One of Chico’s most ardent admirers passed away after a six month battle against pancreatic cancer.
STEVE BROWN IN COLUSA
Steve Brown was an Enterprise-Record copywriter who authored the weekly print column, “But this is Chico”, that eventually gave way to his Norcalblog entitled “But this is Chico, too“.
Steve and his family moved from Lompoc, where he worked for an E-R sister paper, to Chico, which is when Steve’s love affair with our city began. For a brief period he left the copy desk to be a writer for the Style section of the paper.
Though short-lived, this was the work he enjoyed most at the E-R, because it brought him into the community and let him write about what interested him most: Chico and Chicoans. Unfortunately, the paper reduced staffing in the Style section and Steve went back to the copy editing desk.
In addition to his work at the newspaper, he served as a volunteer with the Bidwell Mansion Association and with the Chico Heritage Society. Steve had a thorough knowledge about architecture which he shared now and then with walking tours in and around downtown Chico.
I’m not sure of the exact year – maybe it was around 2001 – but I believe I first met Steve at a talk at Bidwell Mansion. Steve may actually have been presenting the talk – my recollection is hazy – but I introduced myself and we began a many years long practice of getting together roughly every 2 to 4 months.
We began with a campaign to try all of the coffee joints in Chico of which we both had our favorites. We alternated back and forth from his pick to my pick until we figured we had explored all of those we had any interest in seeing. Steve strongly favored the local coffee joints over the chains, so I doubt we ever went to any of the local branches of Starbucks.
Coffee houses checked off of our list, we moved on to day trips outside of Chico. Most of the places we visited were small Sacramento Valley towns. Among these were Oroville, Orland, Willows, Colusa, Red Bluff and lastly Corning. We also went up into the mountains once for a trip to Quincy. After each visit, Steve wrote a blog post about his findings.
Whether from previous knowledge or research after the fact, Steve always added extra layers to these posts with background information about a city’s past and present.
Steve was fond of the past, but I wouldn’t say overly sentimental. He understood that the demands of successive eras could drive moves to alter or remove older structures. Nonetheless he had a strong desire to see the best of the past protected and, when possible, restored.
Our longest reach was a one day trip to Alameda last summer.
Readers of my blog know that one of my favorite places in the Bay Area is the East Bay island city of Alameda. I’d sung its praises long enough to Steve that he was curious, plus we’d come close to exhausting the inventory of small towns close to Chico.
So off we went to Alameda one fine day last July: I driving and playing tour gude, Steve taking it all in. Happily enough, Steve shared my enthusiasm for Alameda and wrote an laudatory post about the city. It was a fun trip.
STEVE BROWN IN ALAMEDA
Our last out-of-town excursion was to nearby Corning last fall. As was our custom, we wandered around the old downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, followed with lunch out at the casino. Steve tasted forbidden fruit in the form of gambling away a few quarters in a slot machine, theretofore an experience Steve was not sure he’d ever had. I don’t think he walked away a problem gambler.
Not long before his Corning post, Steve wrote a somber, beautifully written post about the death of his mother when he was a child, and musing about his own departure. At this point Steve had no idea that his own demise was less than 7 months away. In fact, he had lost weight and taken up running again.
But fate had other plans. He received his diagnosis in November and died just six months later on 11 May. During this period out-of-town outings weren’t possible, but we got together for lunch in Chico several times, the last time being two weeks before he died. He retained his interest in things Chico to the end
With Steve Brown’s passing Chico lost one of its best chroniclers. If you want to learn about Chico’s distinct neighborhoods you could do no better than to read the series he wrote about Chico’s growth. Because Steve was not raised in Chico, he could appreciate features that sometimes natives take for granted.
But unlike some transplants, he was not blindly in love with the place. He could dish out criticism when he felt it was warranted, in particular with regard to the drunken antics of some of the college crowd. But the occasional fish-eyed look he gave only made his affection for Chico all the more genuine.
Steve, I’m sorry you had to leave us. It was far too soon. I hope you’re enjoying the life of the flaneur wherever you are now. I suspect few in Chico – and certainly not I – knew what the word meant until you brought it up to describe yourself: a sentient ambler through urban space. Happy ambling forever and ever.