Resurrecting Super Smash Bros. 64

Across the state of Oregon, groups are making their way to Salem on a rainy morning. Some are from universities and greater metropolitan areas around the state. One group even makes the four hour drive with five people in a sedan, loaded down with energy drinks and controllers. Through Facebook these individuals have connected and planned to meet at a regular looking house in a neighborhood of the state’s capitol.

In a garage lined with six televisions paired with six Nintendo 64s, they follow specific rules in a double elimination tournament to determine who is the best Super Smash Bros. player in the state. This is the Oregon Smash Community, a small, but dedicated group in the network around the country that still plays the oldest game of the Smash series competitively.

With billions of consumer dollars pouring in annually, the video game industry has evolved to a world of voice activated consoles, professional players treated as celebrities and graphics cards that blur the line between the virtual world and reality. So why would this clunky fighting game from the late 90’s still be played across North America? Why is the average game cartridge sold for upwards of $50 on eBay? And why haven’t players, who have spent hours learning combos and game mechanics, moved on to more popular games like League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Overwatch?

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Kevin Poteracke

Super Smash Bros. is a platform fighting game released in 1999 for Nintendo 64. Drawing stages, items and music from different popular Nintendo games, the character selection is also comprised of company’s all stars. Some of these most notable franchise faces include Mario, Pikachu and Link.

Smash 64, like other fighting games, allows players to choose their character and a map before beginning the round. After that, the object of the game is fairly simply. Using combos on the classic trident shape controller, the goal is to hit your opponents and raise their damage percentage. The higher the percent a player has, the farther they fly when they get hit, ultimately resulting in them flying off the map and losing life stocks.

Simple, familiar and user friendly. The popularity of the classic N64 game greenlighted follow-up sequels including Melee (2001 Gamecube), Brawl (2008 Wii) and Smash 4 (2014 Wii U). Melee has enjoyed the most popularity in competitive play and some prize purses have grown over $30,000 at major tournaments.

Smash 64 has been included at these tournaments, but the entrant numbers are staggeringly lower than its Gamecube successor. Genesis 3, a large gathering for players held earlier this year in San Jose, saw 1,828 entrants for Melee but only 238 for 64. Pure 64 players are rare, but the few scattered around the country hold onto the original game and are determined to grow its competitive scene in America.

For many young adults, the N64 is more than plastic and wires. It’s a connection to a colorful childhood. There were almost 300 N64 games released in North America through the end of the nostalgic 90’s to 2002. Young adults in their 20’s remember Saturday morning cartoons that were interwoven with commercials for the latest games, and how troubleshooting the device was as simple as removing the controller plug or game cartridge and blowing on it — a myth that was later debunked but still seemed to do the trick at the time.


“I think there are untold masses of people who would play this game once it hits prominence.”

Having played the game within the week it was released, Chris Studstill will tell you that his total logged time of Smash 64 is around 18,000 hours. Studstill has picked up and put down the game a few times in his life, but last year, it ultimately influenced him to relocate to Baltimore, where there is one of the most competitive Smash 64 scenes in America.

The 31-year-old says that his average day involves waking up, making calls about Smash 64, smoking a cigarette, going to work as a cook and spending the rest of his time thinking about the game. He is a purist in the sense of Smash 64 players, and doesn’t believe that the rest of the series compares to the original. Even after camping out in front of a GameStop for the release of Melee in 2001, he would call the it,”the most disappointing failure of a game in my life.”

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Genesis 3 by Preston Kwan

Computer emulators allow players to connect online and play each other. However, due to the lag and unnaturalness of these substitutes, preferred play is still in-person. Studstill’s move to Baltimore was also to be closer to a business partner whom he’d met online. One who is equally as passionate about Smash 64 and has a knack for organizing brackets and events which solves the problem of physical distance.  

David Shears was trained in Smash 64. through countless hours of playing with his brother and friends. In later years, Shears emerged as the unofficial top player around the Virginia Tech campus. He says during the dorm days he would play against neighbors or if he stumbled into a party where there was a console, he would challenge whoever would pick up a controller.

After graduation, he moved to Baltimore to work as a software engineer. In a new city, but eager to continue finding competition, Shears posted Craigslist ads that offered strangers $20 if they came to his house and beat him in Smash.

“A lot of people thought I was a Craigslist maniac and wanted to meet them at Starbucks before, so I did that.” About 20 people took him up on the ads and but none were able to win the prize money. However, word got out about locals playing 64 and Shears had unintentionally begun, what he calls, the first Smash scene.

“When there’s a big tournament, I’m usually there running it.”

He grew from hosting Craigslist matches to organizing some of the weeklies for Nintendo 64. As Smash 64 began to grow as a side event at Melee tournaments, officials looked to Shears to organize brackets because he had the most experience in putting them together. Even today, at any major tournaments you can expect to see Shears running back and forth across the floor.

