You can’t imagine what it was like for this 18-year-old now-single mom to step onto her first airline flight in a snowstorm in Salt Lake City and off again into San Francisco. Of course it was the famed mild coastal California weather and my first sight of the ocean (!) that captured my immediate attention. But I was headed toward North Beach, home of the Beat Generation.
A new acquaintance in SLC took about an hour after meeting me to say, “You belong in San Francisco. Go look up the Beatniks!” And only a month or two later, here I was. Out of my old, confining and potentially depressing life as a runaway non-Mormon from a culture designed to reject me and into the unknown, where being different from the crowd was touted to be desirable. What a concept!
My first explorations of hundreds, taken on foot or by cable car, were wandering the hills near downtown: Nob Hill, Russian Hill, Telegraph Hill. I was struck by all the overhead wires and cables of the communications and transportation systems and sketched them arching over the streets to send images home to mom and dad. It smelled different: a mix of the sea, big city, foreign food, coffee and cigarette smoke — all unknown, but these last two among the many no-no’s in Mormon land.
Inevitably I pushed the baby stroller through Chinatown, across Columbus and into the Italian section — North Beach at last. City Lights Bookstore at the gateway, Grant Avenue stretching north with Italian coffee shops and bakeries interspersed with artisan silversmiths, art galleries, poetry in nightclubs that sold wine and liquor (!) — but only to those at least three years older than I. I pushed the baby carriage outside, peering in the windows, imagining what it would be like to drink beer in the Coffee Gallery and listen to the poetry of Allen Ginsberg or the rantings of Jack Kerouac.
Soon enough I had hooked up with Ben Jacopetti, later Roland, and later yet, my husband. He was an actor in small theater productions, pulling in audiences of, say, ten to twenty souls. I got reports from him on what went on inside those bars since he had just passed his 21st birthday. Still, I pushed that stroller up and down outside. Ben was connected to friends in Ronnie Davis’ San Francisco Mime Troupe, where Bill Graham got his start once they were sufficiently successful-seeming to warrant a manager. San Francisco North Beach was a haven for artists and I had a native San Franciscan on my side to show me the ropes. Ben’s grandfather had been a bail bondsman in the Italian quasi-underworld of SF, so we had credentials that fit us into the real San Francisco.
My name, given at birth in a small, rural southern Idaho town by my unconventional folks, was Rain. Ruth and Newell Hart were both born to second wives in polygamous Mormon families. They had somehow managed to find their own inner freedom and taught me from the beginning that adherence to the truth and more importantly my own truth was the direct path to liberation. And now, I was launched on my trajectory toward the Arts and well on in my own pursuit of personal freedom.