LeftoversPosted: Aug 21, 2005 1:09:43 AM
And so soon, I'm back in New Zealand. I'd say I'm back home, except that in the ten weeks that I've been in the States it has come to feel like home as well. Once again I've had great fun writing the reports and great fun reading the comments, but just like last trip there have been many things that I haven't had a chance to write about. For example, between Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon we visited famous art deco landmark the Hoover Dam. Unfortunately, there's not much to write about the dam save that it's really big, and at the time it was overshadowed quite by the canyon. We did cross from one time-zone to another on the dam (the first time I've walked over such a border), however because of various daylight saving issues the time did not in fact change. It's just one of the leftovers from this trip, and it seems fitting to present some of these leftovers here.
Siobhan and I went to the Sonoma County Fair, the first proper fair I've been to (NZ's A&P shows don't count, although they're rather similar, because they have no corn-dogs). It was great fun, even when said fun was of the desperately kitschy kind. We had corn dogs and candy floss. I won Siobhan a purple monkey at a carny game throwing darts (no dishwasher, though). We rode the ferris wheel. We saw floral displays. Number one, however, was the haunted house ride: without a doubt the lamest ride ever in existence, and so amazingly funny because of it. After some indeterminate creepy sounds and joltings from the cramped cart, we turned a corner to be confronted with ... a skeleton! But not just any skeleton. This one was shrouded in cotton cobwebs, fires of red burning in its eyes, reaching towards us with predatory claws, groaning ominously and brandishing between those deathly talons of doom ... a woman's thong. Um, okay...
There were two such skeletons. Wonderful, wonderful.
In San Francisco we visited the zoo, but seeing as most zoos are very similar there's not much to say about that save that the best part was the insect house (tarantulas! hissing Madagascan cockroaches! black widow spiders!), and that Siobhan flatly refused to enter the insect house. We also dropped into the SFMOMA (Museum of Modern Art), which was delightful. I wish I could have taken photos, because I had this perfect one framed up of a pretentious art-type standing in front of a completely blank canvas for around two minutes, contemplating it earnestly. Don't get me wrong, I love the modern art, I just have the exact same piece at home behind the television.
San Francisco, by the way, is wonderful to navigate around. The central city is a maze of one-way streets and frighteningly steep hills. On these hills you frequently see a San Francisco staple, the cable cars. Originally installed in 1873, they are according to Wikipedia "the world's last permanently operational manually operated cable car system," and they sure were great fun to ride, feet dangling above the street and colourful conductor making small-talk with the tourists. The inner San Francisco was often surprising: turn one corner and you're in Chinatown (very cool), turn another and you're looking up the most crookest street in the world (Lombard, if you're wondering), turn another and there's a WWII submarine.
Because of time constraints we weren't able to visit Alcatraz this time around, but we did take a swing around the bay on one of the numerous boat tours to get some close shots and pick up some escaping prisoners. One of them smiled at me.
So, that's the States. I have to say that it wasn't quite what I expected, but seeing as I'll be going back over Christmas I feel that it's only right to end this report with some of the things that I most like about the USA.
Number one: the food. There has already been a report on this, so I'll just mention my favourites. Diners! I love the diner culture in America. It reminds me of the pubs in Britain, although with a totally distinct flavour, and many of the heartiest and friendliest meals I had in the States took place in diners. In fact, one of my last meals was in a famous diner, Mel's Drive-In in San Francisco. It's a reconstruction of the diner that featured in 'American Grafitti' - a reconstruction because the original was torn down right around the time the film opened. When you want something lighter, I also love with a passion the local chain Juice Shack. Their juices are divine, even if some of their health claims are worded better than a dissembling lawyer's (a sample, regarding the nutritional benefits of wheatgrass juice: "Medically accepted scientific studies are lacking in the substantiation of direct claims to health related issues. However, it is important to note that many studies have been conducted on chlorophyll and its health benefits [...] Wheatgrass [is] approximately 70% crude chlorophyll.") If you're ever in California, order a Boysenberry Bandit, you won't regret it. And yes, thanks to much cajoling I finally took the junk-food challenge (thank you Morgan Spurlock). In one sitting, I consumed four McDonalds Big Macs and one 7-Eleven Double Gulp - a soda cup 1.9 litres in size. Geez.
Something else I like about America is the music - Siobhan bought and filled an iPod for me, and I've become enamoured of a number of bands that most people have probably been listening to for years but I've only just properly discovered. Beck, Chemical Brothers, Oasis, 10,000 Maniacs, Nirvana, Jet, Weezer, Hoobastank, Cibo Matto... wonderful. We've also uncovered a strong predilection for funk, of all things, and Earth, Wind, and Fire in particular. Who would have thought I was a slave to the beat?
And finally, the best thing about California is the people. Everyone was unfailingly friendly, from the supermarket checkers to people you randomly met on the street. My soon-to-be in-laws were fantastic hosts and genuinely nice people. Especially regarding Sunday morning breakfasts, which I'm already missing badly. In fact, and this is strange, I feel like Americans were the friendliest people I've encountered (yes, friendlier than the NZers, but that's a close one). There were occasional gaffs on both sides (people announcing that "the closest I've been to New Zealand is Switzerland" and asking whether we used the Euro as our currency - and my NZ tendency to end every request with the word "thanks," which apparently can come across as rather dismissive if the interlocutor doesn't know any better), but overall it was the people that really made this trip. We spent our last night in the York Hotel - a former speakeasy and one of the locations used in HItchcock's 'Vertigo' - and Siobhan's parents ordered us some farewell Californian champagne. Wonderful.
And like that, the trip was over. Thanks very much for reading, and stay tuned for the next one! There's still South America, Africa, and South East Asia to see... and from now on, I'll have a lovely lady to accompany me wherever I go.
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