At the government center

We gotta rock-a, rock-a, rock-a nonstop tonight/ Uh huh, at the government center—Jonathan Richman

Voir dire Earlier this week, Arts DEVO drove his dusty Volvo 20-or-so miles over to Oroville to report for jury duty. I wasn’t chosen to serve, but as I spent the better part of my day in the heart of our government center, I thought about how so many of the defining moments in the lives of Butte County residents are connected to this cluster of institutional-beige buildings—court, county jail, clerk/recorder, assessor, juvenile hall, sheriff, coroner, and (before it moved to new locations in Oroville and Chico) the employment and social-services department.

Many of the highs and lows of my 24 years in the county have roots at the government center. It’s where Mrs. DEVO and I signed on to spending our lives together 20 years ago, and where we filed the deed to our first home 19 years later. It’s where we sought assistance with medical coverage as poor students and were told that we qualified for a county medical-services program (CMSP) with a $1,000 per month deductible, and where we have both gladly reported for our duty as members of the jury pool.

And, before I was married, it’s also one of the scenes in a story involving the 20-year-old me walking alone, barefoot, along the side of Highway 70 at night. In the spirit of The Butcher Shop theater festival happening this weekend (Aug. 31 and Sept. 1—see This Week, page 24, for info), I will present the story in one-act form:

(Scene: Chico State, early summer, 1989)

Me: It’s a beautiful evening. I think I’ll ride my bike through campus.

Bike cop: Not without a light you won’t. Now you owe us $50.

Me: Oh, no. I better remember to pay that $50.

(Scene: row of mailboxes, shitty Chico apartment building, a few months later)

Me: Oh shit, this letter is saying that I have forgotten to pay that $50, again!

(Scene: a hot October night in south Chico, a few days later)

Me: (driving girlfriend’s car barefoot, pulling out of gas-station parking lot) Oops, better reach down and turn on these headlights before …

Sir: Hello, Mr. Barefoot. It’s dark outside and you have no lights on.

Me: Yes sir, I know. I was just reaching down …

Sir: I’m going to go talk to my CB radio now.

Me: … to turn on my headlights.

Sir: The man on the radio says you have a problem.

Me: Yes sir, I think I owe him $50.

Sir: Let’s drive you to Oroville in a van.

Me: But …

(Scene: Back of white van, no windows)

Sir: Better buckle you up. Put your wrists in these shackles so I can lock your hands to this giant belt around your waist.

Me: Sir, I don’t mean to complain, but this guy next to me is super loud.

Guy next to me: I wanna call my girlfriend! Why won’t you let me call my girlfriend!?

(Scene: Oroville, Government Center, 30 minutes later)

Me: (talking into pay phone) Can you come pick me up? I’ll start walking now. Look for me on the highway.

Guy next to me: How come he gets to go home!? That’s bullshit! I wanna call my girlfriend!