Fasten your seatbelts

Hold on tight for a wild ride through Chico’s party culture

Photo By Andrew Boost

So you’re new to Chico, but you’ve heard about the city’s reputation for wild parties—unbridled ragers where drunken young people run amok. While the rumors aren’t entirely accurate, there is, as they say, a little bit of truth in every legend.

A lot of Chico’s party scene mythos is derived from a series of unsavory events, oftentimes generated by the newest and greenest residents—college-aged folks. Most of the trouble can be chalked up to a couple of key elements: stupidity, proximity and the kicker—drinking.

Sure, you can find a kegger fairly easily on a warm evening in early fall or late spring. And when you’re 21, you can hop, skip and jump to any of a dozen or so downtown alcohol-peddling establishments. But before you jump aboard for the ride of your life, know the consequences.

To give you an idea of what can happen when excessive alcohol is mixed with 17,000 or so people who are most likely living away from home for the first time in their lives, let’s look back to some of Chico’s noteworthy blunders, tragedies and other events.

Labor Day. Try to picture 22,000 young, drunk, barely dressed guys and gals floating down the Sacramento River on inner-tubes, rafts and other creative inflatable devices (blow-up dolls, kiddie pools, etc.). Sound great? Well, it wasn’t for law enforcement officials who had to deal with that scene back in 2002. A lot of floaters didn’t think getting blasted on cheap beer while floating in swift-moving 60-degree water (in blazing 100-degree heat) would be dangerous. Uh, really?

A crackdown over the years for violations such as underage drinking, driving under the influence of alcohol and being drunk in public has diminished the crowds that once flooded the waterway. The annual float lives on today, but is considerably tamer in comparison.

Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day in Chico were also holidays to be reckoned with in years past. Downtown Chico was the place to be and be seen. But a similar crackdown by law enforcement and the city of Chico helped temper the celebrations after a couple of scumbags (brawlers, gang-bangers and rapists) ruined the fun for everyone else. Chico State got in on the action, too, strategically holding spring break (when students leave town) during the week of St. Patty’s.

Pioneer Days. Say those words today, and college students probably think of the innocuous downtown parade of the same name. Held in early May, the event is a family affair: floats, marching bands and performance art. Still, for longtime residents, especially cops, the Pioneer Days celebration conjures memories of drunken crowds, burning couches and overturned cars.

Yes, this quiet little celebration turned into an all-out riot back in 1987—the same year Playboy Magazine bestowed Chico State with the title of No. 1 Party School. Robin Wilson, who was Chico State’s president at the time, famously took Pioneer Days “to the back yard and shot it.” In 1990, a similar event with a new name—Rancho Chico Days—also resulted in rioting. Bye-bye again.

Photo By Andrew Boost

Pioneers Days didn’t start out so crazy. For many decades during the weeklong celebration, students held pioneer-themed events, such as dances, and built replicas of historical buildings on the campus lawns. Until the rioting, the festivities largely were looked upon positively by the community and university.

Resurrected in 2004, the Pioneer Days Parade has managed to remain tame as a kitten.

Hazing. College years are often a time of experimentation, and few colleges are without tragedies related to alcohol poisoning and drug overdoses. Unfortunately for the local Greek community, the most high-profile tragedies have been at social fraternities.

In 2000, an 18-year-old pledge named Adrian Heideman tried to impress his would-be Pi Kappa Phi brothers by drinking the entire bottle of blackberry brandy they had purchased for him. He was helped to a basement bedroom to sleep things off and never woke up.

In 2005, the guys in charge of Matthew Carrington’s initiation ritual left him to sleep off the effects of an all-night binge at the rogue Chi Tau frat house. Not drunk on alcohol, the 21-year-old was intoxicated by water after drinking gallon upon gallon of the liquid during a decades-old pledging rite. Too wasted (on alcohol), the fraternity bros didn’t have the sense to recognize the young man’s labored breathing wasn’t snoring, so calls for medical help came too late.

Several fraternity members in both cases spent time in jail. Civil penalties followed, too. In Carrington’s memory, California now has legislation (Matt’s Law) that stiffens the penalties associated with hazing. Ironically, a few local Greeks from Beta Theta Pi are the first to be prosecuted under the law. Duh, guys. What, you didn’t read the national headlines or witness the hazing crackdown on your own campus?

Porn scandal. More embarrassing than anything else, a couple years back a bunch of Phi Kappa Tau fraternity guys thought it would be a great idea to have a sex fest courtesy of a Southern California-based adult film company. To some, having sex with a porn star might not sound like a bad deal. However, the whole sordid affair was being filmed for the company’s now-infamous College Invasion 6 DVD serial at the frat’s West Fifth Street house.

Rumors of the orgy spread slowly through the student community. After local newspapers confirmed the reports, the fraternity’s antics made headlines from Chico to China. Chico State administrators publicly censured Phi Kappa Tau, but the members’ biggest humiliation is having their junk viewed by anyone with Internet access—including mom and dad!

Chico certainly has had its share of controversy, but so have most college towns. In reality, your experience here will be what you make it. Of course, college is the time to take some risks and find yourself. But don’t go crazy. Be safe, remember why you’re here in the first place and have fun.