California Notes

I had told Jann Wenner of Rolling Stone that I would cover the Patty Hearst trial, and this pushed me into examining my thoughts about California. Some of my notes from the time follow here. I never wrote the piece about the Hearst trial, but I went to San Francisco in 1976 while it was going on and tried to report it. And I got quite involved in uncovering my own mixed emotions. This didn’t lead to my writing the piece, but eventually it led to—years later—Where I Was From (2003).

When I was there for the trial, I stayed at the Mark. And from the Mark, you could look into the Hearst apartment. So I would sit in my room and imagine Patty Hearst listening to Carousel. I had read that she would sit in her room and listen to it. I thought the trial had some meaning for me—because I was from California. This didn’t turn out to be true.

—March 23, 2016

Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, Trancas, California, March 1972
Jill Krementz
Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne, Trancas, California, March 1972

The first time I was ever on an airplane was in 1955 and flights had names. This one was “The Golden Gate,” American Airlines. Serving Transcontinental Travelers between San Francisco and New York. A week before, twenty-one years old, I had been moping around Berkeley in my sneakers and green raincoat and now I was a Transcontinental Traveler, Lunching Aloft on Beltsville Roast Turkey with Dressing and Giblet Sauce. I believed in Dark Cottons. I believed in Small Hats and White Gloves. I believed that transcontinental travelers did not wear white shoes in the City. The next summer I went back on “The New Yorker,” United Airlines, and had a Martini-on-the-Rocks and Stuffed Celery au Roquefort over the Rockies.

The image of the Golden Gate is very strong in my mind. As unifying images go this one is particularly vivid.

At the Sacramento Union I learned that Eldorado County and Eldorado City are so spelled but that regular usage of El Dorado is two words; to UPPER CASE Camellia Week, the Central Valley, Sacramento Irrigation District, Liberator bombers and Superfortresses, the Follies Bergere [sic], the Central Valley Project, and “such nicknames as Death Row, Krauts, or Jerries for Germans, Doughboys, Leathernecks, Devildogs.”

Arden School class prophecy:

In Carnegie Hall we find Shirley Long  
  Up on the stage singing a song.  
Acting in pictures is Arthur Raney’s job,  
  And he is often followed by a great mob.  
As a model Yavette Smith has achieved fame,  
  Using “Bubbles” as her nickname…  
We find Janet Haight working hard as a missionary,  
  Smart she is and uses a dictionary…  
We find Joan Didion as a White House resident  


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