Through the looking glass

Adventures in the Chico Craigslist wonderland

Aurora Tehan is organizing her eighth annual pirate-themed trek down the Sacramento River. She said the easily offended need not apply.

Aurora Tehan is organizing her eighth annual pirate-themed trek down the Sacramento River. She said the easily offended need not apply.

Photo courtesy of Aurora Tehan

Buyer beware:
As with any adventure, proper safety protocols should be practiced. Craigslist is a tool, and as such can and has been used to evil ends. Use common sense and be safe.

I once managed to pay rent for three months by selling vintage Star Wars and G.I. Joe toys—which I’d saved from a Dumpster—on Craigslist. In other lean times, I’ve used the site to find employment, from short-term writing gigs to a two-year stint at an after-school program. And once, after missing the last bus 40 miles from home, I was saved from a night on the streets by catching a rideshare through the website, squeezing into the back seat of a Volvo crammed full of dirty clothes. The driver was a UC Irvine student heading home for winter break who’d apparently saved a semester’s worth of laundry for his lucky mother.

I’ve also used the site in more prosperous times, to beef up an ever-growing collection of obscura others might call junk, including manual typewriters, an assortment of strange musical instruments, and the occasional vintage cigar box or ukulele.

When buying things on Craigslist, they often come with a story. Had I bought my autoharp on eBay instead, I wouldn’t have met the delightful retired schoolteacher who played it to a classroom full of children every morning for 30 years. Even if I’d been lucky enough to find my dream guitar—a vintage Harmony tenor archtop—in a store, I’d never have met the Paradise man who demanded I sit and listen to some stories before any money changed hands, and eventually knocked $50 off the price because he knew I genuinely appreciated doing so.

Craigslist—like the newspaper classified ads it has largely supplanted—isn’t solely a place where things are bought and sold, or just a site to look for jobs or apartments. If you read between the lines, it offers much more: It’s a reflection of the people who make up any given community, and a portal to adventure and learning opportunities. It’s where people, with the benefit of some anonymity and safety in selecting who they respond to and interact with, can indulge and share their passions, losses, experiences, beliefs, expertise and lifestyles.

In the last month, I responded to several of the more interesting ads I came across on Chico’s Craigslist in search of the humanity lurking beyond the technological portal. I deliberately avoided some of the site’s racier regions in the interest of pursuing a PG-13-rated article, instead focusing on the Community section.

Friggin’ in the riggin’

Photo courtesy of Aurora Tehan

“My personality is pretty bizarre and ‘out there’,” said Aurora Tehan in a recent phone interview from her Cohasset home, “but I conduct myself very professionally at work, so a lot of people might not realize there’s this wild side to me.”

While Tehan, a business owner, maintains this professional facade most of the time, she reserves at least one midsummer day a year to let her freak flag—which in her case bears a skull and crossbones—fly. For the last seven years, she has organized an annual pirate-themed canoe-and-kayak trip down the Sacramento River that, as she repeated several times, is not for the overly sensitive.

“Pirates can be crude,” she said. “There’re a lot of crude pirate jokes and crude pirate songs, so if you’re easily offended, it’s not the trip for you.”

The trek starts at Woodson Bridge near Corning and ends locally at Scotty’s Landing, a distance of roughly 25 miles, lasting seven or eight hours. It sometimes includes treasure hunts with maps Tehan draws to caches she hides on islands the day before.

This year’s trip is scheduled for July 27. In the past, Tehan’s motley crew has numbered from 12 to 35. She started using Craigslist to recruit more members last year and netted five newbies, three of whom have already committed to returning. She has gotten about 10 emails for the 2013 trip from an ad she posted in early May, and also expects non-Craigslist pirates from as far away as Washington, D.C., and Texas.

While there are some younger revelers, she said most range from 30 to 50 (the oldest was 72).

“The college kids love it when we get to Irvine Finch [River Access], where they all put-in on tubes,” she said. “They get a big kick out of what they think is a bunch of crazy old people cruising down the river dressed like pirates, and we have great interactions. They scream, ‘Show us your booty!’ and all kinds of stuff, and really get into it.”

Photo courtesy of Aurora Tehan

Tehan said the trip is exclusively for canoes and kayaks, as they don’t want to “babysit” tubers or deal with engine noise. The trip is for “big pirates and wenches only, no little scallywags,” as the ad states, and it’s BYOGG (“Bring your own gobbles and grog”). Other than that, most everyone is welcome, the only rules being you must dress and talk like a pirate during the trip (Tehan suggests costumes can be found cheaply at yard sales and thrift stores).

“We want everyone to act like pirates and have all the fun they want, but we don’t want any jackholes out there,” she said. “We don’t want dangerous people trying to tip over canoes or anything like that. We want it to be safe, obviously.

“But the main thing is, if you’re easily offended, don’t come.”

Dude, where’s my knife?

