Editors’ Best of Chico 2002
The editors’ picks
Best piece of public art
Ridiculed when it was first proposed, the pair of large, cupped ceramic hands gracing the City Hall plaza has won the affection and appreciation of just about every Chicoan.
Why? Because the hands ask us to meditate upon our own hands, on what they mean to us and how fortunate we are to have them, to be able to work, eat and caress our loved ones. What a gift.
And because the hands are cupped in an ancient, archetypal way that suggests prayer or spiritual respect in religions all over the world—hands as lotus bud, yearning to open in brilliant, beautiful awakening.
And just because they’re so darned pretty, with their colorful embedded images of river and rock and plant life, of town and roads and people. Children love them because they are fun and joyful and, well, friendly. And the world needs all the friendly hands it can get.
Sin of Cortez to The Esplanade
Not that we minded waiting 20 minutes to get a table, but parking, especially, was really getting to be a pain. And we couldn’t not go to Sin of Cortez; that would be unthinkable. We’d miss out on the perfect coffee and the fresh, tasty-though-trendy breakfasts.
Fortunately, owner Chris Pendarvis, with the help of managers-turned-owners Danielle Ius and Peter Carlson, felt our pain. After three years in a too-small converted Suzuki motorcycle shop at Fifth and Walnut streets, they’ve taken a spot that looked boxy and fast-food and turned it into a restaurant with character. The neatest touch is the comfy benches lining the walls.
With the move have come a few changes. There’s an expanded lunch menu. And, in what must be some kind of compromise, Sin now sells Jones sodas while still eschewing soda on tap. If you do have to wait a bit for your table, there’s a new seating area complete with newspapers and magazines for your reading pleasure. That alone is a big improvement from, as we call it, “original Sin.”
Best place to see a cover band
One of the top venues in town to see a live concert thanks to great sound and a comfortable atmosphere, LaSalles has discovered an audience in Chico for those who like get their ya-ya’s out for a good cover band.
If you think about it, it makes sense. Chico is a “C” market small town, so promoters have a hard time bringing big names to town—they can barely fill medium-sized clubs—so why not go for the next best thing?
Perhaps the best-known, best-drawing cover band is the eclectic group Tainted Love, which sells out every few months and caters to nostalgia lovers with a wide mix of danceable ‘80s classics. But there have also been some great rock cover bands from other musical periods: from early Van Halen tribute group Atomic Punks to Metallica tribute Whiplash to Kiss tribute Larger Than Life (pictured). What can we say? Rock on!
Kiwanis-Chico Community Observatory
From the benefit of its location alone, the Kiwanis-Chico Community Observatory out in Upper Bidwell Park off Wildwood Avenue wins hands-down. For, while the university has a pretty darned good telescope housed on top of the Physical Science building on campus, the almost utterly dark nighttime skies out in Upper Park make for some pretty spectacular viewing.
With a host of friendly volunteers ready to help at the drop of a falling star, visitors can gaze through the high-tech reflector telescope, feasting their marveling eyes on planets, nebulae, star clusters, red giants, blue dwarves, comets and more, depending entirely upon the time of year and whatever else happens to be doing out there in the cosmos during any particular interval.
Open Thursday through Sunday evenings, beginning 45 minutes after sundown, the observatory offers fun for the entire family, and it’s educational, too. And it’s free.
Best tag team
Jane Dolan and Bob Mulholland
Ordinarily, Butte County Supervisor Jane Dolan holds one of the safest seats in local politics, which is why she’s represented District 2 for 23 years.
But she also has a high-powered weapon to use should anyone be foolish enough to challenge her, as her fellow supervisor, Kim Yamaguchi, discovered this year.
When Yamaguchi convinced two other supes to ram through a redistricting plan that would have split Dolan’s district, he must have forgotten about Bob Mulholland, Dolan’s husband, state Democratic Party bigwig and veteran political operative. Bi-i-ig mistake. In what seemed like no time, Mulholland and crew had gathered enough signatures to put the plan on the ballot, where it lost handily in the March election. Yamaguchi’s hardly been heard from since.
Mulholland’s attack-dog politics can be nasty—we didn’t need to be reminded of David Reade’s long-ago DUI, for example—but it allows Dolan to continue to be the smiling, accessible politician we know and love.
