Near closing time in the men’s Clothing Clearance Corner on the first floor of Penney’s at the Chico Mall, a young girl is replacing the piles of tossed clothing left by the numbed shoppers from Paradise frantic for cheap basic clothing. Some of them are camped in tents somewhere close by the mall; for how long nobody knows. But this young, quietly lovely girl is putting the Clothing Clearance Corner back in apple pie order as the store’s dismal day closes. I take my few finds from the Clothing Clearance Corner and, leaving, say, “That seems like a thankless task.”
“Not at all,” she replies. “Not at all.”
“Really? Why the hell not?”
“Hey, I do this job every day in this store. It’s my assigned task and usually its okay but I only do it for the money because it gets really monotonous, meaningless.”
She’s a student, I perceive.
“But today those people really needed these clothes in this corner because of the price. And tomorrow more people like that will really need them too. And so I want to make this the best I can for them. So I’m going to put it all back on hangers and arrange them by size. It will be right by the morning. You better go. We’re closing. Thank you for coming in.”
Just a young girl working late in the Clothing Clearance Corner. Doing one of those little jobs; one of those jobs that actually make the world turn. She was leaving it all on the field.
At the ends of the neighborhood streets, I see people setting up tables and I see the people of the neighborhoods coming out onto the main streets and putting out whatever they have to give there for the taking if needed. They are literally leaving it all on the field.
At the Elks Lodge after I picked up some bedding and a few new pillows and looked out over acres of goods being laid out for the taking, from flats of pet food to cribs and playpens (someplace safe to rest your baby that is not on your hip). As I was leaving to see the East Avenue Church scene an Elk (My late father was a member of this lodge up until his death in 1972); a brother, I say, of my father waves me over and opens the back seat of my car and puts in two cases of one liter bottles of San Pellegrino . The Elks are leaving it all on the field.
In the 24-Hour Walgreens Pharmacy on East Avenue, the pharmacists have been working overlapping shifts since the fire swept over Paradise last Thursday. These people and their back up staff work seemingly rock solid for hours on end. They fill and file and dispense medications which people from Paradise do not have with them. This is a demanding and thankless and exhausting task. And yet — I am the witness — they have been doing this without letup. Many have come in from surrounding towns, from Redding, to help and to keep the medications needed by a town of 30,000 displaced into a city of 80,000. Yes, the Walgreens pharmacists are leaving it all on the field.
Today, after the banking holiday of Monday, there was what can only be described as a run on the banks. Not a hostile or panicked run on the banks but just an overwhelming number of people needing to get their money straight in one way or another… such as “My ATM Card and My ID were melted in my wallet when my pants burst into flame.” Please understand that today in Chico that is a reasonable statement. And the bankers all showed up looking cool and formal and professional and competent and moved the vast lines of people through with all hands on deck and cleared up a myriad of money crises. One banker I spoke with came up from Santa Rosa on his day off to help the team. He was a sharp dressed man. He and the other bankers were leaving it all on the field.
They all were leaving it all on the field everywhere in Chico. From Penny’s in the Mall to the Birkenstocks Store downtown on Broadway. In big jobs, and in small jobs, there was a long train of people working at the top of their game no matter what their game was. It has been days of this now in Chico; days of there being no big jobs or small jobs but only the unremitting effort the people to help their fellow citizens no matter what.
And since none of the Acronym Agencies have really shown up yet, this has all been done without any real government organization. Instead, it has been like watching a spontaneous Humanitarian Olympics rise up out of the town itself; and once started it has become as self-organizing and self-sustaining as the fire itself. Today as I moved around Chico I saw a town, untouched itself by the flames, rise up to restore and rebuild the lives of their fellow citizens of Paradise; lives that the fire had stolen. And by the end of the day, you could feel, palpably feel, that Chico knew it would win. Chico was leaving it all on the field.
Tomorrow? Chico will do the same.