Another Namesake

Patty Vance and I were well aware of how lucky we were to be living in San Francisco. We were never going to be one of those kids who pined away their whole lives about when they’d get to leave their name-your-podunk-town for the big city lights. We could find excitement any time of day, any day of the week. Sometimes it would find us, but that was the exception. Besides, the chase itself was half the fun.

One afternoon in spring, Patty and I were dragging ourselves along Chestnut Street. We’d just come from Doggy Diner, and the franks smothered in chili were like bags of sand in our stomachs. Just one was enough to slow us down. To our left a shiny stretch limo was cruising in the lane closest to us. A miniature flag attached to the antenna whipped around too fast for me to make out the emblem. Diplomat was my first guess. Then CEO. The back window was tinted black, but was partly opened. A stunning blonde was in the back seat, not rubbernecking to get a look at the people walking by, not bothering to push aside her hair that was whipping up. She looked to be staring at the knob that locked the door. I knew immediately, even in profile, it was Patty Hearst. She was a hometown girl. Still she’d held the entire nation transfixed for three years. The two daily newspapers carried the photograph of her in a black wig and a loose-fitting beret, carrying a semi-automatic rifle on the front page. 

Her nom de guerre was Tania and although she was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) their message of unity and feminism was likely seductive. They denounced racism and capitalism. That last bit probably went down as a lump in her throat. Her entire family lived the capitalist’s wet dream. Even at ten years old, I was rooting for her. Sure she robbed the Hibernia Bank, and I worried constantly about my meager savings having gone out the door in a black bag. “Your twenty dollars is safe,” my mother assured me. Patty Hearst, at nineteen, was only a few years older than Patty and me. Being scooped up to further a social revolution impressed the two of us to no end. If only we were the grand daughter of William Randolph Hearst, we sighed. It wasn’t until I watched Citizen Kane, a movie based at least in part on grandfather Hearst’s life, that I realized I should be careful what I wished for.

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