Jason ‘the Miracle Worker’ Snelson
This guy saved our editor from driving around as a PC—probable cause. That’s because he fixed the editor’s truck when nobody else could and enabled it to pass the smog test so that its registration could be brought up to date.
Snelson (pictured) is an old-fashioned mechanic in more ways than one. First, he knows how to work on a carburetor, which is a dying art because all new cars now have fuel injection. Snelson, a man of infinite patience and well-deserved confidence, is also a throwback to better days in auto service. He tinkers and works with existing parts rather than making wholesale replacements at staggering costs.
His business is called Mangrove Avenue Auto Repair but is located on Nord Avenue—he moved a few months ago.
Best new gallery
We couldn’t let this opportunity go by without getting in a plug for Bill McCoy’s beautiful new art and furniture gallery on East Third Avenue. Open just a couple of weeks, it’s already established itself as Chico’s largest, most sophisticated and most inclusive gallery.
By creating a number of false walls (all embellished by his remarkable handmade wood trim), McCoy has turned a single high-ceilinged, warehouse-like room into a warren of smaller, warmer spaces that give a customers a sense of what the artwork might look and feel like in their homes. And he’s selected good stuff; many of Chico’s best artists are represented.
Chico has long had a vibrant arts community, but it’s never had a gallery this committed to exhibiting local artwork. Anyone thinking of buying locally made artwork definitely should check it out.
Best downtown milkshake/malted
Cold Stone Creamery
As good as Jon and Bon’s shakes are, the prize definitely goes to Cold Stone Creamery, situated at 146 Broadway, right on the corner of Broadway and West Second Street.
How the heck do you determine the “best” milkshake? Here’s how: select an uncommon combination, such as a chocolate black cherry malted. The first thing you should taste is the chocolate; actually, that’s unavoidable—chocolate is simply that persuasive. Next, the gently bitter-yet-flavorful sensation of the malt should envelope your tongue. And, finally, the bright, pleasant sting of the fresh black cherries. Mmm-mm!
The folks at Cold Stone pride themselves on their shared ability to produce such dairy-derived cool culinary masterpieces. So go and taste a work of art.
Best asteroid scare yet
The next big one
All right, this is not a particularly Chico phenomenon, but let’s be honest: That which can affect the entire world will most certainly affect Chico.
Anyway, not so long ago it was all over the news that an asteroid somewhere out there in space is presently on a trajectory that could place it in our immediate planetary vicinity come the year 2017. The good news is it’s not a very big one, scientists have since determined. And maybe if we keep our fingers crossed and think nothing but good thoughts, it’ll just pass between the Earth and the moon on its way to the sun, like that really big one did only a couple of weeks ago.
Why are we telling you this seemingly “awful” stuff? Life is short. Be nice to each other.
Best place to sleep it off
The train tracks (NOT!)
Every year in Chico, at least a couple of people die from being hit by trains—some simply because they were resting. That’s right. Some of these horrible incidents are drunks who think the tracks look comfortable (?!). This jaw-dropping reality makes Chico a good candidate to host the annual Darwin awards—the contest that judges the year’s stupidest deaths by relation to their positive effect on the human gene pool.
Here’s a clue for drunks: The tracks may look like a bed in your blurry tequila haze, and they may even feel comfortable, but the train running over your body probably won’t be.
Best reason to keep your options open
Canyon View High School
It’s not just us saying, “I told you so.” There’s the local environmental community, city officials, state and federal regulatory agencies and virtually everyone who had anything to do with the almost-successful Habitat Resource Conservation Plan of the mid-1990s. You’re not going to be able to build anything east of Bruce Road near The Skyway! There is too much protected Butte County meadowfoam and vernal pools!
Chico Unified School District officials didn’t want to hear it, pinning their hopes instead on an old biological opinion the land’s owners were sure would sway the agencies to allow not just the bond-funded high school, but also a huge housing development. It proved to be a marriage made in hell, but it took the CUSD four years to sign the divorce papers. Now we fear the only way the district can save face will be to act like it shouldn’t really build the school after all—enrollment declines and budget cuts, you know.