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Japanese version of Smash 64 by Eric Ghelfi

A degree in numbers and programming has been beneficial in Shears’s side career in Smash. He has tracked the number of entrants at tournaments. He has also written in-depth about the sustainability of 64 and the place it has in competitive Smash. “…64 was a novelty for nostalgia. But with the growth it created itself in 2015, it caught some attention to become a hallmark of all of Smash.”

Studstill and Shears’s stories about first playing Smash resonate with many other players who are flooded with feels when they pick up the trident shaped controller. However, not everyone played the games according to the chronological order that they were released.

“The moment I played a couple sessions of my first games ever, I was like ‘this is the most fun thing I’ve ever done.”

Justin Hallett is a soft spoken 18-year-old with long dark hair. He’s known on the internet as Wizzrobe (Wizzy) and says that he will cut his locks when someone donates him a couple million dollars. Like many other kids his age, he spends a large portion of every day playing video games. Except that most other teenagers haven’t been able to turn their pastime of gaming into their job. Wizzy signed a deal with Cognitive Gaming two years ago, making him a professional gamer before he had graduated high school. Now he has over 11,000 followers on the popular streaming website: Twitch. Whether he’s training for Smash or just playing a round of Mario Party with his friends, people go to his channel to watch and chime in the chatroom.

One of the first games that Wizzy remembers ever playing is Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). An interesting experience, considering that NES came out 13 years before Wizzy was born.

Aside from being one of the youngest top tier players, Wizzy is also known as one of the few professionals who can compete as a threat across different Smash games. It’s not uncommon to see his name atop various leaderboards at big tournaments.

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Wizzrobe at Genesis 3 picture by Preston Kwan

Wizzy’s pro deal covers most of his travel expenses including flights and accommodations but it doesn’t mean he’s completely used to the attention that he gets from his gaming skills. “There were so many fans,” he said talking about Super Smash Con last year, “at least 100 kids that came up to me! That’s not counting the more famous people.”  For Nintendo enthusiasts, Super Smash Con is a place to see some of the best players compete and how the communities surrounding the games have evolved, as it is one of the few tournaments where all four official Smash games are played.

Some Smash players dislike the other games in the series that aren’t their main discipline. Studstill would go as far as to say, “I don’t acknowledge the concept of all Smash games. That’s like saying that all the ‘Die Hard’ movies are the same. I guess it’s fine…When you’re at dinner conversation with idiots.”

Wizzrobe’s outlook on the series, as a whole, is more positive. Perhaps, his versatility and appreciation of the entire Smash series comes from playing the games out of chronological order and therefore never building a “classic nostalgia.”

Regardless of opinions for one game or another, all three of the players are gearing up for Super Smash Con 2016. They will be among the throngs of the Nintendo enthusiasts who on August 11th, will flock to Virginia, for the action packed weekend.  Last year, the total attendance was over 1,000 with 154 entrants in the Smash 64 bracket. Canadian player SuPeRbOoMfAn walked away with the prize of $2354 and Wizzrobe finished 4th in the event.

With the sample numbers from Shears’s tournaments, he and Studstill remain positive that Smash 64 can continue to grow at these events. The prominence of young players like Wizzrobe competing in 64 could prove as evidence to Shears’s growing numbers theory. But if analytics don’t sway the average gamer to pick up an N64 controller, maybe Studstill’s testament to the game can, “I played it everyday for ten years,” he said, “some people just don’t play it for the right reasons.”

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The Gentleman of the Ridge

If you were to ask “The Gentleman” where he feels happiest, you might expect him to answer standing over his opponent with a referee holding his arm up. Or perhaps, if you knew his personal film preference, you’d think him to say on the couch watching a Disney movie. A good guess, considering that’s where he can be found most nights until the early morning hours.  But the real peace of mind Jason Powell the second hopes to find, once he hangs up his gloves, is somewhere far up along the Oregon coast with his mother and two sisters.

They say that when you step into the ring you forget about everything.  In the blink of an eye your shot can be gone. Fighters dedicate the months before the bell rings to thinking about those few moments of battle, training their instincts to take over and allow them to leave the octagon victorious.  

Four years ago, Powell stepped into his first ring at the Butte County fairgrounds arena in Gridley, California.  The short-ceilinged structure, most often utilized for 4H competitions has openings along the backside instead of windows, providing patrons in the upper bleachers space to lean out and drag a cigarette without losing their seat.

Powell entered this building accompanied by his teammates and coach to his walkout song, “A Country Boy Can Survive.”

Hank Williams Jr. echoed through the small stadium with the scent of spilled light beer mixed with sweat from the other fights that lead up to Powell’s debut.

