Yes, we were duped! Turns out the presidents of our local vessels of higher education not only didn’t attend the big Trader Joe’s opening wing-ding, they didn’t even get invited. Fine way for a business to ingratiate its way into a new community—by pulling a big hoax on the local media. And we fell for it! Here’s the really embarrassing part: I got the info about Presidents Paul J. Zingg and Diana Van Der Ploeg’s anticipated attendance from the Enterprise-Record, figuring its reporters were experts on things like ribbon cuttings. But it turns out they were so duped that it took two reporters to write a story explaining the mixup (see the Friday, Dec. 2 E-R, “College presidents not part of store opening”). I wondered about the connection and I should have looked into it. I don’t think CSU, Chico or Butte College will serve as employee feeder schools for Trader Joe’s, will they? I got a hold of the misleading press release, which said, “Store Captain and Crew Members to Conduct Ceremonial Lei Cutting at 8:45 AM with Mayor Scott Gruendl, City Council Members, (so far so good, they’ve even spelled the mayor’s name correctly—no small feat for out-of-towners) Chico State University President Paul J. Zingg and Butte College President, Diana Van Der Ploeg.” I can see where the E-R got the idea that Zingg and Van Der Ploeg would be on hand.

Joe Wills, the Chico State PR guy, called and left me a message on Friday, the day after our paper came out. I knew he wanted to tell me that Zingg didn’t cut the lei at Trader Joe’s or even show up for the big shindig. I called him a few days later so he could set me straight on the whole Zingg/Trader Joe’s thing. And he did. I tried to call the Trader Joe’s Alison Mochiuki, the press contact. The first call referred me to her cell phone. The call to the cell phone was greeted with a very informal, “Hey, it’s Alison, leave a message after the beep.” I did, feeling like an intimate friend. “Hey Ali,” I said, “Tom here. Call me back, babe. Late.” She called me back, but after I left work. But she said she hoped I was doing well. I think she really likes me.

Lance Utterback is a local cop. He was Chico Police Department’s Officer of the Year in 2003. He’s been with the department since 1994. Before that, he was a Marine, and a combat veteran of Desert Storm. Fellow officers like Darrin Reichel speak highly of Utterback. He’s 37 and has a wife and two kids. A few months after he received his Officer of the Year award, Utterback was diagnosed with cancer. Since then he’s had five surgeries and rounds of chemotherapy. It ain’t cheap, even with health insurance —the latest surgery reportedly cost $70,000.

Now Utterback’s fellow officers are trying to raise money to ease the burden and help give his family a decent Christmas. They are holding a raffle on Saturday, Dec. 17 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Wittmeier Auto Center. Raffle tickets can be purchased at Fit One Athletic Club, Butte Community Bank on Forest Avenue, Enrico’s Pizza, also on Forest, All Around Mobile Sound on Mangrove, the downtown and Forest Avenue Starbucks and Fire Station No. 1 on Salem and Eighth streets. Prizes include a year-long membership at Fit One, pizza, a $1,000 stereo from All Around and gas certificates. Santa will arrive at Wittmeier via helicopter on Dec. 17. Donations are being accepted at Wittmeier or Butte Community Bank. Helping a guy and his family out is probably not a bad way to celebrate the Christmas/Hanukkah/Boxer Day/Kwanzaa Season.

One last thing: Thanks for the cookies, Janice. They were enjoyed by the more aggressive among us here at the News & Review.