Finally, the district is moving on and looking more seriously at other sites. Good. That takes guts. We’ll stop the I-told-you-so’s, if it means officials have learned their kindergarten-style lesson: listen.
Higher Ground Coffeehouse
Five reasons chai is better than coffee: It’s sweet, it’s creamy, it’s as good cold (or blended) as it is hot, it’s (a little bit) exotic, and it’s caffeinated.
You can get a cup of chai at just about every coffeehouse in Chico, but none do it as well as Higher Ground. It’s most often made with a rather watery liquid that’s mixed with milk, but the folks at Higher Ground make it with a powder that makes the finished product extra strong, thick, and delicious.
We like the blended Tahitian vanilla chai best, but there’s also a pumpkin-pie-like East Indian variety, and green tea and chocolate varieties, too.
Best used-books store
What do you want in a used-books store? If it’s quaintness and comfort and lots of the kind of paperbacks that first appear on supermarket racks, you’d like the Pink Cadillac, the new used-books store downtown on Salem Street. It’s neatly organized, uncluttered, filled with popular books and even has a reading area, à la Barnes & Noble. But if it’s variety and quality and sheer quantity, with shelves piled up with so many books they don’t all fit, The Bookstore on Main Street near First is your place.
This is a book lover’s used-books store. True, it doesn’t carry the current best-sellers, but it’s got paperback versions of yesterday’s best-sellers at just over half-price and much, much more. It’s the next best thing to the public library.
Best new term
Last March developer Andrew Meghdadi cut down more than 100 trees on his Terra Bella housing development in southeast Chico. For his seemingly callous act—allegedly against the city’s direction—Meghdadi was chastised from the left and the right and the middle. In fact, his very name has engendered a new verb—to Meghdadi.
For instance, Rep. Wally Herger could very well say, supporting President Bush’s new directive for forest management, “If we don’t let the timber industry come in and Meghdadi the trees in this national forest soon, it’s going to burn up. Then what good will it be?”
Best bike path
Durham to Chico
Durham is only six miles from Chico, and the Midway connecting them is one of the prettiest roads in Butte County. No surprise that it’s one of the most popular bicycling routes in the county.
Until a few years ago, however, it was one of the most dangerous. Bicyclists had to travel along the Midway for half the distance before connecting with Jones Road. It was a scary ride. The Midway is narrow and has almost no shoulder and is busy, with vehicles traveling 50 mph or more.
Now, an abandoned railroad right-of-way that borders it has been converted into a paved bike path, and the ride to Durham has become a breeze. It’s especially pleasant in autumn, when the pistachio trees along the Midway are in full fall color, and in late February, when the almond orchards are in bloom.
Best place to buy three office brads
Where but at a longtime locally owned shop could a customer walk in and make the weirdest request, only to be competely catered to in every way? It’s that way at Collier Hardware, where you can buy one nail, no questions asked. But have you ever needed just one file folder or one sheet of blue cardstock? Head downtown to Sierra Stationers, where one of our staffers routinely drops in to make huge purchases totalling less than $2. The clincher was when the request was for three office brads and a couple of tags. There were no snide comments—"What the heck are you doing with three brads, freak? What a waste of our time"—nor dirty looks. Just friendly assistance.
We also love the fact that they’ve kept their totally vintage sign intact. It really adds to the charm.
We’re also pretty sure there’s mini marts where you can buy one cigarette, but we’re staying out of that.
Best guerrilla theater troupe
OK, we admit it: This one’s a gag category. Why? Because there are no guerrilla theater troupes in Chico! At present.
So allow us the opportunity to use this space to encourage all of you fledgling actors, comedians, puppeteers, writers, artists and so forth out there to consider getting together a company of spontaneous performers. Go ye forth and raid ye the coffee houses and ye slightly artsy taverns with thy delightfully skewed takes on politics, philosophy, society and reality in general.
Actually, we’ve heard rumors that famed local actor Betty Burns is interested in starting a sketch group. Our advice? Find Betty.
You can’t keep a good public servant down. Diagnosed with a brain tumor in July and then with colon cancer, Councilmember Coleen Jarvis missed exactly one council meeting before she was back in her seat, returning balance to a council whose majority leans heavily to the right. She is still receiving treatment for the tumor and could miss another meeting or two, but don’t count on it.
