Petaluma (The Movie) PT. I
- Stacie Jones Huckeba
So, on my hiatus last weekend, I had a friend over for a festive evening of beer, tequila and a good old fashioned game of Texas Hold Em'. After I had taken him for yet another $20, we switched gears, threw on some tunes and started talking. We were laughing about some of the living conditions of the people we knew and how only in California was it normal to live that way.
He has a buddy who lives in Hollywood who doesn't even have his own room; he shares a space with another guy who sleeps in a tent. I have a friend who travels a lot for work and feels that the amount of time she actually spends at home can't justify what she would spend in rent when she breaks it down daily, so she lives in her van. These are not people who are the dregs of society, these are people who by the rest of the country's standards make a good living and have successful careers.
Even I joke about my little ghetto shack and being friends with my neighborhood pimp, ironically it's not really joking, because it's all true. That's what makes it so damn funny. I have a full time job, I have a decent clientele as a photographer and I pick up freelance event gigs here and there. Combined, I make around $35,000 a year over what the national poverty level for a single person with no kids is. Yet, here I sit in my little shack, waving hello to "Pro-Mac" and his team of working girls every evening as I make the paranoid dash to my gate.
The cost of living is truly the price you pay to live in Southern California. The scenery is gorgeous, the weather is always perfect, the mountains are 30 minutes away, Baja Mexico is 20 minutes away, Vegas is only a 30 minute plane ride or a 4 hour road trip away and if you get in your car and leave around 5:30 AM, you can be lunching in San Francisco by noon. It is on just such an occasion where this story takes place.
See, the beauty of living in California isn't really just about great weather, breathtaking views and easy access to other equally picturesque places. It's the absurd little things that you will see and experience on a daily basis here that you won't see anywhere else in the country. It's seeing a person in a Winnie the Pooh suit just casually walking down the street alone, it's the dude walking his lama through a shopping center, it's a vehicle covered entirely in random junk, it's a naked roller-blader with a smiley face painted on his ass rolling past you at a stop light, it's drag queens and cars shaped like Hershey's Kisses. It's that the guy at Starbuck's who looks like Harrison Ford, is actually Harrison Ford and it's places like Petaluma California that make it worth the struggle.
Petaluma was founded in 1852 and is located just 39 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge. Nestled
at the foot of
Sonoma wine country, Petaluma was once home to the world's only Chicken Pharmacy (as featured in National Geographic and Ripley's Believe It or Not). Oh, Ripley, I've been there, and the stranger the fact, the more perfect my picture of Petaluma. I am thinking I may purchase
some Marin Real Estate, or a
home in Sonoma possibly.
Coming into Petaluma is a story unto itself; look up the Richmond Bridge one day won't you. It is 6 miles of cheap steel that is built on not one, but two fault lines; it is sinking in the middle, it is under constant construction due to inexpensive original building materials and has been struck by passing sea vessels on several occasions, including a Navy radar ship twice in one day.
What you may not know is that I have an uncontrollable, devastating fear of high bridges and ledges. I like solid land under my wheels. Flailing off of a massive steel death trap into rocky, shark filled waters is not my idea of a fun way to go and yet this is all I can picture the entire time that I am upon one of them. Ah yes brothers and sisters, The Richmond Bridge, a bridge that a RADAR ship hit not once but twice in the same day. Oh yeah, I'm sure it is sturdy as a rock. This is your entrance to Petaluma and it could not be a more perfect metaphor for the "jumbo-shrimp" that ensued over the next two days.
On September 19th, 2004, I rolled into Petaluma with my friend Layne. We were on yet another of my Todd Snider (the folk singer) stalking expeditions. We had left San Diego at 5:30 AM in hopes of beating the L.A. traffic before it became standstill. We made great time and by Noon, we were passing the Bay Bridge and discussing whether or not we should stop for lunch in San Francisco or check out the digs in the mysterious little town that was on Todd's tour schedule. We opted for the latter and by 1:00, we were oooing and awwwwing every block of the tree lined streets and perfectly manicured lawns that made Beaver Cleavers house look ghetto.
But there was something else; I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it was something dark, funny, awkward and completely opposite of the picket fences and mom & pop shops that had us screaming phrases like "CAN YOU STAND IT!", "SHUT UP!" and the always engaging "NO FUCKING WAY!" It was just under the surface and only barely noticeable, but it was there. "There's something odd about this place", I thought to myself.
