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  • Making my way down the Sacramento Valley in August reminded me of one big thing, damn it gets hot here in the summer. As I flew down the 5 with the air conditioning on, a truck stop sign posted 105. I remembered the summers in Chico. The dry, breezeless, stultifying heat that settles over the city and the valley, draining your energy as it cracks your skin. Not that different from the desert where I grew up.

    I pulled into Chico and got out of the car, and the heat at first felt nice on my skin, the first brace out of the cold air conditioning I’ve always liked. But as I got in and out of the car and then walked around downtown the heat got to me. Soon I found myself inside Duffy’s, the bar where I lived many years ago. The air conditioning and the drinks went a long way in taking the heat out of the day, but I knew that there was only one way to really take off the heat in Chico, the One-Mile Pool.

    The city of Chico was founded by a couple of landed gentry called the Bidwells, and they not only donated land for the college that was built there but also 2500 acres that followed Big Chico Creek from the town center up into the Sierra foothills, now the third largest city park in the US. One mile up, in the 1920s they put a dam on the creek and built a huge pool. They built the dam high enough to create the pool, but just low enough that the creek still flows. In the summer the cool water from the Sierras is the best way to beat the heat.

    With the pleasant calm that whiskey brings on hot summer days, I went to the pool, populated with locals laughing, playing, picnicking, getting wet. I took of my shirt and sandals and jumped in. The mountain water started to eat away at the sweat and dirt of summer. I scrubbed my body with my hands, trying to get rid of the heat buried in my pores. I wanted nothing more than to take off my shorts and swim naked, like I had so many times before in the middle of the night.

    The green slimy moss that covered the nearly hundred year old concrete floor of the pool felt Victorian, like the pepper trees and oaks that covered the park grounds. I swam as close to the damn as was safe, and let the water flow over me. There were the young teens, boys and girls, flirting with each other in and out of the water, and yes, I did have some dirty old man thoughts, or should I say an “if I knew then what I know now” moment. I didn't have much luck with the girls when I was their age. There was a fat old man covered in gray hair, who just floated around, drifting down the creek and then swimming back up. There was a family of, well, tattooed skinheads. Even the kids looked like they had just got out of prison. Chico, like a good college town, is in the middle of a very rural area, so these were probably not students at the university.

    I laid in the shade under an oak and dried off, then got in my car and headed back on the road, thinking to myself that, sometimes, life can be good.
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