So this is Chico?

Chico resident Larry Phipps is a retired printer and chairman for the Butte County affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

I remember Chico when I first visited in the ‘60s. What a great little town, I thought. When my family and I moved here from Oregon in the early ‘80s, it was still a great little town. Beautiful tree-lined streets had character. There was a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. Traffic was light, and signals and stop signs weren’t everywhere you looked.

We took it all for granted. It was the “best-kept secret in California,” we said with pride. Most of the area north of us was orchards and fields, interspersed with the forerunners of today’s building boom: a store here and a small business there and lots of space in between. The freeway south of town was yet to be built, and there was no 20th Street mall. Even the college seemed rather quiet and blended in with the prevailing mood of Chico.

Now, fast forward to the 21st century.

What happened to this tranquil, idyllic community? As I drove through town the other day, I was lost in a sea of cars zipping in and out of lanes and side streets. Long lines at traffic signals had people preoccupied with getting someplace they weren’t, and fast.

Where did all these people come from? They drive newer cars and SUVs. Where’d they get the money? I see houses everywhere. Where do these people work? Could they all be from LA and the Bay Area?

Now we have stabbings and drive-by shootings. Now I lock all the doors at night. Now my granddaughter is driven to school and picked up after. Now we have carjackings and road rage, and Chico is no longer the town I used to know.

If people are moving here to get away from this kind of thing that is commonplace in big cities, then why do they bring it all with them?

Here are some “tells” that you can look for in determining who is a longtime Chico resident and who is a newcomer. Their eyes—they seldom look you in the eye. Instead, their eyes dart from place to place, and their speech is rapid and impersonal. They don’t know that the numbered streets are south of town and the avenues are north. Not one can name all the local streams and rivers. They think Chico was named after a Marx brother; they must wonder where the towns of Harpo and Groucho are. Zeppo? Forget it …

My once beloved little town has become a city. Progress, you say? Chico is beginning to look like all other California towns (cities).

Farewell Chico, my old friend, rest in peace.