Cold commerce

Walking to the Chico branch of the Butte County Superior Court this week, I noticed what I thought was a disturbing sight. It was almost 3 p.m. Small clots of Chico Junior High students were milling about, waiting for rides home or engaging in after-school socializing. As I approached the court house, I saw two ice cream trucks parked one in front of the other on Oleander Avenue; the battered blue one whose driver plays “Turkey in the Straw” and the newer, glistening-white Miss Vic’s truck. They were each hawking their sugary treats to the kids fresh out of school. The women who work in the court house told me the trucks are there at that time nearly every day, pouncing on a captive audience. Fish in a barrel, I thought. I realize these ice cream merchants are just trying to make a living and that they are off school grounds, but the setup just seemed wrong somehow. Parking outside a school full of potential customers—kids who’ve maybe saved their daily meal money and bypassed lunch to splurge on ChocoTacos—is a far cry from driving through neighborhoods and plying your trade where parents can decide whether or not to give their kids money for treats or allow them to spend their own allowances. I guess it’s no different than locating bail bond services near the county jail, or putting pawn shops in Reno or hanging prophylactic vending machines in bar restrooms. It’s selective marketing, going directly to your customer base. It’s capitalism in all its marketing glory. The customer beware. Childhood obesity be damned.

Took my kid to a concert at Arco Arena last weekend. He lobbied hard enough to get me to walk over to Tower Records one day and drop some serious cash on tickets for him and some buddies to see a group called System of A Down—an Armenian heavy metal thrash band. This marked his first real concert, a big-time band playing an indoor venue outside of Chico. A few years back I took him to see Britney Spears at what is now called Sleep Train, when it was known as the Sac Valley Amphitheater. But that concert doesn’t count. He was a little kid and now he’s embarrassed by that small part of his past. There is a parallel at work here. My first concert was Dionne Warwick at the Blossom Music Center just outside Cleveland back in 1968 or 1969. I don’t count that one. I count Gary Puckett and the Union Gap, same venue a month or so later. I was mesmerized by that band’s stage attire; sparkly lime-green replicas of Union Army uniform coats—something any self-respecting Civil War re-enactor wouldn’t be caught dead in today. But that is where the parallel ends. The Union Gap’s big song was “Young Girl,” whose lyrics, in retrospect, sound pretty creepy: “You better run girl, you’re much too young girl.” System, on the other hand, sings songs like “Violent Pornography,” more social-commentary stuff. A lot of the lyrics are crude, but they seem to have something to say. (During the concert, my kid and his buddies didn’t sing along with the crude stuff, they sat there kind of uncomfortable, thinking, “Oh man, how embarrassing. Let’s just hope the old guy doesn’t understand the lyrics.") I was OK with it, though. I’m a strong proponent of free speech. (Kind of comes with the job.) The only thing about the concert that bugged me was the hint of English-soccer-fan hooliganism displayed by some of the skin-headed and shirtless fans with their jerky salute-the-devil dancing. Oh yeah, that and the fact it was so loud that driving home I had a stiff neck and shoulders from my physical reaction to the powerful waves of sound rolling over me. I’m just out of concert-going shape.

The city may have found a replacement for soon-to-retire City Manager Tom Lando. Now it’s just a matter of, now that they’ve hooked one, can the City Council reel that candidate in and sign him or her to a contract? The announcement should come after the Oct. 18 closed-session meeting that precedes the regular council meeting. Lando said that no matter what happens in the near future, he expects to be finally retired—he’s tried this before—by next March at the latest. Lando is a like a savant—and I mean that with all due respect. He understands in detail nearly every aspect of city matters and his shoes will be hard to fill.