Next weekend, Petaluma will hold the annual Rivertown Revival, a celebration of Petaluma as a river city and a fundraiser for the David Yearsley River Heritage Center. This is a very cool event with a sort of family-friendly Burning Man ambiance—meaning, you’ll see people in lots of wild outfits, and amazingly decorated floating art boats, musical acts, etc.
But I have a very particular memory of the magnificently preserved antique downtown and riverfront of Petaluma, which is the glow of the short-lived paddlewheeler Petaluma Queen moored at the turning basin at dusk, her lights and bright stacks reflecting in the still water.
It was a moment from another time. Listening to the water lap at the hull, you’d swear that if you just stepped on board, she’d take you not on a dinner cruise, but down to New Orleans, and adventure.
To me, the attraction of the Rivertown Revival remains the original concept of the event–something along the lines of the dear departed Handcar Regatta, a somewhat whimsical, tongue-in-cheek but historically evocative journey back to when rivers and rails were our primary means of transport.
Though Petaluma wasn’t established yet, what that most brings to mind is the world of Mark Twain’s marvelous Life on the Mississippi. If you haven’t read it, do: it’s hilarious, and filled with the atmosphere of an era which—even when Twain wrote it—had already passed away.
So when I think of heading down to Petaluma next week, it’s not in Burning Man neons and faux fur or whatever all that is. It’s more along the lines of what you see here: working men toting bales on the levee in straw hats, sparks and coal smoke streaming into the sky from the bright columns of the the great steamboats’ stacks.
Think I’ll put on that yoked, blousy cotton shirt, and find me a broad-brimmed straw hat. Maybe stuff a burlap bag, hoist it onto my shoulder, and tote that bale for a day, down by the river side.