Old French legends tell of a valley on the moon where all things lost on Earth go, where you can find a lake of spilled milk and mountains of small change. Reading the “lost & found” listings on Craigslist, one would assume Chico’s section of this moon valley to be populated by packs of wild dogs (and other beasts, including an African Gray parrot and a guinea pig) roaming forests of stolen houseplants. There’d also be lots of bikes, keys, cell phones, tablets, the occasional wedding ring and Grandpa Ernie’s old Buck knife.

“The only way I lost it is because I was wearing a really shitty pair of jeans,” explained 20-year-old Nick Hankins, who placed an ad offering a $150 reward for the knife on April 18. “I was just mobbing on my longboard like I usually do, making my way across town, and I felt my pocket and it was gone.”

Hankins thinks he lost the knife on a bike path while heading from the Fair View High School area to Anthony’s Liquor on The Esplanade, and said the reward is due to the blade’s sentimental value.

Tamar Thomson started keeping bees in her back yard last summer, and wants to encourage other people to do the same

Photo By Melanie MacTavish

“It was just a plain old 112 Buck knife, but like from the first series ever, like real old,” he said, explaining that Grandpa Ernie, a carpenter who “did all kinds of mechanical stuff in his hobby times,” passed away a year ago at age 93 after carrying the knife around for at least 70 years. Hankins has fond memories of fishing and camping with the man as a child, though Hankins said his grandfather developed dementia in his old age.

“He was kind of rich and kind of like a collector,” Hankins said. “I don’t think you’d call him a hoarder, because he bought really expensive, nice things. He didn’t just buy junk, you know?”

Hankins is from Chico but now lives in Santa Cruz. He said he’ll be here a short time longer while he helps his sister sell some of Grandpa Ernie’s belongings on Craigslist, and hopes to find the knife before he leaves.

“I’m obviously too young to have, like, kids and stuff right now, but they’d be a cool thing to have someday, and I thought it’d be sick to pass it along, because it’s a cool old knife and he was a cool old dude.”

The secret life of backyard bees

The buzzing in Tamar Thomson’s back yard grows louder with each step toward her lovely garden, which could be described as inviting, save the two large and very active bee hives located next to several neatly planted rows of vegetables and flowers.

“Normally, you don’t want to wear black with the bees,” she warned, just as I got close enough to the source of the drone for the occasional wayward bee to bounce off my head. “They’re naturally inclined to protect their colonies from bears and things like that.”

The author plays it safe.

Photo By melanie mactavish

I paused for a moment, suddenly considering my black shirt, shorts and somewhat bear-like frame.

Thomson offered CN&R photographer Melanie MacTavish and I thick, long-sleeved white shirts and netted veils—gear she said she doesn’t generally wear herself, opting for only a pair of thin gardening gloves while working her hives. Indeed, Thomson’s confidence with the creatures is so profound it’s infectious, and within minutes I stood comfortably near the hives, awestruck as she shared the particulars of her peculiar hobby.

In mid-April, she placed an ad on Craigslist, inviting interested parties to help her open up the hives, hoping to inspire more people to keep back-yard bees. She said three others have visited her hives.

Thomson was well-prepared for our visit, and shared a wealth of knowledge about basic beekeeping. After calming the bees with the aromatic smoke of burning pine needles (“It makes them go and eat honey,” she explained), she opened the few top layers, cutting through the propolis (a thick sappy mixture the bees use to seal their hives) along the way, and eventually pulled out a frame dripping with bees and honey.

Her hives are traditional models, though many beekeepers now prefer newer “top-bar hives,” which she explained are lighter, easier to work with, relatively cheap, and easy to build. She said most backyard beekeepers start their colonies with a queen and three pounds of bees, and recommended Olivarez Honey Bees Inc. in Orland as a good starting point.

She received her first hive as a birthday gift from her daughter, Chelsie Romulo, last July. Romulo began keeping bees herself in Virginia, where she is pursuing a Ph.D. in sustainability at George Mason University. Thomson explained how her daughter had found the hive on the Sacramento Craigslist, applied a barrier to close it up, and transported it—bees and all—in the back seat of her car. Thomson’s father also started keeping bees, so the new hobby is now shared by three generations.

Thomson said she doesn’t keep bees to harvest honey: “I just wanted to give them a sort of safe haven here, to provide them some space where they can live and produce and we can co-exist happily together,” she said, noting that colony collapse, varroa mites and other threats have led to a worldwide decline in bee populations.

Chris Teschan and Terry Hell sit with Yvette and Paris. Hell started twice-monthly French-bulldog meetups for the dogs and their admirers.

Photo By melanie mactavish

And does she ever get stung?

“I only ever get what we call ‘clumsy stings,’” she said, explaining how they resulted from her own mistakes. “I’m not afraid of the bees or of getting stung, but I am afraid of jostling the hive or upsetting them somehow.

“I knocked the hive askew once and they stung me seven times,” she said with a giggle, proving she has no hard feelings toward the insects. “They chased me in the house and let me know that they didn’t appreciate that. I had a lesson to learn and they taught me.