Screenshot_2016-03-07-12-11-28-1.pngWhile the spectators stood up from their collapsable folding chairs and bleachers to greet him, an official checked his gloves and hair which had been dyed for the occasion, one side black, the other blonde. The multi-colored amateur would be locked in the cage with Deniko Sisk for only one round.  Seconds after touching gloves, Jason threw a roundhouse kick towards Sisk’s head. It missed, but he quickly followed up to put Sisk on the ground and made it a grappling match before the crowd had settled back into their seats. Tangled, the contestants would rise only once more before the fight ended.  A quick succession of punches landed on Sisk’s face before the referee called the match and pulled Powell off of his opponent.

The moments after the fight felt surreal as it was also his first milestone on the path towards his longtime dream, holding a Ultimate Fighting Championship title.

After one of his amateur fights a friend was joking about how kind he was to his opponents after beating them senselessly and gave him his nickname.  The Gentleman is the anomaly in a sport that thrives on masochism.  Even with Conor McGregor, an Irish hothead, being his favorite fighter, Powell doesn’t taunt his opponents and always gives them respect. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable in my own skin talking shit,” he says, “I love McGregor and his style, but that’s just not me.”

Returning to The Ridge, the small hill community punctuated by the Feather River and Butte Creek was ideal, Powell says. Today, he splits the days of the week between El Dorado Hills and his grandpa’s house in Paradise. The commute to Urban Sprawl Fitness outside of Sacramento is a small price to pay, in order to stay with his family member and in the town which supports his career. However, the Gentleman’s story has had its share of turns to bring him to where he is today. It’s not been without a few stumbles that Jason Powell now stands tall.

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Powell’s first love was football.  For over a decade he played the sport between snaps and also excelled at wrestling.   The interest in mixed martial arts started after he’d been into other sports but quickly turned to his obsession at the end of junior high.  Reflecting on the exact moment his young mind separated WWE from professional fighting, Powell says, “I watched one Frank Shamrock video and that was it.”  The day after he turned 16, Powell would go to the local gym where he began training for the cage. Sometimes these sessions even came after a long day of classes and football practice.

Jason was born in Paradise but grew up about 50 miles away in Willows, a town even smaller in population.  It wouldn’t be until his senior year of high school that he would transfer back to finish out his football and wrestling careers as a Bobcat.

“It gives me motivation to make the town proud.”

Fast forward to 2016 and you wouldn’t have thought that Powell was meant for anything other than the ring.  With a model-esque smile next to his family at Disneyland Jason might  garner a hundred likes on social media, and one might think of him as a pretty boy but at closer examination his body bears the undeniable marks of a fighter. Underneath a cap that has his fighting name in neat cursive, he sports a mullet so dirty Joe Dirt would shudder. Determining which fold is which in Jason’s ears is difficult, as they all seem to blend together from the unmeasurable amount of times they’ve been grabbed by opponents. On his bicep there’s a tattoo that reads “CMF,”  an acronym created by Paradise athletes in the early 2000’s whose double meaning of Crazy Mountain Folk, and Crazy Mother Fucker, has been tabooed by local school administration to this day.

In a small town serious about its competitive sports programs, the few athletes that reach a higher level of play can be idolized. As much became apparent when in 2011 Jeff Maehl began playing for the Oregon Ducks.  As the football team’s ranking rose and the skinny receiver pulled in more catches on national television, sweatshirts and basketball shorts displaying the yellow O became the most common articles of clothing worn at Paradise High school.

His quiet demeanor and soft spoken voice don’t stop Powell from making a point to respond to all the comments and tweets that he gets. “This town support is insane. Like, my picture is up at the Fastrip where I go to get gas,” he laughs. As a small town celebrity, living and training in Butte County he carries no resentment towards some that might not have had anything to do with him if he wasn’t fighting. “I love every bit of support I get, whether they make us seem like we are closer than we were before, in high school or whatever,” he says, “If you support me and cheer me on, I won’t turn my back on you.”IMG_20160306_211148

Jason is arguably the most loved athlete from Paradise to not play football. He is one of the few fighters that can personally sell out 100 tickets to a fight.  Almost any picture of him in the ring receives hundreds of likes and after any given fight his phone is constantly blowing up with congratulations.

While the support and belts that Powell has rightfully earned are glamorous and enjoyed, it’s been not without sacrifice that he’s gained this recognition.  Once a date is set for Jason to fight, he begins the long training process of a fight camp.  This consists of splitting his time to train at Freestyle Fitness and Americana Brazilian Jiu Jitsu in Chico as well as crashing in El Dorado Hills three days a week to train with MMAGOLD, a Sacramento based team now  boasting 60 fighters.

I don’t live a typical 22-year-old life.”

In the months out from a fight, Powell can weigh as much as 161 pounds but in order to fight in the featherweight class, he must be below 145 at weigh-ins. To achieve this, his training regimen and dietary habits have to be very carefully crafted and executed. Asleep at 2am awake at 10am. He eats only two turkey and cheddar wrap a day one at 2pm and the other at 10pm with only one Nature Valley Bar and a bag of almonds in between. In the early stages of a fight camp, Jason is also allowed one “cheat day” on which he says he can always be found at Mountain Mike’s eating a whole pepperoni, sausage and bacon pizza himself with a near gallon of Mt. Dew to wash it down.  When he is a few weeks out from his fight and trying to slim down, its 3 oz of ground turkey, 2 oz of cucumber and one packet of plain oatmeal with honey…five times a day.