We decided that we should find our way to the venue and find a place around there to eat. Sort of scout the area, so to speak. So we headed to the center of town. Mayberry-esque is the only way I can describe it. Rows of historic buildings hosted barber shops, antique stores, knitting shops and doll makers and then, out of no where, a bitchin' guitar shop and music store. It sat there with that Gretsch in the window, nestled between Dr. Rick Aston, Optometrist and McNear's Dining and Saloon House. "That's odd", I thought as we walked into McNear's for a bite.
Once inside, we were seated in an outwardly only facing booth for two. No other side to it, there simply was no floor for 2 more chairs, it magically sat attached to the side of the stairs, leaving Layne and I squashed together side by side staring out the front door of the restaurant and watching the waitstaff go up and down the other side of our booth to the kitchen. "That's odd", I thought. (Are you picking up the re occurring theme here?)
At one point during our meal, I mentioned to the waitress that there was some minor flaw in my meal. It was miniscule, so small, that I cannot even remember what it was. I do however remember the very young manager who rushed to our table and poured apologies over us as if we had found a turtle in our soup. And I couldn't help but notice that everyone that worked there was young, very young. I thought, - yep, you guessed it - "That's odd". We finished up and went looking for coffee.
We walked down a few blocks and found coffee shop located next to an adorable little bench lined park. As I ordered my caramel macchiato, Layne was standing across the room at a window calling me. "Uh, Stace, get over here, you've got to see this", "Hold on, I'll be right there". "No, get over here now, I'm serious" she said. "Hold on" I shouted. I walked over and peered out the window to find a gentleman bearing a striking resemblance to Billy Bob Thorton, but dressed as a teenage goth-punk, engaged in a full fledged fist fight with a teenage black kid who had a Prince-like appearance to him and who was also draped in similar attire. Surrounding them were a large group of correspondingly dressed kids. I grabbed my macchiato and my camera and flew out the door.
By the time I got outside, it was still quite heated, but one of the kids that worked at one of the shops in the square was breaking it up. You couldn't really tell what the fight was over, but you got the impression that the Billy Bob character, whom was clearly decades older than the rest, was somehow the leader of the group, but was being challenged by this young Prince-esque black man over a broken promise of some sort.
This entire scene would come to be known as "The Cranberry Incident" and would be played out to us again in greater detail later in this trip. Layne looked at me and I swear to God, she said "That was odd." I started laughing and really didn't stop until the next day, when the laughter turned to white knuckle screams? but that part of the story is yet to come.
We walked back to the car and burned one as we headed to the hotel. It was then that we both began to notice it. On the corners, in the alleys, in front of the perfect lawns, almost everywhere you looked; there were these teen-age goth-punk kids. Sometimes standing alone in front of a woodworking shop or maybe a group of 3 or 4 were walking down a narrow neighborhood street past beautifully maintained Victorian homes. The odd thing was that there were no grown ups anywhere.
We pulled up to the Metro Hotel, looked at each other, back at the hotel, back at each other and that's when we began to truly laugh. It was a perfect replication of a French Country Inn. It had perfect white paint, a billowing sail that simply read "Hotel" outside of a gorgeous bay window on the second floor and a red antique mailbox on the front door, but not a car in sight. Was this some movie set, were we imagining this whole town? If we were in a movie, just exactly what was the plot?
Keep in mind that our day began at 5:00 am, way back in the dark hours of a San Diego morning, so I'm sure that part of it was pure exhaustions and part of it was the fatty we had just ingested, but regardless, we were in this fit of delirious laughter when I looked at Layne and said "Have you ever seen that movie, The Lost Boys?"
That was it. We fell into one of those painful silent laughter's that shakes you to the core, the kind that leaves you completely still with drool leaking out of your mouth, but you are so tensed in laughter that you cannot move to wipe it away and your sides feel as if you are being punched repeatedly. You don't know if the tears are pouring out of your eyes because of the laughter, or the pain and you're starting to think this is how you will die because no matter how hard you try, you cannot catch your breath.
And you don't dare look over at the person wrenched in this fit with you, because it will only make it worse. You will inevitably thrash yourself into a more precarious position and the laughter will only get deeper until the two of you will sound like a couple of Mutley the dogs from that Hanna Barbera cartoon with Dick Dastardly, while you look like two drooling escapees from the Special Olympics.
At some point, after many deep breaths and a few more outbursts of seizure inducing laughter, we finally were able to gather enough composure to get our bags and snicker our way up to the front door.
To be continued?
Jones is currently working in San Diego as a photographer & promotions director.
You can visit her website at