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12:19 AM, Sep 1, 2006 toot this
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Day Four: Chico
This morning, we got up, cleaned up, repacked everything, and headed out the door toward Chico's Enloe Medical Center. On the way we passed through Chico's bustling central business district, and through some beautiful residential neighborhoods, silly with hundred-year-old Frank Lloyd Wright-facsimile homes and mature sycamore, eucalyptus, palm, maple, and redwood trees, all nestled around Bidwell Park, a park of massive dimensions, surpassed in size only by New York's Central Park.

Hyperbole seems to be a common affliction in marketing your city to outsiders, regardless of where you are. Our cab driver the night before, on teh way from the train station to the hotel described it as "the largest national park in the world," with an area of 356,000 acres. I doubted this, as that's an area roughly equivalent in size to the state of Connecticut, or 556 square miles. Also, it's a city park, not a national park.

In any case, the park was lovely; alive with trees, lawns, and museum-like attractions. Before turning in last night, we both emphatically agreed that I'd see a doctor today. We therefore walked the two miles or so to Enloe Medical Center, as the day's first official business. We sat in the Emergency Room's waiting room, waiting to be seen about my aching tailbone, which incidentally left blood stains on the hotel sheets, the previous night.

Eventually I was shown to another room, where I answered a lot of embarrassing but necessary questions. The doctor entered the room soon afterward, and proceeded to slide down my boxer shorts and examine my shame. Then, just as abruptly, he exited the room, with my exposed buttocks in plain view to everyone in the office area of the emergency room. He came back shortly after that, and announced that I have a pilonidal cyst. The good news was that it had already ruptured and had been steadily draining its contents into my underpants, rather than painfully swelling, and making me think that a small troll had settled in my upper ass.

The bad news is that it'll require surgery to remove it. Since surgery would require a relatively extended stay, and because surgery wasn't an urgent need, the doctor prescribed a couple of antibiotics and painkillers. For the whole day, we never saw a pharmacy, but that was okay, because the cyst itself was expertly bandaged up, and gave me no more real problems after that. Even the pain began to subside. So after we couldn't find a Walgreens or a Rite-Aid through an active search, we just gave up searching altogether, and got to the business of visiting the far city of Chico, population 71,000.

We took a Butte County Transit bus back to the downtown area, keen to fill our stomachs before whetting our whistles. We found what is perhaps the greatest sandwich shop in the California Republic, Mister Pickles. My sandwich, which bore the same name as the shop, consisted of chicken, pepper jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, garlic sauce, red onions, mayo, fresh avocado, and some sort of magic.

Quite satisfied from our delicious lunch, we went and got officially started with a walk around the campus of Chico State University, regarding with admiration the prevalence of bicycle use in Chico, especially by college students. I also couldn't help myself gawking at the unfairly beautiful women trotting around campus, and making a concerted effort not to stare, seeing as they were, on average, born in 1987.

After our walk around the gorgeous, park-like campus, we followed the advice of one of the counter girls at Mister Pickles, and went for a drink at Madison Bear Garden, affectionately known to locals as, "the bear." We found, upon entering The Bear, that Chico loves its native-son brewery.

The largest non-grey brewery in the Western United States, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, is located in Chico, and it shows in the draught selections at every bar around town. Some bars even had multiple taps for the brewery's Pale Ale. The brewery's presence had more than a little bit to do with our visit here, as the Pale Ale is Erp's "all-time favorite," beer.

We enjoyed some local beers at, "The Bear," and some repeats of the classic rock that had been playing at Mister Pickles before. To our amazement and intense delight, Sierra Nevada beers were all $1.99 a pour. The bartender told us that the also-delicious Butte Creek Brewery was within a reasonable walking distance, so we paid our tabs, and went on our way.

When we arrived at the indeed proximate brewery, we were disappointed to learn that it's just a plain old place of business. There was no pub, and no chance to get a tour. They were very friendly as they broke the news to us, but we were still to leave empty-handed the way we came.

After wandering around for a bit longer, Erp got the idea to visit the Yo-Yo Museum, conventiently located in downtown Chico, tucked into the back of a shop that specializes in insipid crap that most likely appeals to middle-aged, small-voiced, married women. Despite its unlikely setting, the yo-yo diplays were fascinating. The world's largest wooden yo-yo was on display there, and we liked this very much. Imagine a town so free of the cares of the outside the world that they can boast the largest unusable toy in the world.

As we ogled the cases full of novelty yo-yos and other yo-related paraphernalia, an employee approached us and started talking with us about yo-yos, and the annual championship that is held in Chico every October, all the while chucking a yo-yo around, doing tricks that would make a physics professor angry. He seemed a bit put off by the fact that we had no more than a passing interest in yo-yos, and that we were more interested in the novelty of a museum and hall of fame for yo-yos should exist at all.

Nonetheless, he was happy to give us directions to our next stop, and the main reason for our visit: Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. For this part, we needed to call a cab to cover the distance, as the self-guided tours would be over by 6pm, about an hour away. We walked over to the motel where we stayed the night before, and asked them to call us a cab. They did so cheerfully, while I helped myself to an orange juice.

About seventeen seconds after the call was made, however, the cab pulled up. Chico is not a large town, and it apparently doesn't take long to get a cab to a requested location. We climbed in, and emerged a short time later at the beautiful front entrance of the brewery. We went over to the self-guided tour area, and watched a couple of films about the brewery, the beer, and the equipment we were looking at, at conveniently explained intervals.

After wandering around the "please buy a shirt" area, we went over to the brewery's pub/restaurant area, and grabbed a couple of seats at a long, high-topped marble table outside. We enjoyed our second and third beers of the day at this point, for a total of $4.75 apiece, over a delicious dinner of steak and portobello mushrooms. Erp and I decided at this point that Chico must have the cheapest drinks of any pleasant place in California, and perhaps in the whole of the West Coast.

We called the same cab to take us back downtown, and on his recommendation, checked out a large college bar called LaSalle's. When we walked in, at about 9pm, Daft Punk was playing on the system, and besides the staff, there were about three people there. Here's I paid a whopping three dollars for a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, and two for a Sierra Nevada Summerfest. Steadily, however, the bar degenerated into a country bar, and began charging cover to new customers. The country music didn't let us, so we took our leave after I finished my second beer.

We had to find a place to pass the time before our train arrived at 2:30am. We found this in a small bar called Riley's, that was reminiscent of the Brooksider back in KC, except without a downstairs bootie-grabbing dancefloor. It was very much a college bar, but that didn't particularly bother Erp or me. We found a table, and discovered that there was a two-for-one special on everything. We discovered this only after we each seperately puchased beers and convened at the table with six Sierra Nevada beers for a total of $8.25. Beyond that, we each had two or three more before closing at about 1:30am.

With some extra time on our hands, I decided it was time to break the law. Chico is resplendent with available shady spots for hidden activities. I availed myself of one of these, and emptied my bladder in a long satisfying manner. After that, we spotted another bar that appeared to still be unapologetically open. We walked in, and nobody waved us off, so I approached the bar. There was a three-inch layer of sawdust on every bit of the floor, which lent the place the odor of a woodshop. We were sorry we hadn't come earlier. I caught the bartender's eye, and he informed me that since it was so late, all they were serving was shots, in attempt to clear the place out.

We walked the remaining hundred yards to the train station, and drunkenly goofed off until the train eventually made its appearance, and we took our premium sleeper compartment spot. Sleep came almost immediately.

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