In the summer of 2013, Jason and his cousin Brandon Waltz signed with MMAGOLD, which their friend Benito Lopez had joined only a few months earlier.  Now part of an official team with flashy gear and outside sponsors, the Butte County natives moved into an apartment in Fair Oaks to be closer to their gym and coach at the beginning of the new year.  All enjoying successful careers and being under the same roof, one would expect the young men to be having the time of their lives. Jason however felt quite the opposite.

“The beginning of 2014 is when my life went to shit.”

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Jason and Lopez

After spending his life in rural areas with wildlife and scenery, the shift to a more urban town made him depressed.

“I always get homesick and hated Sac,” he says.  To add to the discomfort in a strange land, Jason’s girlfriend of three years broke up with him the week after he’d moved into his apartment.  Also, his mother told him that she was moving from Willows to the Oregon coast.  Now instead of being an hour and a half away from his mother and two sisters, they were almost 8 hours apart. Suddenly, the support system that made Jason successful had crumbled and even with two of his closest friends nearby, he couldn’t have felt more alone.

While days spent in the apartment and gym passed unremarkably except for their isolation, the most important fight in Jason’s career was quickly approaching. His professional debut fighting on a Bellator ticket. The fighting league broadcasted nationally on Spike TV has had tickets featuring well known competitors like Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson.  It also was a perfect opportunity to show how far he had come since his first knockout at the Gridley fairgrounds.

Almost 100 of Jason’s friends and fans had purchased tickets to the event and made the trip to the Reno Events Center.  While in staging and warming up for his biggest fight yet, he later admitted to have been thinking about his ex and everything else except for the match.  Even when he entered the octagon and stared Sinjen “The Saint” Smith in the eyes, Jason’s thoughts were elsewhere.

His distractions became apparent, as only 1:52 into the fight, he was caught in an armbar and forced into submission.  A mistake that to this day, he shakes his head about.

The loss was the wake up call that Jason needed to break his haze of depression.

“My training was just going through the motions with a broken heart,” he says. Despite losing his first professional fight ever, the taste of fighting on a big ticket had proven to be what was necessary to build Powell back up. “ I felt like I had let my fans down, but I wasn’t intimidated at all by the level of competition,” he reflects remembering the bright lights and announcer calling his name, “The cameras in my face, I loved that.”  It was clear that even in the most depressed months of his life and dealing with the first loss of his career, Jason knew that the dream he’d chased since junior high was alive and needed to once again be the focus of his life.  

Though, he rebounded after his loss and won back to back fights in September and December, Powell didn’t fight a single match in 2015.  On one ticket his opponent backed out and failed physicals forced Powell to pull himself from a different bout only weeks later.

“There was blood in my piss,” Powell said, “ I had to drop the fight, but it went away shortly after a couple of months.”  While he was still receiving funds to train from sponsors, without ticket money, Jason told his coach that it wouldn’t be enough to support him and that he needed to find a job. Jason took the opportunity to be with the women he missed most, his mom and sisters, and moved to Lincoln City, Oregon. Screenshot_2016-03-07-12-12-30-1In the coastal town, dubbed “Kite City” for its strong winds, he continued to stay in shape while working at a North Face outlet store.  The Gentleman, who had spent his last few years supporting himself by beating opponents in the octagon, was finding brief contentment in selling jackets to tourists. “I’ve always loved Oregon,” Powell says, “The cold beaches up there are my favorite and one day when I’m done fighting, I’m going to live there again.”

Even though he was finally reunited with the most supportive women in his life and enjoying the simplicity of retail work, the cage in California once again called.  Powell says that moving to Lincoln City was the final piece of coming to terms with the darkness that had haunted him a year before.  “I saw my family was happy up there.  They had good jobs and were enjoying life.”  With saved up funds from working and his piss blood-free, Jason returned to the town on the ridge.

Since that night in Reno almost two years before, Jason’s career is back on a familiar track.  He now stands at a record of (8-1); (3-1) since becoming a professional.

Late this past January his most recent bout in Sacramento against Sergio Quinones proved sensational.  Quinones is an experienced fighter who has been in the cage since 2007, when Powell was still a freshman in high school. Fans of the Gentlemen flocked to the McClellan Conference Center wearing shirt tuxedo’s and MMAGOLD gear to support their local fighter.

Despite having been in more than three times as many fights as Jason, The Gentleman used his wrestling experience as well as combination strikes to hold his own.  The match was called in the second round after Powell shook Quinones with a straight left that put him on his knees. Following the blow, Jason mounted his opponent who was now bleeding from below his eye.  It was a short amount of time and flurry of punches before the referee called the match and Jason climbed the fence to acknowledge the crowd.  With Quinones blood smeared on the side of his head, he blew kisses to his fans, all traces of the depressed young man had disappeared and The Gentleman was back on top.

