Walking this town’s public thoroughfares, there are all sorts of divisions on display. Most strikingly, between the haves and the have-nots: those driving convertible 325is and those driving shopping carts full of recyclables. But also between white people and slightly pink people; between tweakers and stoners; between hipsters with waxed mustaches and those with big beards.
Today (May 3rd), though, this idyllic hamlet is torn right down the middle by that most powerful of made-up binary oppositions—the one that makes no god damn sense if you really think about it, and yet is so strangely descriptive of a fundamental American reality. I’m talking, of course, about Left/Right.
The reason Left/Right is having its day—assembled on either side of downtown like opposing football teams—is because there are two simultaneously occurring parades taking place: the Endangered Species Faire (Left) and the Pioneer Day Parade (Right).
I hit the Pioneer Day Parade first. The parade has an interesting, nearly 90-year-history. In its early years it celebrated the area’s founding mythology. But by the 1980s it was taken over by courageous, Cesar Chavez/MLK-like student activists who realized they had to fight. For their right. To Paaarty. This culminated in the 1987 riots—the peak of Chico’s once-legendary nihilistic debauchery—in which oppressed Bros overturned cars, lit shit on fire, and threw bottles at cops.
Now it’s just a sparsely attended parade of weak-ass floats and rolling advertisements. If you give the parade organizers enough money, they display your business on big banners and read your talking points out over the PA.
The theme this year is “Celebrating our Everyday Heroes: Military; First Responders; Community Superstars; and their Families!” Every mainstream institution of authority is involved and on display. Boys wave little Chinese-made American flags. Girls march militaristically, shaking pom-poms. Costco-shopping dads in Oakleys, high-waisted khaki cargo shorts, Hawaiian shirts, and sneakers over tan-colored socks are busy encouraging little Billy to wave to the Firemen. Monster trucks and big rigs spew fluorocarbons for no discernable reason beyond self-promotion. Little Miss Silver Sparkle smiles her ultra-white-toothed smile, doing the parade-wave, etc. etc. It’s All-‘Merican as fuck, is what I’m trying to say. Either that or Chico is on the bleeding-edge of the Normcore fashion movement.
I ask a little girl wearing a t-shirt with a Peace Sign design on it made from pink flowers if she’s wearing it in protest of the parade’s militarism. Her dad mad-dogs me through his mirrored Oakleys.
I walk to the Endangered Species Faire. It’s taking place under the mottled shade of One Mile’s big Valley Oaks. There’s more paisley, but it’s pretty damn wholesome, too. Vegetable starts are free for the taking and there are all sorts of booths related to environmental issues.
Finally, the climax: kids parade around the papier-mâché endangered animals they’ve been working on for months. Each endangered animal is carried on a skewer. Unless it’s too big. In which case it’s carried by two kids on a bamboo bed, like a Luau pig. The barbecuing motif, I guess, helps dramatize the plight of these rare (or medium-rare) beasts.
Dorky jokes aside, the event is super sweet/cute/positive/non-sell-outy. In this case it’s no contest. It’s not Left/Right, it’s Left>Right.