Party town

Partying on César Chávez Day is ridiculous, but who am I to judge?

César Chávez Day became a party holiday shortly after I graduated from Chico State. The next year, in fact, some of my friends who were still in college invited me over to their house to play “flip cup” in the middle of the day. It was warm outside and they’d set up a Slip’N Slide on their front lawn.

I was busy as a full-time reporter at the time, and taking a day off to play drinking games didn’t sound especially appealing. I did stop by to say hello on my lunch hour, and everyone was having a good time. Nobody was wearing a sombrero. The day off was simply an excuse to blow off some steam.

Over the next couple of years, however, a few bars started promoting César Chávez Day as a drinking holiday—putting Mexican beers on special, mostly. It was tacky and inappropriate and at least one establishment, the now-defunct Normal St. Bar, took a lot of heat for doing racially insensitive things like encouraging patrons to dress up in stereotypical Mexican garb.

A decade-plus later, I’m surprised there are students who think it’s acceptable to don ponchos and fake mustaches. I didn’t realize that was still a thing until I chatted with Howard Hardee about his police ride-along for this week’s cover story (see “Losing our buzz,” page 18).

Then again, some of what Hardee saw reminded me of the stupid stuff I did in college. Like the year my friends and I stood in line outside the Graduate before the sun came up to be some of that bar’s first customers on St. Paddy’s Day.

Thinking about drinking green beer at the crack of dawn gives me a gag reflex these days, but in the late 1990s in Chico, for me and hundreds of others in our early 20s, it was like a rite of passage.

Then there’s Halloween. Its heyday was something to behold. For a few years the city closed off portions of downtown to vehicular traffic and upward of 15,000 costumed people wandered the streets, popping in and out of the bars. I was one of them.

I never did anything really risky during that holiday, but I did sense that things were on the verge of getting out of control. That’s mainly because there were so many intoxicated people out and about—and not everyone tolerates alcohol well.

A few years later, as a reporter, I wrote about the crackdown on All Hallows’ Eve. The city had “canceled” Halloween, Chico police officials told me on the run-up to the holiday. To make that a reality, the department brought in hundreds of officers from outside agencies and adopted a “zero-tolerance” enforcement strategy. At the time, it seemed like overkill. But the fact is, the event had become a magnet for troublemakers. The city had to do something.

It took a few years, but Halloween eventually became pretty tame. Same goes for St. Patrick’s Day after Chico State administrators moved spring break to coincide with the holiday. César Chávez Day is nowhere near as rowdy as those holidays, but it does drain police resources. It’s also embarrassing, for the university, Chico in general and, whether they realize it or not, for the students themselves.