Today, he is in the middle of another fight camp, closing in on a bout against Bakersfield fighter, Ryan Reneau. Until May 7th, Powell’s training involves watching the clock for his next meal and traveling to Sacramento to workout, the only thing concerning to him is the next time he will enter the ring.  While the lifelong dream of becoming a UFC champion might be years off, Jason Powell is well on his way and continues to chase his goal with the ultimate patience and discipline of a true gentleman.

Paradise Man Shot in Controversial Incident Claims He Wasn’t Driving

Within view of a flower memorial that stands where a life was lost, over 100 community members lined the corner of Pearson and Black Olive Drive in Paradise, California Saturday afternoon. They were there to express anger against the ruling of Butte County District Attorney, Mike Ramsey, on a police shooting that occurred just before Thanksgiving this year.

On Thursday, Ramsey ruled that Paradise Police officer, Patrick Feaster, would not be criminally charged after “accidentally” shooting Andrew Thomas, 26, in the neck while trying to escape his overturned vehicle.

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Image courtesy of Lucid Aerials

Feaster began pursuit after Thomas and his estranged wife Darien Ehorn left a Paradise sports bar, the Canteena, just before midnight on Thanksgiving eve.  Radical driving and disregard for stoplights caused Feaster to suspect them of driving under the influence and approach the vehicle with his weapon drawn.

Footage from the dash-cam shows Feaster chasing the Toyota 4runner and follow the two until they hit a meridian and flipped. Ehorn, 23, was ejected from the vehicle and pronounced dead on the scene.  Her husband tried to climb out of the rolled truck window, before he was shot in the neck.

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While audio from the clip reveals that Feaster called in the crash, he makes no mention of shots fired.  Ramsey stated that the officer didn’t say anything about the shooting until 11 minutes after backup had arrived on the scene.

Through a Facebook event, friends of those involved as well as community members upset with the decision, organized to meet at the Paradise Community Park.   This location is not only across the street from where the accident occurred, but also within 100 feet of the Paradise Police Station.

Long time town resident and friend of Thomas, Joshua Turner, organized the event and said it was, “amazing and inspiring how many people came out to support.”

“Fire Feaster” and “Justice for Andrew,” were written on signs and chanted among the group that turned out to protest. They were supported by numerous honks from cars passing by before parading up Black Olive Drive to be directly in front of the police station.

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A sign placed on the front door of the police station. Image by Lucid Aerials.

Nathan Ramsay, not related to the DA, was one of the many personally affected by the incident and was present on Saturday afternoon. A friend of Thomas and Ehorn, Nathan was at the Canteena with the two before they left. He said that they had plans to come back to his house later that night.

He also went on to say that he had visited Andrew recently at Enloe Hospital.  His friend could be paralyzed for the rest of his life but remains in stable condition. “He swears he wasn’t the one driving,” Ramsay said, “People have their judgments against Andrew, but they are going off of what they are seeing online and not what they know.”

Thomas could face charges of drunken vehicular manslaughter depending on whether or not he was behind the wheel.

Currently, Officer Feaster is on administrative leave but an internal investigation is being conducted. Some residents of the town are calling for immediate removal of his badge.

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Protestors moving up Black Olive Drive

Once the video was released, along with Ramsey’s ruling, social media exploded with angry reactions from Paradise residents.  An online petition that was started on Friday, calls for the firing of Officer Feaster and has already received over 1600 signatures.

“I’ve lived on the Ridge for a long time, we don’t have a bad police force, but this is a bad cop,” says Deb, owner of Da Coffee Pot in Magalia.  While standing on the side of the busy road she held a sign questioning what would happen if a citizen had been the one to pull the trigger. “He didn’t even check on the girl in the video.  We can’t allow this behavior in our town or in this country.”

The internal investigation on the matter is expected to be resolved within a few weeks, but until then the community is demanding justice on the nationwide relevant subject of police accountability which has unfortunately, come to the small and quiet town of Paradise.

 

Teen’s Toyota Recovered

Toyotas account for a large make-up of the vehicles on The Ridge.  Specifically, earlier generation pick-ups which can be easily modified and lifted for off-roading can be found coming down from the hills and even on most drives through town.  Being that there are many around and handed down, 80’s toyotas are a popular first vehicle among teenagers in the area.

Bryson Palade returned to the upper parking lot of Paradise High School after going for lunch on Tuesday, September 8th.  After leaving the Taco Truck on Clark Road, the junior parked his truck in the upper lot near the school office. (rework*When Palade’s second half of classes had ended, he came back to the lot before football practice, but upon seeing the space his 1988 Toyota pickup had previously occupied, the truck was nowhere to be found).

