Originally published in October 2017
It doesn’t take much to get Jerry Patton talking.
The longtime Yakima taxi cab driver has seen it all during his half-century behind the wheel, so he rarely misses a chance to share his experiences with anyone who asks.
“A cabbie learns something new every day,” said Patton, owner of Diamond Cab Co. “Every customer is different and they all have a story to tell. When you meet that many people all the time, you’re going to have a lot to talk about.”
Patton, 76, started out driving for Yellow Cab Co. back in 1968, and he opened Diamond Cab Co. in November of that year. (The company also went by Cascade Cab Co. but has been Diamond Cab since 1997. He also owns Jerry’s Taxi.)
Patton has been carting people around Yakima — and other Northwest destinations — for all 49 years, but the 1958 Eisenhower High School graduate has done a lot more than sit behind the wheel and swap tales with strangers.
“I’m a workaholic, a master of all trades,” said Patton, also an Army veteran. “I used to sell real estate and insurance of different kinds. I sold cars for Valley Ford and sold Medicare supplies with my wife. I also roofed more than 500 homes. I’ve been around, but my battery’s not worn out yet.”
These days, Patton can focus most of his attention on Diamond Cab, where he employs two drivers and handles a regular weekday morning shift. He also spends as much time as he can visiting his wife, Shirley, at the Ponderosa Retirement Center.
Patton still enjoys the rigors of the road, though he can’t say how much longer he will stay in the driver’s seat.
“I would like to hire someone to take my place so the business can continue,” he said. “There are a lot of older customers who rely on us to help them get around town. But I’m getting to be an old man, and I need a chance to relax.”
When you’ve been a cabbie for as long as Patton has, it’s difficult to leave all of those memories in the rearview mirror.
Like the days when the stars would come to town for boxing matches or concerts at The Capitol Theatre. Or when the iconic daredevil Evel Knievel passed through the Valley in 1974 after his failed attempt to jump the Snake River gorge in Twin Falls, Idaho, on a rocket motorcycle. (He landed on the river bank below.)
“There were a lot of big nights, for sure,” Patton said. “The Sun Kings used to bring people to town from around the state. We had a lot of concerts at the SunDome. But these days, we go to more farmers markets and doctor’s appointments.”
The old days also presented some challenges, and potential safety concerns, for the Diamond Cab Co. drivers. Downtown Yakima was much less inviting back in 1970s and early 1980s, when drugs and prostitution were more “out in the open.”
“I used to handle ‘The Hole’ (Naches Avenue) on Friday and Saturday nights, and there were some pretty strange nights,” Patton said with a laugh. “You weren’t always sure who was going to get in your car. But that’s part of the fun.”
Patton says cab driving has given him a comfortable life, one that would never have turned out this way if he didn’t shuttle thousands of passengers from Spokane to Seattle, Portland to British Columbia — and all points in between.
Diamond Cab will still accept fares to casinos and wineries in the area. As one would expect, Patton knows his way around wine country, too, once providing a popular route for tourists.
“I hauled around a lot of millionaires,” he said. “Back in 2001, we went all over the place. I had 19 drivers and we were always busy. We don’t need that many people these days, but we stay pretty busy with our regulars and doing commercial deliveries to four different states.”
There are about a half-dozen taxi cab companies in Yakima, but Patton says Diamond Cab is the only certified commercial courier in town. That side of the business continues to pay the bills, even if individual passenger counts have waned.
With the advent of Uber, running a taxi business isn’t what it used to be. On the plus side, cellphones have replaced dispatchers, allowing drivers to be more selective about whom to pick up.
Some days are fun, others are a chore. But when you’re a people person like Patton, every day out on the road is an opportunity for enrichment.
“You meet all kinds of people and see all kinds of things in this line of work,” Patton said. “It’s an exciting life. It keeps your blood flowing.”