The Worst Day: My Story of Poly Royal, 1990


Aaron David

A fourth generation Californian, befuddled.

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12 Responses

  1. I had never heard of that incident (not that I would, having grown up elsewhere). I’m glad to hear you got out okay.Report

  2. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    Been through a couple campus riots, but thankfully never in the thick of it.

    Good on you for getting clear without causing major injury.Report

    • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      Once, at Notre Dame, the annual snowball fight got a little frothy.

      ND is (or was) somewhat unique for having a closed campus where 95% of the student body lived in the same dorms for 4-years with no Fraternities (not that fraternities cause riots… the don’t right?) – which is to say, it was a pretty well ordered little community of 15,000 souls +/-. A riot? Inconceivable.

      On the downside… no roads on campus, so no (convenient) Pizza delivery. There was this one burrito place (Dick Naugles??) that must have bribed the gate guards cause they could get on campus to meet you somewhere, if you were willing to stand around in the snow. As long as there wasn’t a frothy snowball fight underway.Report

  3. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    Senator John “Bluto” Blutarsky and Supreme Court Justice “Boof” Kavanaugh strenuously deny any allegation of their participation in the above mentioned events.

    However they do acknowledge that they do in fact like beer.Report

  4. Avatar DW Dalrymple says:

    Now THAT’S a pizza story! I delivered pizzas in and around the campus of Wake Forest University around the same time frame. The only crazy thing that ever happened to me was getting T-Boned on WFU campus by another Domino’s driver from the same store one night…He ran the light. The Demon Deacons weren’t the rioting type…

    Good piece.Report

  5. Avatar JoeSal says:

    That was a close one, for the crowd I mean. Good on ya.Report

  6. Avatar Alan Scott says:

    Hey, a Cal Poly riot story!

    By the time i attended Cal Poly a decade later, Poly Royal had been replaced by a new event of drunken debauchery: Mardi Gras. Just like Poly Royal, the Mardi Gras celebrations brought many out-of-town visitors to join the local hooligans, and had been getting wilder and wilder year-by-year.

    Through 2003, Cal Poly had on-campus dorms for Freshmen and incoming transfer students. For the ’03-’04 school year, they opened a new apartment-style on-campus housing complex available for Sophomores. At the time, I was a didn’t-quite-realize-he-was-gay-yet social misfit who had just transferred into an apartment with three fundamentalist Christians because their fourth roommate had just lost the faith and wanted the hell out. I was crashing out of a Computer Science program that didn’t know what to do with a kid who was good at math but had grown up in the sticks, and hadn’t yet made inroads into the Theater crowd and Gaming crowd that would be my social scene for the remainder of my time at Cal Poly.

    The one group of friends I had managed to attach myself to was the student housing social senate–the folks that ran events in the housing commons area. I think by that point I might have been a member, appointed to replace someone else who had dropped out, but the details are fuzzy. Regardless, on the Saturday of Mardi Gras weekend, 2004, I was attending an on-campus alcohol-free pyjama party with a bunch of other folks who didn’t go for Frat Parties, Keggers, or similar.

    I didn’t hear about the riot until Sunday morning. All of what I heard was from other students, and some was second-hand. But the accounts were pretty consistent, and everything I heard then or since suggested that the 2004 Mardi Gras Riot was a crowd-control failure on behalf of the police department.

    Cal Poly is located in the north-east corner of San Luis Obispo, with the bulk of off-campus student housing being a series of apartments and small houses along the two parallel streets that run south-west of it: Santa Rosa Blvd and California Blvd. A third street, Foothill Boulevard, crosses both streets and is the only obvious path that crosses the railroad.

    The biggest single apartment complex is Mustang Village, Which takes up most of the space between Santa Rosa and the railway north of Foothill. Several Fraternities, the Campus Bottle liquor store, and other major apartment complexes are on California.

    The riot started when police shut down two large parties at Mustang Village, while at the same time setting up a blockade on Foothill. Ostensibly, this was to prevent students from the parties from travelling to other party hot-spots or the liquor store. In practice, any students who lived the California side of the railroad tracks (including all students living on campus) were on the wrong side of the barrier from their homes. At the same time, anyone on the California side, (including everyone at a frat party, as well as anyone at my pyjama party and any of the other safe-n-sober events that were being held on campus specifically to prevent disorderly drunkenness), were on the wrong side of the barricade from the single biggest off-campus housing complex where many of them lived. Throw in a bunch of folks wandering home from the downtown bars who also had to cross the barriers, and you had a giant mass of scared trapped students at various levels of drunkenness being pushed up against police barriers.

    Rioters threw bottles and railbed gravel. Police deployed tear gas, beanbags, and rubber bullets. Windows of cars and houses along California were smashed, a dozen police were injured and presumably a bunch of students were as well. 180 arrests were made, but in the end all charges were dropped. I had a mocktail in my pyjamas and then went upstairs to roommates who were being passive-aggressive at each other about whether partying was compatible with the Christian lifestyle.

    The city cited 500,000 as the cost to clean up the damage. The next year, they spent a full million bringing in additional personnel from law enforcement agencies across the state, and tripled fines for violations during Mardi Gras and the surrounding weeks. Mardi Gras was never a major event of that scale again, and no other weekend has replaced Mardi Gras the way Mardi Gras replaced Poly Royal. A police captain involved in coordinating events that night ran for Sheriff, citing his leadership during the riots. He Won. I voted against him.Report

    • Avatar Steve in reply to Alan Scott says:

      I used to do the “Peace Table” at the farmer’s market. We had support from about 15 students. I once heard that when Ronald Reagan was Governor in the 60’s, Cal Poly was the only campus in the state where he was received warmly.Report

      • Avatar Aaron David in reply to Steve says:

        If that peace table was in the ’80s, I was often around. By the way (and this is a long, long shot) but in that case, did you know Bruce and Tammy?Report

  7. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    That’s, um, a hell of a stinger on that post.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I go back and look at the 90’s and remember how crazy they were. If you ask me for my first impressions of the 90’s now, I’d say “man, the cold war was over and it was awesome how much potential the future held!”

    But… yeah. I forgot the crime. I forgot “superpredators”. I forgot the riots. It wasn’t until the mid-90’s that everything turned around (and it didn’t even *FEEL* like it had turned around until right around early 2001).

    The music was better, though.Report

  9. Avatar Kari says:

    I found myself at Poly Royal 1990. Separated from my friends and in the middle of a crowd, I was trying to find my way back to the apartment I was staying in. Getting to the edge of the crowd was hard and then getting thru the police riot line was even harder. I just remember saying I am trying to get home and he took one big swing with his baton to my forearm and let me thru. That sucker swelled and bruised for a week. Just turned 21 and one of the scariest days of My life.Report