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Bryson worked construction as well as at Savemart in order to earn money and modify the truck that he’d had since before he could legally drive.  He’d nicknamed the two seater “Phyllis” and put every penny earned from the multiple jobs into modifications that include engine repair as well as a new paint job that him and his father had completed in their backyard. To see all of the hard work and investment that were attached to the 27 year old vehicle disappear in a matter of hours was a hell of its own.

“At first I thought one of my friends had moved it,” said Bryson, “They were kind of laughing so I wasn’t too worried, but then they all started leaving and I realized it was actually gone.”

The reality of the situation shocked Bryson but he knew that he had to act quickly if he ever wanted to be reunited with his truck in one piece.  Since it’s more difficult to identify an axle than an entire body, thieves commonly chop down stolen vehicles and sell the parts individually, instead of flipping it entirely.

Fortunately, Paradise High School had recently updated their campus surveillance equipment and had the entire incident recorded.  The footage revealed two middle age caucasian men in a green Chevy Tahoe pulling into the space next to Bryson’s truck.

At 1:08 PM, the bell sent hundreds of students to their classroom and Bryson followed them as he always had, to his architectural design and engineering course.  Not ten minutes after he had left his vehicle the suspects arrived and wasted no time abducting Phyllis.

The scene unfolded, not unlike a crime film, on the screen before Bryson and office officials. It took just 28 seconds for the Tahoe pull into the lot and drop off one man who had no problem entering the locked vehicle and starting the engine. 28 seconds from the time the suspects showed up to when they left with the truck on Maxwell Drive.

As soon as Bryson saw the video he told all his family members and friends about the suspect’s description.  His mom posted a notice on Facebook of her son’s truck and asked for everyone to keep their eyes out.  The original post received hundreds of shares and different users chimed in about their support.  A few variations of the notice were also posted and one even told anyone who saw thFullSizeRender (2)e truck to give the thieves “Mountain justice before calling Paradise Police Department.”

Seeing everyone show their support made Bryson more optimistic, but the Palades didn’t just wait online for the thieves to show up.  Thinking that it might have been taken off road, Bryson and some his relatives in the town took to the hills to try and recover Phyllis themselves.  

With his father, Palade traversed down any dirt road they could think of in search of the truck. “We were going down all sorts of roads and trails looking for any parts or people that would have information,” Bryson recalls, “One guy had his truck stuck on Jordan Hill road and kinda sketched us out at first.”

Jordan Hill has been the location of several incidents in the past, but fortunately the stuck traveler meant the search party no harm. “My dad gave him a Hostess apple pie and he seemed thankful.  Said he hadn’t eaten in two days and told us he’d for sure keep a look out for my truck.”

Playing the waiting game while searching the woods and checking social media proved painful for Bryson.  All he could think about was his homebuilt Phyllis laying eviscerated in a chop shop.  “Kids at school told me how they’d heard of this before in Paradise and that the person never saw their truck again.  Same type of truck.  Same crime,” he said ,”The office told me it was the first vehicle stolen in from the school in seven years though, so I don’t know.”

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The next afternoon, one of Palade’s cousins saw a Tahoe that matched the description of the suspect’s vehicle.  He reportedly called the police and his family members while keeping an eye on the car.  The cousin’s intuition proved to be correct and owner of the vehicle was a middle aged woman who said that she’d loaned it to her husband and his brother the day of the incident.  She didn’t ask them what they were doing with it, but they seemed, “Up to no good.”  

After confirming that the woman’s husband was the driver in the operation, the police had him call his younger brother and try to get him confess to the crime. Once they had heard enough evidence, the officer jumped into the conversation and told the suspect to drop off the truck somewhere then tell them where it was.

* All the suspect’s names are being withheld as each case is still being handled.*

Palade said that the cops had run the suspect’s name through their database and found that he was recently on parole after being jailed for stealing cars. “The police knew he’d probably only get a slap on the wrist in court and they wanted to make sure I got it back in one piece,” Bryson said.

That evening Bryson, his father and his uncle drive in a convoy with police officers down Centerville Road off of Nimshew.  As the road went on Bryson grew nervous but held onto hope that his truck would be around every next corner.  He also held a replacement truck battery. The phone call that the police received just an hour earlier told them what road Phyllis was on and that he would be taking the car’s battery so that, “It wouldn’t get stolen again.”

Sure enough, a few more minutes of driving revealed Bryson’s Toyota standing on four wheels and in one piece. Instant relief arrived the moment his truck fired up and he was able to take it home.  Though it had been just over 24 hours of searching, the time spent away from his truck seemed eternal, as Bryson could only imagine the pieces he’d put together by hand being sent off to different parts of the country.

A quick inspection of the truck showed that Bryson’s nightmares might have come true, had fortune not fallen into his hands.  Surrounding the truck in the woods were pieces of other cars that had been dismembered with varying tones of rust, indicating that the area had been used to chop vehicles for awhile now. The driveline was dented like it had been stuck somewhere and the brand new paint job which Palade had recently applied himself needed to be completely redone.  The suspect had actually started taking apart the interior as the stereo and some dashboard panels had been removed but were fortunately still in the cab.

