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The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico State's independent student newspaper

The Orion

Chico isn’t all that weird

Kevin Crittenden


“Let’s get weird!” is a mantra used for a wide range of purposes, from booze-drenched revelry to neon hula hooping.

In Chico, this slogan has given way to a new one — “Keep Chico Weird.”

But can Chico really be appropriately described as weird?

Don’t get me wrong — by North Valley standards this town is as weird as San Francisco is to Cleveland.

But if a place can be described as authentically weird, it’s because a significant portion of the people there do things differently than the rest of the nation.

In this light, Chico is boringly normal, while still being a fun-house for college tourists who will settle elsewhere.

Drunkenness doesn’t necessarily equal weirdness. College kids, stoners, middle-aged burnouts and homeless youth aren’t particularly weird — they’re pretty common all over the West Coast.

So how and where did this concept of keeping a city weird start?

Austin, Texas was the first town to embrace the slogan, “Keep Austin Weird” in 2000 in an attempt to support small businesses in the downtown area.

It began as a business-oriented catchphrase with a specific goal and it got picked up in other cities around the nation.

Portland, Ore. followed, borrowing the slogan to promote small businesses in the face of corporate encroachment.

And now, Chico has made a modest stride into the arena of the intentionally unsettling with its “Keep Chico Weird” talent show and bumper stickers.

I can’t speak to the pedigree of weirdness in Austin, but after a year of living in Portland, I feel it deserves the title.

Not every town embraces things like a half-naked dude wearing a pig nose and a tutu riding a unicycle down the boulevard. That kind of behavior can get somebody arrested in some places.

Illustration by Liz Coffee.
Illustration by Liz Coffee.

The maple bacon doughnut is a product of Portland’s Voodoo Doughnut shop, which also hosts marriages.

A vandal in downtown Portland recently switched the “ST” in stop signs with the letters “PO,” turning the traffic command into something much different.

Portland’s weirdness has saturated almost every layer of culture, from the restaurant business to theater and crime.

Until Chico has people dressing up like it’s Halloween every day of the year, a doughnut shop where people can get married and good-hearted vandalism like the “POOP” signs in Portland, there is no need to worry about keeping Chico weird.

This town does have a pizza place that hosts death metal shows.

Chico also has at least one “campus” bar with all sorts of kitschy treasure. Taxidermic animals, doll shoes and disarmed bombs are stuck to the ceilings and painted on the walls.

But these things are hardly enough to create a vein of culture that embraces the unapologetically weird.

I’m interested to see if this movement goes anywhere.

Chico has the potential to bring more of its unique nature to the surface through the arts, and college is a fine time to experiment with identity.

Most students settle for the comfortable predictability of binge drinking as if it makes the bizarre possible and acceptable, but the secret joy of weird is that it doesn’t require alcohol at all.

Kevin Crittenden can be reached at [email protected] or or @kevlodius.

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