Fear, Loathing, and Non Sequiturs at Chico State

Or, how humanoids, hemp, and Ralph Nader will save us from Propositions I, L, and M

Housing, housing, housing, housing, housing, housing.

None of our maladies is nearly as severe as our status as one of the most expensive places to live in the country. Employers offering low- to mid-skill-level jobs can't afford to locate here, because their workers couldn't afford the rent. People already working in all but the most elite jobs can no longer afford to live here. The housing shortage cuts both ways, slicing economic diversity from the city like a mad butcher.

The Board of Supervisors has done nearly nothing about this, deferring at every turn to the venal whines of NIMBY neighborhood groups that oppose new housing projects as if they were leper colonies. Now, in the face of district elections, you're hearing supervisor candidates tell community groups that they'll support the concerns of neighborhoods over those of outsiders. Ergo, they'll oppose new housing.

And ... and ... and ...


And things were just fine in Chico. Really, they were. It was one of those perfect fall days in Northern California, when hapless valley residents are rewarded for the horrid hot weather they suffer during the summer with sunshine so cool and crisp and soft it produces a sensation similar to drinking soda pop.

The thin man and I moved into a classroom above the university bookstore; we were joined by a group of students and journalists, one of whom had wrists as thin as a Weed Eater handle, which I'd never seen before.

Like me, the students and journalists seemed to enjoy the thin man's company, despite, or perhaps because of, his unflappable, non-emoting air. They asked him questions about the future of community radio, slavery reparations for African-Americans, and other important issues. I asked him whom he supported for the World Series.

"I'm an old Lou Gehrig fan," said the thin man, "so I'm supporting the Yankees."

That seemed a good choice to me. And after the thin man's handlers had hurried him into an elevator, I climbed into my illegally parked rental car and drove back toward Highway 99, and San Francisco, and when I made it back, I found that, yes, the city still smells.

So there are plenty of reasons for wanting to run away with the thin man I met in Chico, who calls his own long strange road trip Ralph Nader 2000.

But wild-eyed escapist fantasies -- whether they be no-hope runs at the presidency, fun-with-make-believe ballot initiatives, or high-speed drives to Chico -- tend to have a way of reappearing as nightmares (and speeding tickets).

Proposition L may prevail, then finish stripping San Francisco of its eclectic flesh. George W. Bush may, with Nader's help, win the presidency, and then plunge America into the same sort of racist, sexist, homophobic, pillage-the-environment era we suffered under Ronald Reagan.

And this would be too bad.

But then, we'd always have Chico. Wouldn't we?

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