logo: 28Barbary.com - a blog about Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin

August 14, 2022
Commentary on "Taking the Plunge" (scene 1 of Tales of the City(book 1 of the TOTC series)

photo of Mary Ann Singleton on the phone at the Buena Vista, from the 1993 Mini-series

TAGS: #book1 #MaryAnnSingleton #ConnieBradshaw #biofamily

Link to the text: Taking the Plunge (starting on page 10) (Scribd membership is required)

Plot summary: The scene opens with Mary Ann Singleton, a 25 year old woman on vacation to San Francsico from Cleveland, Ohio, at the Buena Vista. After fortifying herself with 3 Irish coffees, she calls her mother to let her know that she is going to be staying San Francisco. The conversation does not go well. Mary Anne then calls her old high school classmate Connie Bradshaw (who now lives in SF) to see if she can crash with her while she looks for an apartment.

Cultural Refences:


My thoughts: This opening scene is one of my favorites because it sounded so much like the awkward conversations I had with my mother after I moved from Oklahoma to the big city of Austin, Texas in 1997.

The opening lines of this scene are so perfect, that I'm going to quote them here:

MARY ANN SINGLETON WAS TWENTY-FIVE YEARS old when she saw San Francisco for the first time.

She came to the city alone for an eight-day vacation. On the fifth night, she drank three Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, realized that her Mood Ring was blue, and decided to phone her mother in Cleveland.

“Hi, Mom. It’s me.”

“Oh, darling. Your daddy and I were just talking about you. There was this crazy man on McMillan and Wife who was strangling all these secretaries, and I just couldn’t help thinking…”


“I know. Just crazy ol’ Mom, worrying herself sick over nothing. But you never can tell about those things. Look at that poor Patty Hearst, locked up in that closet with all those awful…”

“Mom … long distance.”

Later on the conversation grows more heated, until we get to this cresendo:

Her mother began to cry. “You won’t come back. I just know it.”

“Mom … please . . I will. I promise.”

“But you won’t be … the same!”

“No. I hope not.”

Mary Ann's zinger at the end of this exchange gives insight into what is motivating her move, but also what is to come. Mary Ann as a character will be a strong, driven person throughout the series, sometimes nervous, but in the end she always musters up her courage to "get what she wants" (to quote Anna Madrigal)

Of course, Mary Ann's escape from Cleveland is not yet complete, because she will first be reconnecting with her old high school classmate, Connie Bradshaw from the "Friendly Skies of United."

Overall, I love this opening. Armistead gives enough important details, but only just enough, which keeps the narrative moving forward in a brisk way.