I’m here. Now what?

I’ll tell you what. From A to Z, a guide to what to do with yourself outside the classroom.

DRAMA QUEEN <br>The Blue Room Theatre presents a variety of contemporary plays, including its recent production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Matt Hammons, above.

The Blue Room Theatre presents a variety of contemporary plays, including its recent production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch starring Matt Hammons, above.

Photo By Tom Angel

Art. Do you like to look at things? Chico has more than 30 galleries, cafés and museums with visual art on display for you to look at (see listing in sidebar). The university has six galleries. There are rotating shows on the walls of every café in town. There are several community galleries (1078, Chico Art Center, Drive-by Gallery, Avenue 9 Gallery, Dovetail Design, etc.) and even a seasonal gallery outside on the wall of Zucchini & Vine at Second and Main streets. Add to that the growing number of public-art works and a future downtown arts center in the Old Municipal Building, and it’s no wonder the city is pushing to market Chico as an arts destination under the inclusive slogan of “Art, it’s in our nature.”

For an comprehensive overview, watch for Chico Art Center’s Open Studios Tour in the fall. Every private studio in town is added to the list for one long weekend of visual-art inundation.

Bidwell Park. The “nature” part of Chico’s “Art, it’s in our nature” slogan is born in this third-largest municipal park in the country. Hiking trails, a long creek with large pools, oaks, hidden swimming holes, biking, redwood grove, cedar grove, outdoor theater, Frisbee golf, playgrounds, oaks, golf, observatory, softball, nude sunbathing, oaks, deer and miles upon miles of glorious shade. Don’t be a chump. Go there—often.

Community theater. Chico may be the most theater-intensive town per capita in the West next to Ashland, Ore. Add to the dense and well-produced productions put on by Chico State’s School of the Arts the left-of-center treats of the Blue Room, the classic Broadway musicals of the new Chico Theater Company and the musical-minded fun at Chico Cabaret, and there is never a weekend without a new theater production. Also check out Theatre on the Ridge in Paradise and Oroville’s 20-year-old Birdcage Theatre. Oh, and there’s a little thing called Shakespeare in the Park every summer in Bidwell Park.

Duffy’s on Friday nights. This is where locals go to put a period at the end of the work week, eat some potatoes and unwind to the tune of the Pub Scouts’ continuous Celtic jam. Every Friday beginning at 4 p.m.

HEAR YOURSELF OUT <br>Go to the echo spot (below) when you feel the need to talk to yourself.

Photo By Tom Angel

The Echo spot. This is not a riddle: Go to the giant concrete circle behind the northwest corner of Meriam Library. Climb on top and stand in the exact center. Talk. Listen.

The Front porch. It’s a social town, and the big front porches of Chico’s old homes are cozy, highly visible places to socialize and introduce yourself to the community. Start with a friendly wave, and before you know it your neighbors will be taking naps on the tattered couch parked in your front yard.

Gamble. Broken treaties and caviar dreams—the riches of Indian gaming are within an hour away. If you’re 18 or older, Gold Country, Win-River, Rolling Hills, Colusa Casino & Bingo, Feather Falls and Cache Creek are all open for gambling and occasional live entertainment.

The Humane Society. Suggested pet names: “Happy,” “Silly” or “Mr. T.” If you can’t adopt, then donate or become a volunteer and take the dogs out for a little exercise, or just hang out in the cat room. Butte Humane Society, 2579 Fair. (530) 343-7917.

The Illegal park. Junction Park (where Main, Broadway and Ninth streets meet) is a no-man’s triangle. There’s grass, trees and even a water fountain. But, don’t throw your hacky-sack over there unless traffic is light, because there is no legal way to set foot on the spot. No crosswalks and no parking on any of its three sides.

Jazz for free. Chico loves jazz, both playing it and listening to it (for free, which is great for the audience but not so much for the players). Check the calendar listings in the CN&R each week to see what the rotation is, as the Jazzgrrls, the Rudy Giscombe Trio, Trivah, Holly & Eric, John Seid, Charlie Haynes, Jim Schmidt, Dave Elke, Jazz Impressions and oodles more players make the rounds between the Bean Scene, Oberon’s Bistro, Thursday Night Market, Black Crow, 5th Street Steakhouse, The Albatross and at times Christian Michaels and the Redwood Forest.

HOT NIGHTS, COOL JAZZ <br>On many evenings a jazz band, such at that of Charles Haynes (left) and Eric Peter (right), can be found playing at one of Chico’s restaurants or cafés.

Photo By Tom Angel

KZFR and KCHO. Essential to most locals’ weekly routines is a healthy dose of one or both of the local community-supported radio stations, from the eclectic community-programmed Zephyr (KZFR, 90.1 FM) to the National Public Radio-heavy Chico State station (KCHO, 91.7 FM).

