The City of Trees And Couch Fires

Jaime O’Neill and Billy Hopkins eloquently bring us two different takes from two different sides of the generation gap

What’s the Matter With These Fuckin’ Kids?

By Jaime O’Neill

Look out kid, it’s somethin’ you did, Don’t know when, but you’re doin’ it again.” – B. Dylan

Once you reach a certain age, the mere mention of drunken students evokes a knee-jerk response along the lines of “what’s the matter with kids today.” I’m well into the time of life when that reaction kicks in, so I was dutifully appalled by the recent weekend in which Chico police were overwhelmed by out of control students raising hell, getting in fights, sending each other to the Emergency Room at Enloe in fairly large numbers, setting ten fires in the streets, and engaging in assorted other activities not likely to make their parents proud, or amortize the expense of sending them to college in the first place. It’s hard to read the police reports and think optimistically about the future. And, given the crappy state of the world my generation is leaving for these young people, it’s going to take more than a bunch of coarse young drunks to dig their way out of the hole we’re leaving them in.  _DSC0253

To get a perspective on this current spate of bad student behavior I spoke with Joe Wills, the press liaison at Chico State. He’s a thoughtful guy, and he managed to squelch my high dudgeon just a bit. “We took a little time on campus on Monday and Tuesday following that weekend to see who was arrested,” he told me.
“I asked the Vice President of Student Affairs what was typical. I’d heard that it’s usual that just under a quarter of the number of people arrested on any given weekend are Chico State students. There were 30 some arrests on the night in question. Only two of the arrestees were Chico State students.”

Now that was the kind of softening I expected to hear from a guy whose job it is to polish the university’s image, but Wills went on to add, “That said, from what I understand, there were a number of large parties. And those parties surely involved a number of our students. It was a significant event to the police. As you can see from the police report, they were attempting to respond to a large number of calls that pushed staffing beyond the breaking point. And the images on local TV were disturbing, the fires especially.”

And then we fell into regular talk, two guys well past student age who share a community, worry about young people, and wonder what to make of it all.

“I don’t have as much time as I’d like to talk to people on other campuses,” he said with a sigh, “but there’s a lack of decorum and an excess of binge drinking everywhere, a coarsening of behavior. It’s not just Chico. I see that.”

I see that, too. So did Plato, apparently, even before I turned up on the planet. “What is happening to our young people?” Plato wondered some 1500 years ago. “They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. What is to become of them?”

Good question.

There was a time when the experience of being a young scholar was referred to as “the life of the mind.” Judging by Chico State’s most recent eruption of student loutishness (and its long and checkered history of such drunken debaucheries), the “life of the mindless” might be a more accurate description of what it means to be a student, both here and at most of the rest of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, where a new generation of Americans now goes to gather up its lifelong burden of student debt, most of it accrued in order to gain the social skills necessary to succeed in business without really trying, the patterns of drinking and self-loathing so necessary to the lives they will lead as adults without much in the way of taste, culture, or values higher than those needed to chase a buck or impress others like themselves – the frat boys, the jocks, and the future cubicle dwellers, mid-level technocrats, and over-degreed seekers of employment in fields in which jobs don’t exist. Universities are the places we go to incubate batch after batch of substance abusers and hell-raisers, where partying is primary, copulating is secondary, job training is tertiary, and actual education is embroidery; a smattering of electives that leave graduates with an incoherent sense of the world’s history, geography, arts, and letters.

Ok that’s a rant, and it’s probably too dark, though I surely wouldn’t want to be a college kid these days, even with all the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll at their disposal. But I don’t want to give the impression that I think any of that bad behavior Chico witnessed on the night of February 23 had anything to do with student despair about the future they face, or the loans they’re piling up. Nah. They were just raising hell and acting stupid, a time-dishonored tradition among young people.


As a community college teacher, I spent a lifetime with college kids, most of them rather sweet, and lots of them more than a little lost. And, on Monday mornings, when the attendance was off and those who made it were looking a little worse for wear, my impulse was to turn paternal on them, to scold them for their excesses. I had gone to college as a married man, with a new baby my first semester, and I never faced the temptations to dick off like most college students who are not burdened by responsibilities, or otherwise clued in to adult realities. But I had no reason to assume that, had my own college days been spent as a single kid, I would have been any freer from temptations than so many of them showed themselves to be. With the allure of parties and scantily clad women everywhere, would I have been likely to hole up in a crummy dorm room hitting the books each weekend. I kinda doubt it.

