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A blindfolded man held his hands over a row of four steak knives. Three were point-down and one stood point-up. A tense crowd in the Chico City Plaza watched. The knives were covered, and, like the blindfolded man, the crowd didn’t know which one was standing on its handle.
Or at least, it seemed like the blindfolded man couldn’t know. He hadn’t seen the knives shuffled.
The crowd gasped as he slammed his hand onto one of the paper cones, letting out a grunt of force.
My fiancé, Richard, and I had not expected to see such a display when we came to the Thursday night farmers’ market in Chico.
We had arrived at one end of the market, near the new Crush 201 restaurant, and taken the time to walk past every booth and vendor. The streets were lined with people selling a variety of items, such as locally grown strawberries, lettuce, olive oil, almonds, honey, flowers, jewelry and wild tie-dye T-shirts.
At the end of one street, small children jumped excitedly inside a huge red and blue blow-up castle while others slid down a gigantic blow-up slide.
Men and women bought cherries, fresh spinach or Heung peppers at booths manned by cheerful farmers. Some men bought bouquets of colorful flowers for their smiling wives.
Young women sampled lotions and admired amber jewelry as they chatted.
Groups of teenagers meandered through the crowd searching for the familiar faces of school friends. Some carried bags of popcorn the size of small pillows.
The farmers’ market creates an atmosphere where age barriers disintegrate and everyone feels welcome.
Local musicians, sprinkled throughout the market, played jazz, rock or bluegrass. Some people even danced.
A clown, complete with face paint and a rubber nose, twisted balloons into animal shapes for children.
The scent of barbecued meats wafted through the air. People lined up for sandwiches, snow cones and hot dogs. There was even a woman selling homemade pies.
Richard and I passed the fresh produce and made our way to the newly remodeled City Plaza. I was curious to see how market-goers were adapting to the sea of cement and the fountain, which had replaced the grass, trees and gazebo.
Spouts of water shot out of the holes in the ground at the center of the Plaza and rained down on anyone standing below. Laughing children ran barefoot across the cement as the fountain doused their clothes. Parents took pictures or held toddlers’ hands near the edge of the water.
Opposite the fountain stood the blindfolded man and his knives. The crowd had gathered to see him perform. He’s a magician, and my fiancé’s brother, Wayne Houchin. We didn’t know he was performing that night, but weren’t surprised to find him doing dangerous tricks for a cheering audience. He slammed his hand down on three knives, leaving only the one with the point-side up standing. Most of the audience was impressed, although some of the children seemed to care more about the nearby fountain.
The Chico farmers’ market is full of surprises and entertainment, whatever your tastes. That’s one of the things that I love about it.
More information: Downtown Chico’s Thursday Night Market: 6-9 p.m. weekly, April 3 – Sept. 25, 2008, on Broadway from W. Second to W. Fifth streets. Source: Downtown Chico Business Association http://www.downtownchico.net/events/dcbaevents/tnm
Lauren Brooks lives in Chico. She is the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record’s weekly entertainment guide, The Buzz. She is a CSU, Chico alumna who graduated with a B.A. in journalism in spring 2006. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.