Warts and all

You’ve heard the good stuff. Now it’s time for the cheese—CN&R columnist Local Bastard’s top-10 list of Chico’s most embarrassing features

Laughingstock or fish in a barrel? Either way City Councilmember Larry Wahl deserves full credit.

Laughingstock or fish in a barrel? Either way City Councilmember Larry Wahl deserves full credit.

Photo By Tom Angel

We love our little town. Just ask a local—you’ll get the list: Bidwell Park, “the people,” the Yo-Yo museum, a soft spot for the arts, cycling mecca, Sierra Nevada (beer and brewery), an excellent selection of burritos, a handful of rockin’ bands, an attractive downtown area, a couple farmers’ markets, and you know we’re always up for a party.

But, as with any town, behind that best foot sticking proudly forward is a dirty bare one, a little shy, trying in vain to hide its bloated, pasty shame in the shade.

So, in the name of full disclosure, here are the 10 things your orientation adviser might have left off the script.

10. Where’s the prison?
How humiliating is it to be confused for a town best known for its medium-security prison?

“Chico, that’s where the prison is, right?”

No, that’s Chi-no, This is Chee-ko, as in Chee-ko Party!! Wooo!

That’s better.

Great place, weird commercial—"Where ya wanna go?” Sooh’s Place?

Photo By Tom Angel

9. Welcome to the small pond
This isn’t so much embarrassing as it is at times a little depressing, especially when you can’t find a good radio station, the nearest Trader Joe’s is two hours away and that movie you’ve been dying to see won’t come to town for several months.

8. Atmospheric disturbances
How is it that the rumbling bass of a four-keg rager or the p.a. feedback from a backyard party will get Johnny Law on your lawn quicker than you can say municipal code violation, but the blanket of thunder rumbling out of the fairgrounds and across the entire city every Friday night in summer is allowed to roar?

Maybe it’s a mustache thing, but the racers at the Silver Dollar Speedway appear to be juiced in tight with the cops.

No exaggeration here: If you stand quiet anywhere in the town of Chico on a summertime Friday night, you can hear the constant roaring of 410 sprints, modifieds, pure stocks or the Mini World of Outlaws as they make that left turn over and over.

7. Sooh’s Place?
Ah, the locally produced commercial. Guilty pleasure or community embarrassment? Every town has ’em, and Chico’s definitely no exception.

Look, up in the sky! It’s Rental Guy, flying overhead in a baggy orange superhero costume. I don’t know what he’s selling, but I’ve put my kids inside just in case.

The ruler of local commercials in this area is Max G. Arnold, attorney at law—though he does break the No. 1 rule by putting kids in his commercials (note to local business owners: Putting children, pets, relatives or yourself in your commercial will adversely effect the image of your business). His setup usually involves some puzzling fake accident followed by his (in a garbled Brooklyn/Aussie stroke-victim accent) “Call me first” plea along with testimonies of big cash awards. A local classic.

Maybe though, it’s just a matter of getting attention, good or bad. After all, who could forget the Meek’s Lumber angry-wife ads with the woman hollerin’ at her lazy husband to go pick up the wood from the lumber yard? All the elements are there—muffled sound, harsh lighting, no powder on shiny faces, atrocious acting ("But honey, the game’s on") and one unfortunate camel toe chewing up the scenery.

That’s in your head for good.

6. Chico City Council
You can’t fight City Hall. But you can point and laugh, then cry. It’s all pretty typical small-town city government bickering, split down partisan lines. And while we wanted to point out some of the City Council’s embarrassing antics, the fact is these folks take on thankless jobs for little pay but a whole lot of grief from what can be a very selfish public. What’s embarrassing is that we don’t appreciate these people more, regardless of their political leanings. Taking potshots at these guys is like shooting fish in a barrel. Until we sit in a council chair, we’ll just keep quiet.

5. Wal-Mart, gateway to Chico
In a way, it would be so sweet to be truckin’ down 99 and have the first evidence of a city on the barren landscape be a huge-ass Wal-Mart at the north end of Chico (where a second Chico Wal-Mart will likely be built on the land Sunset Hills Golf Course currently occupies). It would be like a castle at the entrance of a magical kingdom. The weary traveler could stop and sate himself with a feast of Little Debbie snack cakes, Chicken McNuggets and a two-liter bottle of Code Red, and maybe even lie down for a spell on a slab of Memory Foam.

After a quick re-supply—wading pool, dollar socks, bullets, jerky—it would be on to the land of Chico, where there’s two parking spots for every SUV and a parking garage on every corner.

4. The party’s over
It is really sad when a community celebration is ruined by morons who can’t gather in crowds without stabbing one another.

Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day as Chico once knew them are gone, of course. Chico State’s creative scheduling of Spring Break to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day has effectively silenced the holiday to a mere puke-breathed whisper. And the city launched an all-out campaign against Halloween revelry, going so far as to hire a public-relations firm to help get the message out to out-of-towners that “The party is over,” even making Cops-style commercials with beat-downs being given to out-of-control partiers by The Man. Downtown has been afraid to get all gussied up for a party ever since.

Better behave. Labor Day could be next.

3. What competition?
Not to toot our own horn or anything, because, let’s face it, when it comes to the CN&R’s place in the local media world, a toot really isn’t loud enough. It’s more like, “AA-OO-GA!!!”

I DID WHAT? Careful, party in the road.

Photo By Tom Angel

I kid. I kid because I love.

And I laugh, every week, thanks in no small part to our local media outlets.

Open to page two of our daily newsprint counterpart, the Enterprise-Record, for an introduction. Under the heading of “Tell It to the E-R” is an unending supply of anonymous opinions, arguments and random crazy talk—mostly about socialists and pot-holes—phoned in to the paper’s answering machine daily. Example: “I know that this probably is an impossible thing, but is there any company in this whole country that makes things with no salt? Everything you go to the store and look at has salt in it. Hey you guys, leave the salt out for the people who can’t eat it.”

The low-rent early morning Wake Up! show broadcast on both our CBS (channel 12) and NBC (channel 24) local affiliates, with Louisa Hodge and Eric Laughlin’s awkward banter, is also good for a chuckle. But, the rulers in town are the kind folks over at the weekly Synthesis, the student-focused entertainment weekly that will undoubtedly be an influential part of your introduction to the party.

Where to begin? Hell, begin on any page. The first two nuggets are pretty golden, though: On the inside cover is the regular full-page Normal St. Bar ad with the embattled cartoonist Thorn Hart’s inflated crotch and fun-bag insecurities on full display, and on the facing page are the insightful ramblings from Publisher-dude Bill, where you’ll learn all about his not getting any sleep, the office fish tank and how those lame people over in France should’ve just bought air conditioners during the heat wave instead of, you know, dying.

There are also show reviews (where you’ll always find the phrase “I left to get a drink and missed the second band—I heard they rocked"), cringe-worthy interviews with big-time bands passing through the Northstate, and the capper: no fewer than four pages of Girls Gone Wild pics taken in local bars.

It makes a good handbill for local bars, though.

2. Velveeta capital of the world
Legendary San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen is dead, but his work lives on.

SLAMMIN’ Make Spike Lee mad and your town’s on the evening news.

Photo By Tom Angel

Apparently, someone once told Caen about finding a box of Velveeta cheese in the “gourmet foods” section of a local supermarket, and ever after Caen would tack on “Velveeta capital of the world” to any mention of Chico in his column. It became his most famous running joke.

As you probably knew even before you moved here, this little joke has since paled in comparison to how subsequent national media attention has painted Chico’s image.

Here’s a timeline of Chico’s dubious moments witnessed nationally:

1987: After being named Playboy’s No. 1 party school, and after MTV hypes the distinction in advance of the annual Pioneer Days celebration, on April 25 Chico makes CNN after riots between partiers (both local and those drawn to the well-advertised flames) and police erupt during the celebration.

1990: More riots—two days’ worth this time—during Rancho Chico Days celebrations.

1995: Orion reporter R. Eirik Ott makes the big time at a press conference with director Spike Lee before the filmmaker’s speech at Laxson Auditorium. After Ott’s question asking Lee how he could endorse Taco Bell given the fact that African Americans have twice the rate of heart disease as the rest of Americans, a seriously pissed Lee stormed out of the press conference, hurling expletives at the dopey reporter—"White performers can endorse any fuckin’ product in the world. One black man wants to do something, and I have to bear the whole weight of the fuckin’ race.”

1996: During a campaign stop in Chico for the 1996 presidential election, Republican candidate Bob Dole leaned against a decorative fence at the edge of the stage to press some flesh and just kept on going, falling off the stage as the prop gave way. Footage makes it around the world (including onto the Saturday Night Live “Weekend Update"), and Dole loses the ‘96 election to Slick Willie.

2002: California State University, Chico, slips to No. 2 on Playboy’s Top Party School list.

2005: The story of the tragic death of a local Chi Tau pledge, 21-year-old Matthew Carrington, who died of water intoxication during a fraternity initiation in the basement of the frat house, makes it onto the national radar, but it’s another frat, Phi Kappa Tau, that gets the big attention. The boys of PKT opened their doors and their drawers for the filming of the XXX DVD College Invasion 6.

Remember guys (and gals), it takes only one dildo ring-toss to get your school mentioned in an Australian newspaper on the other side of the planet.

1. No. 1 party school
It’s no joke. This whole party-school mindset is the bane of our town’s existence. It’s also no big secret—many of you came here for that reason.

Go ahead and have some fun, but keep it cool, man. Mom and Dad might not be home, but the neighbors are watching, and they will totally narc. Dig?