“I learn a lot from the bees.”

Running of the bull(dogs)

French bulldogs, like many other specially bred pedigrees, have notorious health issues. This became apparent immediately upon arriving at a French-bulldog meet-up in DeGarmo park, when one of the attendees—a pleasantly plump, 8-year-old, white-and-butterscotch-colored Frenchie named Paris—keeled over on her side and began convulsing.

Paris’ human companion, Terry Hell, comforted the dog until she stopped seizing and immediately called the vet. In the meantime, I asked the other Frenchie-phile in attendance, Chris Teschan, if this was a common occurrence.

Photo By Melanie MacTavish

“It’s uncommon but almost expected,” he explained while keeping one eye on his own 3-year-old French bulldog, the svelter Yvette, who was rassling nearby with a much larger pit-bull pup. “Most of the breed’s problems are with breathing. They’re a brachycephalic breed, so their airways are really shortened up. Most of them snore.”

As the conversation continued, Teschan occasionally interjected other common health problems—they easily develop skin problems, do not tolerate hot or cold temperatures well, are often born with soft palates that later require surgery, and require special diets.

Both Yvette and Paris were adopted through bulldog rescues, and both have had health conditions. Yvette was meant to be a breeding dog, but a prolapsed anus eliminated her ability to birth. Teschan and his wife, Lori, adopted the dog at the beginning of 2012 for $300, the cost of her corrective surgery.

Paris once had a ruptured disk that paralyzed her hind legs. As she panicked, her body overheated, and Hell drove Paris all the way to UC Davis on a special ice-pack bed provided by a local vet. While there, the doctors also decided to do reconstructive surgery to her palate and take other measures to prevent respiratory problems.

Hell has no regrets, saying she’d fallen in love with Paris the second she saw her picture on the Internet, and flew all the way to Oklahoma City to pick her up.

Hell started the local French-bulldog group, which meets twice monthly at Bidwell and DeGarmo parks, after breaking off from an event called Pug Sunday. Though Yvette and Paris were the only Frenchies present that day, the organizers said they sometimes get up to a half-dozen of the dogs playing together.

Both owners said French bulldogs make the best companion dogs. Teschan originally acquired Yvette to help his wife endure the pain and recovery of multiple back surgeries, and said the dog faithfully sat at her side throughout. He is fascinated by Frenchie folklore and our conversation was peppered with facts about the breed. For example, the folds on their faces were bred into them to help blood run away from their eyes during darker days when they were meant to fight bulls and bears, and in the 1800s everyone from Parisian prostitutes to aristocrats considered the dogs to be status symbols.

Derek Longoria played chess with a Craigslist-based chess club in Oregon, and is trying to start a similar group in Chico.

Photo By melanie mactavish

“They’re the most awesome dogs ever,” Teschan declared, and Hell wholeheartedly agreed, patting Paris as she recovered by her side. The vet had advised she make an appointment to determine the cause of the seizure, and—for this Sunday—to refrain from playing too much.

“I’ve had lots of different breeds growing up and I have never felt about dogs the way I do about these Frenchies,” Teschan continued.

“If I had my way I’d have a giant French-bulldog foundation, with acres of feral Frenchies running all over the place like herds of buffalo.”

The high art of chess

Derek Longoria couch-surfed his way from Portland, Ore., to Chico, settling here when he met his girlfriend and to start a business, Apex Climbing, which guides rock climbers into the Feather River Canyon. After relocating, he missed playing chess with friends and with a Craigslist-based chess club from his former home, and decided to start a similar club here three months ago.

Longoria explained he and a group of close friends discovered chess about seven years ago when they were given a nudge by Mother Nature and … something else.

“We got snowed-in in Portland for two weeks, and all we had was a half-ounce of pot and a chessboard,” he said. “So we played constantly, for two weeks straight, and got really addicted [to the game].”

“My old friends and I get a little obsessed. We’re all super into rock-climbing and just becoming the best we can at whatever we’re focused on,” he explained. “We found chess and have been hooked ever since.”

Longoria’s Craigslist ad has attracted several players, and he said respondents usually bring a handful of other friends. Back in Portland, club meetings were attended by about 10 people on a regular basis. In Chico, the biggest number his fledgling group has attracted—usually to meetings at the Naked Lounge—is five.

Longoria said he uses Craigslist for other reasons, noting Chico is a good place to buy “whatchamacallits,” or assorted odds and ends like electronics sold cheaply by college students. He also uses the classifieds to give away free personal-training sessions to practice for an upcoming test to attain his certification as a personal trainer.

Though unable to make one of the meetings, I met Longoria downtown for a quick game. The sound thrashing he gave me on the chessboard was softened by some scintillating conversation, partly about some of the more colorful characters each of us has met through Craigslist. This, he emphasized, is what his chess group is really all about.

“Anyone who’s interested should come out and play, whether you’re good or bad. It’s really all about just meeting and connecting with people.”