Home for the holidays

After five years in town, CN&R writer finds a new home in Chico

The author (center) makes some noise in the Chico scene.

The author (center) makes some noise in the Chico scene.

Photo by Melanie MacTavish

By this late date in December, I’m usually days deep into a burrito-fueled, hangover-ridden, whirlwind homecoming tour of San Diego, rushing about that great city and its environs in a vain attempt to make all the desired and requisite visits to friends, family and favorite taco shops, and indulge in other traditions. In addition to more typical holiday festivities, those traditions include a trip to the perpetually sun-kissed beach, a reunion of my old humanist gospel band, and a sordid and horrific-to-behold gathering of dudes called Man Night.

This year would also have included the new joy of watching the latest addition to our clan, my great-nephew Holden, celebrate his first Christmas. However, instead of heading south, I’m spending the 2014 season in Chico.

Circumstances have dictated this the most prudent option, but it was also a long-pondered personal decision. For the first time since moving here five years ago, my girlfriend, Kate, and I decided to stay home—rather than go home—for Christmas.

It wasn’t an easy decision. San Diego is Kate’s real hometown, and my adopted one after living there for a decade. It’s where the bulk of our families and a lot of good friends live, and going back nowadays is at once a comfortable return to the familiar and an exciting immersion into something foreign. When you live your daily life in a town the size and speed of Chico for any real length of time, even the most cosmopolitan person needs a little readjusting to, and finds new wonder in, the urban landscape.

It took me a few days to warm to the decision to stay here for the holidays, just as it took a significantly longer amount of time to adjust to the idea of moving here. When we did, in August 2009, it was supposed to be for a short time. I planned to come to Chico, enjoy it for what I imagined it to be, then move along, the few years spent here ultimately accounting for a few footnotes in the biographies of our lives.

I didn’t know it then, but I needed the move. I was in rut. A crisis of confidence had caused me to stop writing at some point, abandoning what I’d always regarded as a calling and my only ticket outta the muck to work two jobs for which I lacked real passion. A bleak job market, the advice of an old friend and my admiration for the publication you’re holding in your hand conspired until one day I remembered what I was supposed to be doing.

Through the course of interviewing people for my job as a reporter, and in making new close friends here, I’ve heard stories similar to mine recounted time and again. The details differ but the main story arc remains the same—a happenstance arrival, a slow seduction, a moment of self-discovery and the eventual revelation that Chico is a very special place.

Living here has allowed me the chance to reconnect with the best parts of my Nor Cal childhood—I grew up in Redding, which I called home before San Diego, and didn’t relish returning. I’ve fortunately found Chico to be an entirely different kind of North State community, one that embraces arts and education, encourages community discourse and values the things that make it unique. When those things are threatened, I’ve found in Chico a community worth defending.

My bonds to Chico have been forged by a few triumphs, a few tragedies and a million memorable moments: late night swims at One-Mile; playing music with friends on porches, stages and street corners; riding alongside 250 costumed crazies at the Bike Races; meeting a hillbilly who built a fire-breathing dragon and a lady possessed by historical characters; spending the day with an armed militia; and biking to work (where I get paid to write!) past a haunted mansion and over a wooden bridge, which is more like a jaunt through an amusement park than a commute. Chico has become my home, and these things make it a happy one.