Still, I think I might have eschewed burning sofas, or otherwise behaving like a complete jerk, running up the costs of city government where I had been shipped by parents anxious to free up a bedroom back home. There were 22 police officers required to deal with the mayhem on that walpurgisnacht (Editor’s note: look it up, sucker) last month, leaving 90% of Chico without police protection during the time the craziness was going on.

Even without my own youthful exposure to the dissipation that has become the hallmark of college life, and even without the training in scrambling my brains on a weekly basis most students undergo, I still managed, nonetheless, to develop a drinking problem by the time I reached my late 40s. Many people do, though some of us find our way to our addictions without the added expense of ritualistic independent study of the subject while we’re in college. Some years ago, I took a post-grad summer seminar at Cornell, a school where lots of kids’ parents spend a fortune to give them a degree from an Ivy League school, and the contacts that come with time spent partying with other rich people’s kids. One of the profs at Cornell told me how often he hears of former students—doctors, mostly—hooked on prescription drugs by the time they hit 40, or hopeless alcoholics, mired in patterns of boozing they acquired when they were undergrads.

Chico State students don’t get the same high-level contacts on which to build their careers as Cornell kids do, but they sure do get the training in dissolution. More’s the pity. Ours, and theirs.

We Can Party Better

By Billy Hopkins

As a life-long local, it’s almost hard to say without feeling somehow cheesy or cliché, but I love Chico. And whether you like it or not, partying is a strong part of our culture. We are a town that likes to socialize hard, usually in the company of loud music and plenty of drinks. No news there, it’s been this way since before there was a college, but recently things have escalated.

There’s an increasing tension in the air as violent activities have become more commonplace and the average person is having to be quite a bit more cautious if they want to go out any given weekend night. As someone who has spent relatively little time partying in the notoriously rowdy blocks of student housing between Chico State and downtown, the now-infamous events of February 23 baffled me. Being personally invested in this town’s nightlife and a concerned citizen, I was embarrassed and saddened that burning mattresses and couches in the streets and sporadic brawling would be considered a fun social activity, and scared at the potential problems that could spill out from this type of pointless clusterfuck.

The thought that someone across town could be left without help in an emergency situation because the police have their hands full trying to figure out who’s responsible for some good-time arson in a sea of apathetic onlookers was too much. I decided to spend my weekend strolling 6th Street, the most centralized strip from the previous weekend’s debauchery, to try to get a better glimpse into what it was that pushed the standard beer-ponging shenanigans into the lamest      riot ever.     _DSC0272

Maybe it was just luck of the draw, maybe everyone was fearing serious police repercussions after the previous weekend, or maybe some people were sitting on their living room floor thinking, “Dammit. We shouldn’t have burned the couch,” but this weekend was fairly quiet. As I walked back and forth between Broadway and Orange Street on Friday night, I saw the standard sights one expects in a trip through college town – a few porch parties, some early stumblers, and an occasional group of lonely bros in a yard with keg cups and cell phone in hand, rubbernecking and waiting for something cool to happen. It was the same scene I’d witnessed a thousand times before, but it was early so I assumed as the night pushed on into the bars-are-closed hours things would heat up a bit. They didn’t. Lights went off and most of the street was quiet. All of a sudden I felt like I was up past my bedtime. In fact, the only delinquent activity I saw over the weekend was on Sunday afternoon, when I witnessed a couple of college-aged fellows kick a few pieces of furniture out of the back of a silver pickup truck where 6th Street dead-ends by the train tracks, and then speed away. I thought, “Thanks for giving back, guys. I guess I should just be glad you didn’t burn them.” So after some inconclusive reconnaissance, I was left even more baffled; what was the trigger that had set people off recently?

I wanted to get as many opinions on the subject as I could from people involved in Chico’s nightlife, so I talked to friends and strangers as I roamed. All seemed to share the same feeling of disdain for violent or dangerous partying. One of the more passionate voices was from a local business owner who asked not to be named. As a local artist and musician in his free time, he is well-invested in our town’s culture. We spoke about the slippery slope we seem to be finding ourselves on now, and the complex problem of identifying and fixing the violent element. When I asked him if he could pinpoint any certain factor that seemed to push partying over the edge, he stated simply and adamantly, “Alcoholism.”

