05 January 2016

Freshman Year When I Lived and Learned

I went off to college at Chico State in the late Summer of 1971. The university is located in the bucolic town of Chico. This small city (about 40,000 at the time) is nestled in the top of the Sacramento Valley. It was a far cry from my hometown of Berkeley, especially the Berkeley of the late 1960s that I grew up in.

In Berkeley I felt like I was living in the center of the universe and that people from anywhere else in the world must be hopelessly backwards. I was, in other words, a 17 year old snob when I came to this hick town (albeit a town I was to fall in love with and call home for most of the next ten years). I’d chosen Chico State because at the time it had one of the four top soccer programs in California. The others on that list were UCLA, USF and San Jose State. I was not interested in going to LA or staying in the Bay Area, so Chico won by default.

There was but little question in my mind that I would take the little berg by storm. I was a soccer superstar (especially by my own estimation) a ladykiller and — again because of where I came from — a sophisticate. My ego was boundless.

My first day in Chico the temperature soared to 107 degrees. Mind you Berkeley never saw heat to match it. There were only occasional instances of the thermometer passing 85. I was young and would get used to the heat. I was in town a few weeks before school started to try out for the soccer team which I had no trouble making. This meant two a day practices and mountain camp and running wind sprints after scrimmaging in the brutal heat. I was soon in excellent physical condition. Though  I made the team, my cockiness made me few friends among teammates and none among the coaches. Somehow I had forgotten the concept of team play and reckoned that as I was me I deserved special treatment. Live and learn.

Finally the dorms opened and I moved in. I shared a room with three other freshmen. One was from LA, another from conservative Orange County and the last from a small valley town. Their last names were Lee, Erickson, and Peterson. Pretty dull stuff and with the exception of the chap from the big city they were pretty dull lads. Those same two dullards were also bigots. Naive me had grown up thinking that all racists lived in the South, at least among young people. Yes there were some bigots among my father’s work friends and our relatives but they were all “old” people. I was shocked to find modern day people my own age hailing from California who harbored prejudices against African Americans. I gamely tried to get along with them but had little in common with either and within a few months we weren’t on speaking terms. I finally got a new room assignment.

My first few months of college were comprised of soccer practice, classes and a hint of studying. I’d gotten by in high school with the barest amount of schoolwork done outside of class so reckoned I could continue skating by. Live and learn. I got to know some people in the dorms and soon had friends. When soccer season ended, my routine radically changed. It was now classes, drinking and parties, with the latter two usually in combination. There was also marijuana and of course girls. I had fun. A lot of fun.

Somehow I managed to pass some classes and headed into my second semester. I continued to pay little attention to my classes and a lot of attention to girls and getting high. I stumbled through off season soccer practices, often too hungover to play very well. The soccer team made a trip to Hawaii for a tournament.  A few days before we arrived the drinking age in the 50th state was lowered to 18, an age I had only just reached. For the first time in our lives many of us were able to drink legally. We took full advantage. Meanwhile on the field we were heavy favorites but struggled to win matches. At one point during the tournament our coach assembled the team and gave us a lecture about drinking to access. He said: "if you can't enjoy Hawaii without getting drunk you're alcoholic." We later repeated the line while laughing over drinks.

Of course I met a girl, a tourist, with whom I had a fling until her boyfriend joined her on the vacation.  C'set la vie. One night I decided to give tequila a try. The consequence was that I woke up next morning on the floor with a lamp as my pillow. I'd stolen a sign from in front of sandwich shop. You'd think I'd have learned from this experience but I had many more such nights to come in the next dozen years. Live and learn...if slowly.

My freshman year was highlighted by Pioneer Week. This was an annual Chico tradition that was capped off by a big parade. It actually spread out over two weeks and amounted to an extended debauch. People came literally from all over the country. The city was overrun with young drunk people walking the streets at all hours (fast food restaurants stayed open 24 hours to take advantage). There were parties from sunup to sundown to supplement the many during the night. Not surprisingly with so many people invading the town and so much drugs and alcohol being consumed there was bound to be trouble. Two years later that happened as a woman was raped and murdered. Over time Pioneer Week was scaled further and further back until eventually it became a very tame Pioneer Day which was literally one day long. By this time its probably down to Pioneer Nano Second.

The most prominent type of festivity, not only during Pioneer Week but throughout the school year, was the kegger. This could be held in a house or in a large field. Fraternity houses were a common site for keggers. Usually most of the carousing took place outdoors. As a result they were easy to "crash" therefore one could drink copiously for free. Even if there as an honest invitee one was usually expected to chip in no more than a dollar or two. As you might imagine a kegger consisted of a keg of beer or in some cases two, three or more. (It has been joked that Chico State grads get hired for jobs because someone will be needed at company picnics to tap the keg.) I was unabashed in my love of keggers. It was a great opportunity to indulge in my two favorite activities: drinking and chasing women. The latter was made easier, of course, by the flow of beer. Also there was often a fair amount of marijuana to be smoked and bottles of hard liquor circulating. One might even find cocaine in use.

I ended my freshman having passed a few classes and not having taken my studies seriously at all. My skills as a soccer player had not improved as they should have. Life was one big party to me. I was young, healthy, happy, handsome and had developed a great fondness for liquor. I went home for the summer -- the last time I would ever do so -- and played a lot of soccer and drank a lot of booze. Freshman year was over.

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