“All I could think about was finding it with it’s doors off or something.  I’m happy to have it back, but it sucks I have to put time back into things I already did.”  The entire Palade clan is thankful for everyone who shared their post or kept their eyes out, but Bryson wants to make sure he never has to go through separation with Phyllis again, “ I’ve made some security adjustments to it so I don’t think she’ll be getting stolen anytime soon.”

The Local Rap Song That Lives On

Last Thursday evening I attended the final “It’s Cooler Up Here” event located at the train park of my hometown.  A type of farmer’s market mingle where locals brought their dogs and lawn chairs to enjoy the August evening and some live music.

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Sundown at the Train Park

The large turnout of Ridge inhabitants was pleasantly surprising and it included many acquaintances I hadn’t seen since my high school graduation or earlier.


ECV put on the barbecue, Feather River Ale was served in plastic cups, and many the attendees at the event danced to local band Spy Picnic.

As expected, small talk with some old friends was a little awkward and the local beer was still as heavy as I remember but something unanticipated happened that increased my buzzed excitement from the small-town gathering.

I’d lost count of how many trips to the beer stand I’d made but while distracted on my phone in line, I recognized the hook of Spandau Ballet’s song “True” coming from the band playing 30 yards away.  Now I won’t lie, I didn’t know the the beat until Nelly sampled it in 2004 with his hit single “N Dey Say,” a very important hip hop song in the soundtrack of my adolescent development. But the soft 80’s rhythm that’s carried over decades later, has become iconic and fills all listeners with a floaty feeling that might even take them back to their senior prom.

This version being played however, was one of the most notorious Paradise anthems to have ever been recorded, one that I hadn’t heard in many years.

Few rappers (or musical acts in general) have come out of the Paradise/Magalia area but in 2006 Scott Shaw, then 43, recorded and released the infamous track “Pine Cone Homies”.  A narrative of a gangster trying to live in Paradise that also pays homage to the Ridge by including references to Ridgeview High School, the Feather River and the annual Donkey Derby.  The song also warns outsiders of shit that goes down with its simple yet powerful chorus, “You don’t mess with the Pine Cone Homies.”

It took a second to register that the band on stage was playing the same rap song that had been remembered and forgotten throughout my growing up on the Ridge.

First I felt disbelief, then somehow it made sense and I managed to scream along with Shaw in the final chorus, “I’M A PINECONE HOMIE STRAIGHT OUT MAGALIA.”

[Editor’s note: I do not nor have I ever lived in Magalia, but do retain tentative plans to retire to DeSabla]

As a commercial painter by day and rockstar MC by night, music has been Shaw’s passion for many years now but he doesn’t consider himself much of a rapper. He also didn’t back in 2006 when he recorded the song.

“Rap isn’t my favorite genre or anything I’m good at, but a bunch of things came together to influence the song,” He explains.  

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Way back in 06, he’d hired a kid onto his paint crew who moved to the Ridge to avoid gang activity in Sacramento.  Scott watched the young man unsuccessfully try to continue his gang banger lifestyle within the retirement community of Paradise.  At this time in his life, Shaw also owned a commercial recording studio in town where he would help produce local bands. It was here that for the first time he played with loops and samples that most hip hop music uses.

Amused and inspired, the man with over four decades of guitar experience hit the studio and drew from aspects of the painter’s life to create the dialog for his first and only rap song to date. With his friend and notable ridge musician Big Mo, singing the hook, the infamous “Pine Cone Homies” was born.

“I worked pretty hard to make the story about the local gangster and tried to include as many local references as I could,” he says, “It took me three to six months of picking it up and putting it down, but then I got serious and completed it.”  Distributing the finished project proved difficult at first.  Among Shaw’s circle of musician friends, hip-hop wasn’t a widely listened to genre. “My favorite band is Rush,” Shaw laughs, “What was I going to do with this rap song?”

Fortunately, he found real exposure for the track after he submitted it to Z-Rock anonymously.  

“It got fairly heavy rotation on the radio and just became a hit,” he explains, “Next thing you know, I’m hearing it in people’s cars driving by and I thought ‘I wonder if they know it was recorded by a geeky white guy?’”

The song was an instant banger in the area.  It was very popular among the Ridgeview students who heard their schools shout-out and someone told Shaw it was even played at one of the Paradise High Proms. Success.

Originally, I heard Pine Cone Homies on a burned CD in a friend’s portable player and was stoked as hell.  I was 13 when Shaw released his track and probably heard it within that year.  Kids these days will never understand the pain of hearing a cool song and not being able to immediately identify who sings it.  Pine Cone Homies would make sporadic resurgences throughout my schooling at Paradise High but I still didn’t have a clue who sang it and if it was actually serious.

