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Petaluma Around the Clock: Out on the street

PETALUMA AROUND THE CLOCK

This story is part eight of a ten-part Argus-Courier series. We started out at 6 a.m., and every week since, we’ve skipped ahead a few hours, moving from place to place and person to person, as we move around the clock, capturing the colorful details, conversations, and activities that make up an average 24-hour day in Petaluma. Next week, in part nine, we head out at 3 p.m., in search of Petaluma’s most elusive late-night/early morning treasure – a decent place to grab a bite to eat.

It’s Saturday night in downtown Petaluma, shortly after 11 p.m., and cabdriver Steve Jackson is slowly driving up Kentucky St. Aiming his cab toward the main hub of bars between Western and Washington, he’s cheerfully explaining his time-tested theory about inebriated pedestrians and taxicabs.

“I’ve noticed that drunk people like things that are moving,” he says. “I see it all the time. There could be a cab parked right in front of the Hideaway with its lights on, and someone could come out of the bar looking for a cab. If I happen to drive by right then, they’ll flag me down from half a block away, without even noticing the on-duty cab sitting right in front of them. Drunk people like objects in motion. I’m not sure why, but it’s true.”

Jackson is the co-owner of J’s Taxi, a ten-car fleet of cabs based in Petaluma. Born-and-raised here, Jackson started the company about six years ago. He likes the work, he says, since he generally appreciates people, and enjoys helping them out.

And he clearly gets a kick from being out on the streets of Petaluma at night.

Though it’s still early right now, the evening is already shaping up to become a pretty good testing ground for Jackson’s aforementioned ‘moving objects’ theory. It’s warm out, for a change, and dozens of people carom their way from bar to bar, slowly ricocheting up and down Kentucky past the Hideaway, Jamison’s Roaring Donkey, and Maguire’s Pub, traipsing down the steps leading to Putnam Plaza and The Big Easy, across the Boulevard to Gale’s Central Club, down the street to Andresen’s, McNear’s, and Red Brick, and back onto Kentucky.

Little else but bars are open at the moment, and even so, the streets are at least as busy — and several times as loud and lively — as they might be on the average morning or afternoon. From every venue comes a different tune - jazz, classic rock, whatever.

A guy in Putnam Park strums a banjo. Nearby, a couple sit together on a bench, their arms around each other, each checking emails as they bob their heads, in unison, to the sound of the Eagles’ “Hotel California” spilling out of Gale’s Central Club. Everywhere you turn, the only thing louder than the music filling the streets is the collective murmur of the crowd.

“The town definitely changes at night,” Jackson says. “The downtown area turns into a whole different scene than during the day. It’s kind of crazy.”

Adding to the auditory mayhem are four intensely focused young men, perched on the Putnam Steps, jamming on beat-up guitars and drums made of plastic buckets. “Sometimes I need a bur-ger, sometimes I want to get high,” sings one horse-voiced member of the ensemble. “All I’m saying bro-ther is I’m just try-ing to get by. And I don’t give a flying f—k about you!”

“It’s actually kind of mellow right now,” notes Jackson, who predicts that things will pick up in an hour or two. Till then, he’s going to just keep rolling, looking for fares. “We kind of go along Kentucky Street, and try and feel it out, see if we can get anybody,” he explains. “The dispatcher will give me a shout if there’s anybody who calls in for a ride, either down here or somewhere else in town.”

PETALUMA AROUND THE CLOCK

This story is part eight of a ten-part Argus-Courier series. We started out at 6 a.m., and every week since, we’ve skipped ahead a few hours, moving from place to place and person to person, as we move around the clock, capturing the colorful details, conversations, and activities that make up an average 24-hour day in Petaluma. Next week, in part nine, we head out at 3 p.m., in search of Petaluma’s most elusive late-night/early morning treasure – a decent place to grab a bite to eat.

It’s now 11:12.

At this time of night, Jackson says, the lion’s share of his business is people out partying who think better of driving themselves home.

“That’s pretty much the story,” he nods. “People might go to dinner and have a couple of glasses of wine, and decide to call us. Or they might plan ahead and take a cab downtown, then back again later in the evening.”

Jackson stops his cab, leans out, and addresses someone crossing the street in front of his cab.

“Hey Tim, how’s it going?” Jackson asks.

“Hey Jackson! I hate the f-----g A’s!” says Tim.

“He’s a Giants fan,” Jackson explains, the brief interaction now complete. “And the A’s pitched a no-hitter against Boston tonight, while the Giants lost bad to the Angels. He’s in a bad mood.”

Continuing to troll for customers, Jackson has circled the block, and is now making his way past the Petaluma Historical Museum. Parked under a streetlight is a competitor’s cab. Walking towards it is a short, slightly grizzled looking gentleman, waving his arms … not at the parked cab, but at Jackson’s taxi.

“See? Drunk people like moving things,” Jackson grins, as he rolls down his window. “I actually recognize this guy.”

“Hey, can you give me a ride down to Payran?” shouts the fellow from the sidewalk.

“Yeah, I can take you,” replies Jackson. As the passenger climbs in and buckles up, Jackson says, “I haven’t seen you in while. How’ve you been?”

”Oh, you know. I’ve been out of town, but I slipped back in a couple of days ago,” the guy says. During the short drive to Payran, Jackson and his passenger talk about the weather, the cost of gasoline, and other amiably chitchat-ish topics

“You can drop me off right here,” the passenger eventually says. Cash changes hands. “Thanks for the ride. You take care.”

“That guy’s been around a while,” says Jackson, after easing back out onto the Boulevard.

And so it goes for the next hour or so.

“Midnight to 1 a.m is our slowest time, but it’s the bars’ busiest time,” Jackson says. “Then, between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., it picks way up for us, as the bars head toward closing and people need rides home.”

At 11:22, he picks up a couple from a private residence off of Washington, and delivers them to their own home down Bodega. He’d given them a ride to a downtown restaurant earlier in the evening, and they walked a friend’s house afterwards. At 11: 36, his dispatcher then sends him to another house, where he picks up a guy asking to be taken to the 7-11 for cigarettes, then to the Roaring Donkey. After that, Jackson is back to driving the loop through the downtown area, waiting for someone to see his taxi moving down the street.

“Driving a taxi in the middle of the night is a lot like fishing,” Jackson says. “You just keep throwing it out there until something bites.”

Speaking of biting, Jackson points out that things can get a little rough the closer it gets to closing time.

“We see a lot of police action, drunk driving arrests, a lot of fights on the sidewalks,” he shrugs, “especially around 1:45, when it’s last call and some guy’s been hoping to take a girl home, but then her boyfriend shows up. Fistfight breaks out … end of story. You see a lot of interesting things, doing this job. That’s for sure.”

It’s now just after midnight, and Jackson’s night is only just getting started. Fortunately, the population of the downtown area has significantly increased over the last hour.

“Things are looking a little busier down here now,” he says, turning back onto Kentucky, then slowing down as a pedestrian waves from the sidewalk. It’s not a fare, it turns out. Just someone Jackson knows, waving hello.

“That’s the other thing about driving a cab,” he says with a broad smile. “You get to know a lot of your neighbors. I like that about this job. It’s actually a lot of fun, giving people rides. Most of the time, people really appreciate it.”

Jackson waves back.

“I think,” he says, “it’s going to be a pretty good night tonight.”