There are many claimants to the throne, but there is only one “Mr. Pasadena.” What was once the subject of barroom debate is no longer in doubt; by the time you read this, longtime resident Michael Calderon will have legally trademarked the moniker. We sat down with Calderon, aka the official Mr. Pasadena, at his Cross Campus office space, a life-size avatar watching us through the office window.
Pasadena Magazine: Tell us about your relationship with our city. How does one come to be known as the Mr. Pasadena?
Michael Calderon: I’ve been coming here since I was 8, when my father came here after my parents divorced. He lived over by the old Federal Court of Appeals off of Grand. I’d ride my bike to the old Pac-Man arcade that was out past PCC back in the day.
PM: Things have changed a bit since then.
Calderon: Oh, yeah. You know my dad didn’t want me riding my bike through Old Town. It was pretty rough then. I could go up Green, though.
PM: You went to Hart High School in Santa Clarita. And so splitting time between two worlds continued through those years?
Calderon: My grade school friends all went to Hart, so I did too. But I never stopped hanging out in Pasadena.
PM: Why did Pasadena get such a hold on you?
Calderon: As far as life experiences, I had a lot of first dates in Pasadena. I got several first kisses in Pasadena. Usually my first dates were at Burger Continental. It was a great place because you could order anything—pizza, burgers, Mediterranean food, it was all there. And if the date wasn’t going great, there was live entertainment. There was the lady with swords on her head dancing around, belly dancers … it was fascinating. It was a place where I didn’t have to worry about ‘does she like this or that’—it was all there.
PM: Did any of those first dates turn into second ones?
Calderon: Yes, a lot of second dates! (laughs) Often at Pie ’n Burger. Even as a teenager there was something about that “back in the day” authentic place that transported me. I love that style. Things that endure. And that’s really what drew me, and what I still love about Pasadena.
But what really cemented my connection was that my father eventually became a member of the Tournament of Roses. And I was overjoyed. My father had been taking me to the parade since I was little. I loved everything about it. It was that one time of year nothing bad has happened and there is the possibility of everything good happening. There is plenty of pomp and circumstance, but it’s also a message of hope, a message of happiness. A time when all our expectations of peace and prosperity and happiness for the year are all out there. It’s an uplifting spectacle. Everybody is happy … and the flowers! It is simply amazing what they do with those floats.
PM: When did you begin to conceive of Mr. Pasadena as an actual brand?
Calderon: I was about 25, and most of my friends all lived and hung out on the Westside at the time. They’d all talk about going to the beach and I’d have some robust itinerary about what was going on in Pasadena. I’d have something for Monday through Thursday, then I’d say “On Friday, don’t forget this awesome food event that’s going down.” Then one day I overheard some of my friends talking. They mentioned some guy they called “Mr. Pasadena.” Of course I wanted to know about this guy too, so I asked them who they were talking about. They said, “Yeah, well Mike, you know we love you. But you NEVER shut up about Pasadena, so that’s what we call you when you’re not around.” But I couldn’t feel bad about it. I realized I was their unofficial Ambassador to Pasadena.
PM: We understand you were a Marine. Thank you for your service.
Calderon: You’re welcome. I’ve lived a pretty blessed life. I was in intelligence, and it was rough at times. But the Marines gave me everything they said they would and more. It was a great experience. I met a lot of amazing role models.
PM: Eventually you started to blog?
Calderon: I did. But what was I going to call it? What was it going to be about? I thought it should be about something I knew a lot about, something I cared about, something I was truly passionate about, something that I believe in—and that is this town. So the connection to the name Mr. Pasadena was natural. The first blog post that I ever wrote as Mr. Pasadena got a comment from the Pasadena Museum of History asking me to come emcee a Happy Birthday Pasadena event at the museum! So of course I said I’d be happy to … and I spent that night rocking the mike.
PM: And the rest is history! Calderon: Well, I hope so. There are so many people in this town and around the area who turn to me for advice about where they’re going to eat next, or upcoming events. It’s not about me at all. It’s about the city. This is fun, but I take it very seriously.