I recall teachers talking about how the Paradise Pine cones were a real gang and to this day Shaw isn’t positive if they are or not.  “I heard someone make a joke about the name and I thought it was too funny,” he explains.

Pine cone homies

Image courtesy of Shaw

Since his solo track was so popular, Scott decided to try and incorporate it into SpyPicnic’s setlist among their rock covers and other original content. Unsurprisingly, local crowds love the new extended dance version and have been known to join in singing whenever it is played.

The track might be satirical and many listeners might have missed that but it demonstrates how cult like followings can come about even in small town settings like Paradise.  The fact that the song’s popularity grew due to its circulation of physical CD’s and radio play, makes the history of the anthem that much more glorified.

I asked Scott if he plans on making a sequel to the hit, or if he hasn’t done it because it’s too iconic to be topped.  “Every once in awhile I’ll get inspiration to for a sequel, but I haven’t put anything together yet,” he chuckles, “I think I’d call it Dean Road.”    Until the release of the follow-up listeners can download the song online or even see Spy Picnic play it live around the area.  It’s become one of the songs they’re most known for and on Thursday they proved they aren’t afraid to perform it in front of the Paradise Police station because even after all these years, “You don’t mess with the Pine Cone Homies.”

The Feather River At Risk

The Feather River is about 71 miles long but there are many smaller branches off of the main segments.  The furthest headwater tributary snakes up 221 miles into Northern California. Frequented daily for fishing, gold panning and swimming, the water behind Paradise has long been popular for recreational activities to those living nearby.  Spots referred to as Dean Road, Head Dam and The Hospital are starting points to reach swimming holes that are much deeper than most other accessible sites along the stretch of stream.  Recently, these swimming areas have been blanketed under the pseudo nickname “The Flumes”.  This namesake comes from the PG&E water canals (actual flumes) that allocate water from the Feather River and run parallel for miles to be used for hydroelectricity.

Stories about the river intrigued me as a youth.  It was revered as an oasis just down the dirt road into the canyon. Though my entire childhood had been spent in Paradise, it wasn’t until the summer before starting high school that I swam in the Feather River.  Excitement was an understatement.  This was my rite of passage. A bumpy ride in the back of a pickup which would lead to jumping off of a rock into green, exhilarating coolness.

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Though the initial jump did not disappoint, once I realized how accessible my sacred gem actually was, my thoughts of a hidden Nirvana disappeared. What replaced the mirage was an ultimate appreciation for it’s natural beauty, a real heaven on Earth.  In each of the countless number of visits that I’ve made to the small branch of the river, I’m still amazed by it’s presence.

After moving away for college, my appreciation and excitement of the river changed.  No longer did I have the freedom of hopping into my car on a whim and feeling the shock of cold water within minutes.  However, since I’ve returned, the first plunge of every visit has lived up to my day-dreams concocted in hot university classrooms.  Though, the idea of hoarding these spots is absurd since they are for everyone to enjoy, it brings me dismay to see cars filling up the parking lots and paths.

The sharing of pictures on social media, as well as, printed material have increased the popularity of certain swimming spots.

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Unfortunately, with the influx of humans comes our trails of waste.

IMG_1952When I was younger, I didn’t pay as much attention to litter and wasn’t as concerned about it.  If a Gatorade bottle floated away it wasn’t a big deal.  Occasional cigarette butts stood out as much as sticks and beer cans weathered by multiple seasons rusted different shades of brown.  When it comes to litter appropriation, my younger self shared the same subconscious mindset of others.

“We didn’t put it there. It’s not our problem.”

Well, I clearly see now that it is EVERYONE’S PROBLEM.  In a snowballing effect, the popular trails and swimming spots along the Feather River have become increasingly littered.  Visitors see trash and they feel it’s O.K. to leave their trash.  The concepts of cleanliness and caring have been lost upon many who are fortunate enough to enjoy the river.

At every spot that I’ve visited this summer beer cans, food trash and even broken glass have been present without exception.  Along with causing eyesore, the trash poses safety problems.  If the waste left by humans continues to grow these pleasant areas will become entirely unenjoyable.  Most importantly is the disastrous footprint being left on nature in the shape of man-made garbage.

Pup was packed in and out.  Cans, plastic pipe and glass shards removed in one short trip.

Pup was packed in and out. Cans, plastic pipe and glass shards removed in one short trip.

Countless animals and plants, native to the area, are killed because of pollution in their home.

Pictures do not do justice to the damage that is being caused from excessive consumption and ultimate laziness.

Everyone should realize that the Feather River can’t be taken for granted and needs help if it’s to survive for future generations.  Hopefully, the call to action will come to individuals before they are injured or unable to enjoy these places altogether.
In California, the realization that water is scarce is generally causing residents to take action.  If the treated water coming out of the tap is considered precious, why have we become so accepting to pollute fresh natural water?