Madera County.
The National Parks Service reports that Yosemite alone accounted for nearly seven-hundred million dollars in economic benefit to California just three years ago.
It won’t be long before Yosemite becomes a billion-dollar a year attraction.
That suits drivers like Juan just fine. He plans on retiring in a couple of years, but he says he may stick around part time after that.
“I love this work,” Juan says.
And with that, he finishes his cigarette.
He’s back to work, tending to his passengers on their way to Yosemite, just seventy miles away from the City of Merced.
Steve Newvine lives in Merced. He’s written about California in two books: 9 From 99-Experiences in California’s Central Valley and California Back Roads-Stories from the Land of the Palm and the Pine.
Both books are available at Lulu.com
For more information about Yosemite, the Merced Tourist Information Center and other attractions, go to: www.visitMerced.com