Crow’s nest

I have been to the top of the Diamond Hotel and gazed from the railing of its crow’s nest. And I’ve safely returned to Earth to report it’s pretty cool. This week Wayne Cook, the man rebuilding the old downtown hotel on Fourth Street between Salem and Broadway, gave me an impromptu tour of the place. The early-20th-century architecture uncovered by Cook’s project, after years of obscurity behind less-imaginative designs, is classic. Old windows hidden under layers of outside façade and inside wallboard, the tiled entryway covered by flooring and the little alleyway that runs between the hotel and the rear of the stores that face Broadway have all been uncovered by those working for Cook. In the basement you can still see floor joists charred from the 1916 fire that gutted the old hotel. The grand stairway that climbs from near the Fourth Street entry to the second floor is still intact. In the basement, Cook’s plans to excavate just enough area to install a laundry have expanded to include dining areas for the restaurant as well as a private banquet room. This hotel is going to be amazing. It sure beats the old Pigeon Palace. I want to thank Cook for the tour, which for him was a painful experience. He had twisted his knee earlier, and while leading me through the place his odd gait caused him to twice bonk his head on low-hanging temporary thresholds—one steel and one plywood. “Geez,” he said both times, grabbing his head and wincing in pain.

From the crow’s nest, you look onto the silver rooftops of downtown Chico. And you can see sights you are not afforded from ground level. For instance, looking north to Third Street, on the building that houses Fleet Feet Sports, you can see above the blue awning the hand-painted letters I.O.O.F, which stand for the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. To the south you can see all the way to the Neal Road landfill—maybe that’s not very exciting, but it’s pretty far—and to the east Highway 32 snakes up the foothills to Forest Ranch. Look for the place to be done by December or January. Thanks again for the tour, Wayne. Sorry about your head.

Here’s the type of neighborhood I live in: The ice cream man drives around with the speakers of his little blue truck blaring “Turkey in the Straw,” while a lit cigarette dangles from his lower lip. Even with the tasty cargo he carries, the neighborhood children are frightened when he comes wheeling into the area. Instead of running out to the sidewalks, squealing in delight, they run to their rooms and hide under their beds. The neighbor’s car, a nondescript, off-white American-made sedan from the late 1980s, sits in front of my house for weeks at a time; cobwebs form between the tires and the pavement. When it does move, it leaves behind great pools of dripped oil. The vehicle was last registered in July 2002. In my neighborhood, backyards are protected not by fences, but by snarling dogs that have some pit bull breeding in their backgrounds. They wear spiked collars attached to chains with weak links that could snap at any moment, and their owners stay up late into the evenings working in their garages on God knows what. In some yards, there are bicycles in various stages of decay, their disengaged parts spread out like the aftermath of a plane crash. In other yards, lawnmowers sit frozen in place where they either ran of gas or their two-stroke engines seized from lack of oil; they are partially hidden by the tall grass they were designed to cut. The mail carrier refuses to deliver in my neighborhood, choosing to simply dump the load of letters, catalogues and foreclosure statements in a pile on the sidewalk, leaving it for the residents to sort and pick through. That’s the kind of neighborhood I live in. Disclaimer: Not all of the above is true. Some of the details have been fabricated. If this fictional description resembles a real Chico neighborhood, it is purely by coincidence.