Again, it’s no secret that our town likes to toss a few back, but his opinion is that it’s the catalyst in an already volatile scenario. “If someone is young and still has a lot to figure out, that can be the thing that pushes them over, that makes them do something they wouldn’t normally do.” He takes a fairly hard-nosed approach to the situation, advocating for comprehensive crackdown on excessive drinking through strong regulation of every sort. He suggests that the school should be more dedicated to promoting expectations of a “higher caliber of student,” and have stricter penalties for those not meeting expectations due to alcohol and partying. Also, he supports the idea of the city forcing liquor stores to stop selling hard alcohol earlier in the night and more authoritative oversight on local bars profiting from dangerous levels of consumption. His hope is that our city can focus on promoting a stronger reputation for arts and culture, but believes it will require some serious confrontation of the issue and action through all organized channels.

I also spoke with Coot Wyman, head of (fittingly enough) Stay Positive Productions and frontman for The Mystic Roots Band, who had more of an idealistic approach to the problem. He feels more rules and regulations aren’t the answer, you need to change the attitude. “Anything you try to control, whether it’s alcohol or guns, won’t help. People will still get it. It’s not about control, it’s about the people.”    _DSC0259

Wyman maintains that it has always been a band goal to promote positivity through their lyrics and through the atmosphere they try to culminate in their audience. He says it’s worked. “There’s always going to be a few people trying to cause trouble, that’s just how it is. But when we see that at our shows, we call them out on it. You turn the spotlight on someone and make them realize that what they’re doing isn’t cool and usually they chill out…it’s about collecting that voice together,” said Wyman.

It’s an inspiring thought to think, “What if that mentality applied to all of Chico?” When I asked him if he believed it possible to spread this attitude across the dangerously rowdy party scene, he answered without hesitation, “Definitely.” In addition, when I asked if he could pinpoint any one factor as the root of the problem, he stated, “Out-of-towners.” Apologizing for sounding prejudiced, he explained, “If someone comes here and doesn’t feel like a part of the community, even if they move here, if they don’t feel like this is their community, they’re a lot more likely to not care if things get destroyed.”

I became curious if Coot’s positive peer pressure approach could possibly be instigated in a place of heavy influence such as a fraternity, so I talked with my friend, Alec Tidwell, who spent his college years as a member of a fraternity, including three years on his house’s executive board.

The local Greek associations are often blamed for promoting dangerous partying. Tidwell admitted that they probably partied harder than the average Chico State student, but also pointed out, “These were also some of the most productive people on campus.” He mentioned the GPA and conduct expectations necessary to be a member, and as someone who had to enforce those expectations, he believes they worked.

In addition, the experience he gained through Greek life made him feel like a member of the Chico community in general. And although he recognizes the role these associations play can potentially facilitate danger, he feels they aren’t truly the problem. “The problem is a greater social, cultural sickness,” said Tidwell. Recalling his own innocence when he first came to the school, he supports the idea to create a mandatory course for new students about drinking awareness, psychology of a mob mentality, and any other dangers someone should be knowledgeable about before they get in over their head.

This issue of partying turning dangerous is complex, and the causes are debatable. Perhaps our reputation has finally caught up to us, and we’ve created a self-regenerating party monster comprised of visitors who just don’t care that much. Maybe we really don’t know how to hold our booze like we thought. I would like to think that whatever the root, we can address it through individual responsibility and a slow shift toward a respectful mentality, even in the most raging places. Bring back the pride in our town by letting visitors know you love your home, and by having some respect for yourself and those around you. That’s how a community is built. Come on, Chico. We can party better.



  1. Jennifer says:

    This makees me angry. You should do a piece on students who achieve, and stop giving publicity to the idiots.

    I can bet your ass that none of these were students whose degrees actually take HARD WORK.

    My belief is that if these greek students can maintain a good GPA and party like this, then they need more homework, or they should be required to take more classes and get the eff out of the university, instead of lollygagging in college and partying while doing so.

  2. Aaron says:

    ” We are a town that likes to socialize hard, usually in the company of loud music and plenty of drinks. No news there, it’s been this way since before there was a college, but recently things have escalated.”

    This is an interesting idea. Chico was founded in 1860, and the local college was founded in 1887. I don’t know how much socializing there was, but I am sure there was a shortage of loud music and hanging out on the porch drinking out of red cups.It’s embarrassing when people say things and have really no idea what they are talking about. To talk about the history of Chico one must discuss the history of Chico State as the two are tied together. As for the assertion by the author that Chico was plagued by binge drinking and loud young people “before there was a college”, well I think we can all assume he has really no idea.