Jarvis’ efforts have given a new meaning to the term “public service.” At a recent press conference, where she sported a new and fashionably short haircut, Jarvis said her outlook “continues to be good—and I mean that,” and that she will be back full time by October.
Best place to knock yourself out exercising
Boxing for Fitness
Not long after it opened at 707 Wall St., we ran a story about the new boxing gym, Boxing for Fitness, and its friendly owner, ex-Army boxer Jose Rodriguez. Since then, lots of Chicoans, both male and female, have discovered what a real workout is when they train like a boxer.
Have you ever actually seen pro boxers up close and personal—someone like Iran Barkley, for instance? They’re like chiseled gods. And you can be too, if you are willing to put in the sweat and pain.
Some people go to the boxing gym just because they want to get some aggression out, maybe get in the ring and do some sparring. Believe us, Mr. Rodriguez can hook you up. You really want to lose some weight: try sit-ups, push-ups, 15 minutes of jumping rope and 11 rounds on a punching bag.
Best way to make up for a hideous mistake
Hide it with another
A few years ago we watched in horror as the McDonald’s corporation sold to the Planning Commission and then built the hideous “retro” McDonald’s on Mangrove Avenue. The gaudy neon nightmare that we were to accept as a favor from the McDonald’s folks stuck out like a sore thumb along an already unattractive street.
Now we have the new Safeway gas station in front of the new Safeway store and just a stone’s throw from the retro McDonald’s. We’ve heard that even the city councilmembers who approved the new gas station (as a way to keep one off the corner of Mangrove and Vallombrosa) were stunned by the final product. During its plea before council, Safeway reps actually said that many a grocery customer had commented, “Gee, I wish you sold gasoline as well.” Right.
A good number of parking lot trees were Meghdadied so Safeway could have its gas station.
The buzz of Chevy’s, Old Navy, Home Depot and Best Buy is old news. For months everyone’s been talking about Krispy Kreme donuts. And never has the hype for a new chain or franchise coming to Chico been greater. The kiddies were selling them by the dozen at fund-raisers, toting them up from Sacramento as loyal customers waited, drooling, curbside. When word came that, indeed, the Krispy ones would be setting up shop on Business Lane (they’re already taking applications, by the way.), Chico donut-lovers gave a collective cheer.
Some say, “What’s the big deal?” Well, reminiscent of the allure of In-N-Out burgers, Krispy Kreme is well known in other parts, including Southern California. And if you’ve tasted Krispy Kreme once, you know a craving that no other raised donut can fill. We predict long lines followed by too-full tummies followed by more moderate consumption of the treats. (That light and fluffy taste comes with a lot of fryin'.)
Locally owned donut shops should not fear, says Krispy Kreme brass: It’s a totally different market. Time will tell.
Best reason not to call your landlord
How many of you renters out there are like us? Your toilet runs, your sink leaks, your dishwasher broke months ago—but the last thing on earth you’re going to do is call the landlord to fix it. That’s because you know if you do it will dawn on him or her: “Hey, it’s those troublemakers in 4-C. We haven’t raised their rent in a while.”
There’s no rent control in Chico, so renters have no recourse but to move, and nothing’s cheap right now, with enrollment up at Chico State and few developers building apartments.
People, including property owners and managers, have to make a living, but geesh—some of them are raising rents $200 a month in one fell swoop. They call them land “lords” for a reason. Have mercy!
Best place to see a business go under
The old Diamond W spot
What’s up with this place, anyway? It’s in a great location, but since Diamond W closed up shop and moved around the corner, we’ve witnessed the slow demise of Off Campus Books (which closed after just a few months), a long vacancy, and then the rather spectacular demise of Mind Games (which was open for what, about a week?)
Now, there’s a seasonal Halloween store moving in for a month or so. What a shame, given that the corner of Main and West Second streets is one of the most visible spots downtown. It’d be sad to see a chain store move in, but it seems we’re headed that way, with Peet’s Coffee moving in just across the street.
Best place to get dirt on a rival
The Butte County Superior Courthouse
For finding pure, unvarnished facts about just about anyone in Butte County, there’s really no better place than the Oroville courthouse. Located conveniently in the County Clerk’s Office are two public-access computers where anyone can punch in a name and find out everything s/he’s been charged with. Need to find out if a prospective roommate is in legal trouble? Is your landlord more of a slumlord than anything else? What’s your weird neighbor in court for, anyway?