Other local non-commercial stations include Oroville’s low-power Radio Free Birdstreet (KRBS, 107.1 FM) and the Internet-only options of the student-run underground music station KCSC (kcscradio.com), and rock ‘n’ roll from Paradise at radioparadise.com.

Libraries. Not many things are more fragile in a small community than the health of its libraries, and nothing keeps the book-flow pumping better than a steady stream of readers coming through the door. Chico has two great resources in the Chico Branch of the Butte County Library (Paradise, Oroville, Biggs and Durham all have branches as well: www.buttecountylibrary.net), at the corner of Sherman and East First avenues (Hours: Mon.-Thurs., 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.) and Chico State’s gigantic Meriam Library (School-year hours: Mon.-Thurs., 7:30 a.m.-11:45 p.m.; Fri., 7:30 a.m.; Sat., noon-4:45 p.m.; Sun., noon-11:45 p.m.).

Also, check out the used books at The Bookstore (118 Main St.) and the new spot, Lyon Books, at 121 W. Fifth St.

Manifest Destiny. Manifest Destiny is a loosely organized, loosely defined, hyper-productive crew of local punks who record bands and put on shows at house parties, Black Lodge studio, and occasionally Fulcrum Records. Keep an eye on www.chicolist.com for the word.

Nudity. Honey Run? Humbug? Helltown? If you need to dip your skinny, and you’re not worried about gettin’ your goodies sunburned, find these roads along Butte Creek between Chico and Paradise and get on down to the cold water.

Closer to Chico, yet either more exposed to the non-nudes or just hard to hike to, is the Upper Bidwell Park section of Big Chico Creek: Brown Hole, Bear Hole, Alligator Hole, Salmon Hole and the hidden and hellacious-to-hike-to Devil’s Kitchen.

PAY YOUR MONEY, TAKE YOUR CHANCES <br>There are several Indian casinoes within easy driving distance of Chico, and if you prefer live entertainment to slots or tables quite a few fairly big names, from Dwight Yoakam to Joan Jett, are touring on the casino circuit.

Photo By Tom Angel

If watching is your thing, hit the road out of town (Hwy 99 north) to our area’s only strip club, Centerfolds. For $5-$15 for guys (depending on which night you go) and $7 for ladies, you can enjoy a refreshing non-alcoholic beverage and watch young women (and occasionally men) strut in the buff. No sunscreen necessary.

The Observatory. The Kiwanis-sponsored community astronomical observatory in Upper Bidwell Park (by Horseshoe Lake) is open Thursdays through Sundays after sunset. And it don’t cost nuthin'.

The Producers. In Chico there are those who do and those who drink. The drinkers are busy making the most of the town’s abundant social cornucopia, and the doers are harvesting a wide variety of talent to serve up constant, fresh performing arts year-round. In addition to the many music and theater venues in Chico putting on performances every night of the week, if you see any of the following promoter’s logos connected to an event, chances are it’s the best thing going that night:

Chico State’s A.S. Presents (student-oriented concerts and programming); Bobolink Music (local promoters of touring jazz and jam bands); Chico Performances (the public performances arm of Chico State, bringing an eclectic variety of world-class musicians and entertainers); School of the Arts (Chico State-produced concerts, plays, recitals, etc); North Valley Productions (local promoter of critically acclaimed touring musicians); and the Right Now Foundation and Downtown Chico Business Association (organizations that produce the free Saturday and Friday night concerts, respectively).

Quit fighting the heat. You can’t stay inside for four months straight. Throughout June, July, August and September it will likely average 90 degrees in Chico (May and October are usually good for a week’s worth of heat as well), and a week or two straight of over-100 readings is not uncommon. So why not just give up? Become one with the heat. Don’t hide inside, fooling yourself that your swamp cooler is doing anything but make you swampy. Turn off the A/C and get out there and meet the heat head-on. It’s not like everyone else isn’t just as sweaty, sticky and stinky as you are.

Run through sprinklers! Eat Popsicles! Take four showers a day! Or, go see a movie. My vote is for the Pageant Theatre (351 E. Sixth Street), specializing in art-house movies and great popcorn. Monday is cheapskate night, where all seats are only $2.50.

Think of all the money you’ll save on your electric bill.

LITTLE VENUE THAT COULD <br>Schoolyard Heroes rock out at Riff Raff.

Photo By Tom Angel

The Rock. There’s a long history of the rock in Chico, and though the energy of the local scene fluctuates from year to year (usually in conjunction with the closing of a vital live music venue, like the Brick Works this summer), there is something live happening somewhere every night of the week. It’s impossible to list every local band, but there should be enough info below to you lead in the right direction:

The bar-hopping dance crowd leans toward the jam-friendly rock of groups like Buffalo Creek, Standard, Goldmind, Chingus or the many cover bands touring through LaSalles (or 28-year veteran jammers Spark ’n’ Cinder playing everywhere), but for straight, fun party rock, keep an eye out for The Asskickers’ humorous country-punk, the dance-party disco of Black Fong or the good time rockabilly of the longstanding Incredible Diamonds.

For slick, straight-up, radio-friendly rock, the only name you need to remember is Thirst. Consistently the best-selling local artist (even outselling many of the major-label bands) at Tower Records, Thirst brings its modern rock to LaSalles once a month. Other, less mainstream, pop-minded favorites include Bear Hunter and Deerpen and the rockin’ emo-superstars Number One Gun.

On the more underground side of things, selections run from noisy, indie/post-punk stuff (The Americas, West By Swan, Sleepyhead) to straight-up punk (P.A.W.N.S., Gruk, Nogoodnix) to poppy (Caveat, Bleego, The Deer) and hip-hop (Becky Sagers, Dialecs). There are also some great high-school bands, the cream of the crop being metal/punk noisemakers Brain in a Cage, as well as local experimental projects like the enigmatic Danny Cohen and the destructo-insanity of Botchii.

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Before you came to Chico you heard three things (with our apologies to Bidwell Park): Party school, hot summers and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. The first two have their positives and their negatives, but the third is the local institution worth getting to know.

The Pale Ale is the brewery’s flagship variety, but the seasonal ones, such as Celebration Ale or Summerfest, make for a nice selection of hand-crafted beers available right in our own back yard. You can visit the brewery too, for tours or to partake in the famous fish and chips in the popular Taproom & Restaurant.

Nearly as impressive as the beer is the brewery’s live music stage, The Big Room. Southern Culture on the Skids, Gillian Welch, John Scofield and Roy Rogers are just a few of the acts that often sellout the impressive room for memorable performances. Look for the live Sierra Center Stage performance documentaries being broadcast soon on PBS.

Thomasin Saxe

Photo By Tom Angel

Taco wagons. If a food truck is parked in a dirt field or a parking lot, your meal is going to be cheap. If it’s selling Mexican food, it’s going to taste great too. Chico has several of these miniature authentic Mexican restaurants scattered around town, all serving carne-asada tacos on a double-layer of fried corn tortillas, with a little fresh lime squeezed on top and a pickled jalapeño pepper for dessert. Perfecto.

Used music. College kids plus stores that give cash for used music equals a nice selection of inexpensive CDs, tapes and albums. Tower and the Underground both sell used alongside the new, but Melody has the best variety and quality control. All three are on Main Street, in the two blocks between Second and Fourth.

Volunteer. Don’t let your time in Chico take place in a work/ party/study vacuum. Step out and meet new and different people by volunteering. CAVE on the Chico State campus is a good start, offering dozens of opportunities for involvement (usually good for a few credits too). Also try the Chico Peace & Justice Center (526 Broadway, 893-9078), Friends of Bidwell Park (info@friendsofbidwellpark.org) or the Chico Boys & Girls Club (899-0335).

Water. A river and a couple creeks run through it. Sticking your tired feet in icy-cold rushing water is a great way to plug into nature, and with Big Chico Creek coming down from the hills, through Bidwell Park and on down through the middle of the Chico State campus, a refreshing dip is just a short walk away. Of course the Sacramento River is just west of town, and on Labor Day weekend every young adult in the area will pile into the water for a slow float, and hopefully every one of them will pack out what they pack in.

Thomasin SaXe. Like any town, Chico has a few people who are “in the know,” people who, if you get to know them right away, can help flatten your learning curve about what’s going on in town. Thomasin Saxe is one of those people.

Saxe is a very busy and informed (and friendly and charming) arts advocate who has her hands in many of the activities within the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at Chico State. Her many duties include director of special projects (public speakers, guest lecturers, university film series), member of the Humanities Center board, and coordinator for the Humanities Center Gallery and the HFA Travel Program. Being so broadly invested in a department whose “chief purpose is to nurture an intellectual community within the College of Humanities and Fine Arts,” Saxe has to know what’s going on. Just ask her.

Say Yes to Greek. Love ’em or hate ’em, the folks who join sororities and fraternities in Chico have more fun than just about anyone in town. As with anything else, though, the best advice is to do your homework. Check out each house, visit the Greek Life advisers at Chico State (www.chicogreeks.com) and ask around: Which frat has the highest G.P.A.? Which throws the dopest parties? Where can I get spanked? ("Thank you, sir, may I have another?")

LaZy drives. Need to get away? Point your car in any direction, and within 10 minutes you’re out of town. Foothills to the east, the river to the west, fields of yellow grass to the north, freeway to the south and orchards in every direction.