Also great for research are the public records at the Clerk’s Office, where you can see campaign and financial disclosure forms for candidates and public office holders, birth, death and marriage certificates; and at the Assessor’s Office, where you can find out just how much your neighbor’s house is worth.
Best place to take a walk on a cool night
Among the Tudors in the Eastwood neighborhood
Here is one of the neighborhoods that makes Chico, well, so Chico. The venerable houses, with their steeply slanted roofs and tidy yards, seem to have been in Chico forever. The sidewalks are shaded with a green tree canopy, and all of the windows glow with warm yellow lights at night.
It’s a great place for an evening walk—say, on the way to the footpath by the creek in Bidwell Park or to Shubert’s, for dessert.
By the way, the neighborhood’s name comes from one of its streets, the block-long Eastwood between Cypress and Pine. Created by developer Bud Tracy, it was Chico’s very first subdivision—and remains one of its nicest.
Best form of entertainment that Chico should have but doesn’t
A drive-in movie theater
Chico hasn’t had a drive-in since the old Starlight closed way back when, and we think it’s time to bring one back. We have the ideal weather for it, at least for most of the year. And talk about perfect dates for parents and high-school kids alike: parking with a big bucket of popcorn, the stars overhead, on a warm summer night.
Extra cool points would be for having regular showings of kitschy, classic and retro movies such as Attack of the Killer Tomatoes, Sixteen Candles, Easy Rider and Barbarella.
Best spot to find a tattoo
Any girl’s lower back
Ever wonder how many women between the ages of 15 and 35 in Chico have tattoos on their lower backs? A lot, we’ve noticed. Hey, tattoos are no longer taboo. Squeaky-clean sorority girls from gated communities are now just as likely as motorcycle chicks to be sporting ink.
Just walk down the street and you’ll see girls wearing mid-riff tops that allow their lower backs to be visible so they can show off their tattoos. Like, it’s sooo true! But what’s the joy in being able to see your tattoo only in a mirror; or in looking like everyone else on the block?
A local tattoo artist from Sacred Art says that the lower back has been a popular spot for a long time. “It’s too popular to be just a trend,” he said. “It just looks nice on the back; it accentuates or draws attention to the back side.”
OK. So guys staring at butts may now have an excuse. There’s a sign pointing there.
Best facelift to a bar
Removing floor sawdust at the Towne Lounge
For months the rumors were floating. “Dude, the Towne Lounge is going under—where am I going to get a stiff drink at 6 in the morning?” Eventually, the owner of Woody’s, a bar on South Park Avenue, bought in as an investor in order to save the Lounge, Chico’s barfly-friendly, hardcore-drinkers’ paradise. Next thing you know, there was sawdust all over the floor and the cigarette machine was gone.
The Lounge has a long, venerable history, and part of its appeal is that it never changes. It’s an old-timers’ bar that attracts salty regulars during the day and, late at night, crowds of hipster wannabes, some of whom actually like the atmosphere (dark, cool interior, stiff drinks, comfortable seats). Others just want to slum it at the “Scrounge,” as it is fondly called.
As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t “F” with it. The Lounge may have been operating under some questionable business practices, but the sawdust on the floor was unnecessary—and soon removed.
Best ‘Best of’ ballot stuffer
Fit One, In Motion Fitness (tie)
There was some stiff competition this year among three businesses to win the honor of "Best (and most obvious) ‘Best of Chico’ Ballot Stuffer." In this case we’re going to have to call it a tie between Fit One and In Motion Fitness health clubs. Both of them grabbed great towering stacks of the News & Review, we heard, brought them to their businesses and, in some cases, tore out the ballot form and threw away the rest of the paper. (While this looks good for circulation figures, it really doesn’t help our advertisers to have their ads tossed into a recycling bin.) You know, when we get bundles of entry forms returned to us with most having only one category—highlighted by orange magic marker—filled in with "Fit One," it’s pretty obvious what is going on. Read the instructions. Those entries get tossed. Speedy Burrito, which is notorious for ballot stuffing, has reached "Living Legend" status in this event.