Saturday, 9 June 2007

"All the way to Reno..." 262 miles

Sat Nav and San Francisco don't mix. I set off early to beat the rush and had gone one block before the sat nav told me to "return to route". For some reason it lagged at least a couple of blocks behind and wanted me to turn left all the time. (something the City authorities seem to have banned as it just wasn't possible).

I switched it off and used the man method .... I just drove with a rudimentary street plan. A mere 14 miles later I ended up heading north over the fog shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. It may be a lot shorter than the Humber Bridge but it is way more impressive.

The journey up to Reno was fairly uneventful with no wrong turnings and yet more spectacular mountain scenery. I turned off the interstate a few times to have a look at stuff including the "Donner Lake Park" near "Truckee". There I found a pine cone as big as my shoe.

The scenery and scale is so vast that it takes your breath away. I am beginning to get an understanding, I think, of why Americans are the way they are. I can only guess it has something to do with the sheer size of the place.

Man cannot live by juice alone. If I don't get some vegetables inside me soon I may end up like Elvis. This diet is playing merry hell with the internal economy. I had a salad when I arrived which admittedly contained lettuce and tomatoes; however it was sabotaged by blue cheese, bacon strips and a very heavy dressing.

There is an ad here, which is very funny, for a lite beer which applauds the "genius who invented...". It goes something along the lines of "The taco salad; a 12,000 calorie feast of ground beef, cheese and a few sorry scraps of it healthy? It's a salad aint it?!"

Now its time to be a high roller ... or more likely a low roller as I have never been a gambler. I hope don't get a taste for it....

"We Built This City On Rock 'N' Roll ..." 0 miles

Ahh, the city by the bay - the city that never sleeps !

Can't shake off the early starts, so about 8 I set off for a good trudge round town. Down the main drag, Market Street, even boasts a shop called "Oxford Streeet," which sadly it most resembles. Got to the cable car stop but the queues were too long even at that time of the morning, although some people do use them to commute. I find it marginally quicker to walk. So, off to the piers and Fisherman's Wharf.

As I was passing Union Square I heard music - it was the local police band, all in uniform, rehearsing a fantastic version of Santana's "Game of Love". The moment was so perfect and they were so good, I felt quite emotional. By the time I had dawdled my way to Pier 39 and watched a fine busker singing and playing his saxophone, it was time for something to eat. One chilli dog later, I boarded a boat for a trip round the bay under the Golden Gate Bridge and a circumnavigation of Alcatraz. The commentary was very good too. I never knew that Mark Twain said; "The coldest winter I ever spent was one summer in San Francisco". Mind you, he had a point. Despite the sunshine the wind was a mite parky.

Arriving back on dry land to a barking chorus from the local population of sealions, I continued walking; I still think it is one of the best ways to see a city. Coit Tower, Nob Hill, Chinatown, including the white and blue painted wooden "First Chinese Southern Baptist Church" (bet that makes for an interesting service on a Sunday morning). My shoes seems to have healed themselves or at least are no longer leaking oil. 5pm - mmmm - beer time!

Since I was last here in 1985, the area south of Market Street has been regenerated to a degree and is now sold as "SOMA" (south of market...geddit?). So one or two new fashionable bars have opened up. Attracted the odd glance from the glitterati as I ordered a drink. Not sure it was my quaint accent - more like my attire ("marginal bum" - a rather scruffy bloke with a peeling face). Still, it ensured that I wasn't troubled by any of the scores of panhandlers that roam the streets. I am sure there are more of them since my last trip. Back on the road tomorrow.....where to next?

Thursday, 7 June 2007

"Santa Cruz (it's not that far)..." 295 miles

My face is peeling...this is not a good look. Serves me right, though. No mistakes from now on: baseball cap, sunglasses and factor 30. This combination does make me look a little like the "invisible man" - or just a ghost.

Cream cheese bagel and orange juice and it's onto the 101 to San Francisco.

My first stop was the gas station where my card won't work in the automatic pump. It only accepts cards with zip codes, and a postal code of St Leonards on sea just won't cut it. The woman in the kiosk says "gas up" so that is what I do.

$3.55 a gallon (US gallon is slightly smaller than British) and yesterday 195 miles in a 5.7 litre Mustang cost me $23 about £14! Despite this the radio is peppered with ads for "economy cars that now do 30 mpg on an out of town drive."

The 101 becomes Highway 1 and it's pleasant going until the San Simeon National Park and Hearst Castle, once home to newspaper tycooon William Randolph Hearst and model for "Citizen Kane".

I drove up to the car park which was full of people waiting to go on a lengthy guided tour. Peered at it on the top of the hill through a convenient telescope and left.

This is where the drive becomes more interesting and the road is narrower with many more bends. With the top down and a stiff breeeze, the smell of the pine trees and the seaweed is a heady mixture. I took a few photos but gave up after a while as round every bend is a better view.

Managed to take a wrong turn and went round Santa Cruz a few times and by the time I got to Half Moon Bay I realised that I was going to "The City" as they like to call it bang on 5pm.

6 lanes of Freeway in the rush hour reminded me of the scene in "LA Story" with Steve Martin as the drivers shoot at one another. No firearms in evidence but lane discipline is obviously something British. The idea is to go as fast as you can in any lane and if you see a gap anywhere, its yours, so go for it. Bizarrely I knew where I needed to be - "7th St off ramp and turn left." Suddenly I saw a off I went, turned left, and drew up outside a motel I last visited 22 years ago.

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

"LA is a great big freeway...." 195 miles.

"Take a right onto La Cienega, a left on to Sunset and keep going!" With those words echoing in my ears I set off into the mid morning traffic. 15 miles later I was out of the city heading north on the Pacific Coast Highway. Santa Monica, Malibu...this was easy, until I suddenly found myself in Port Hueneme an ugly place and home to a US Naval base. I hightailed it our of there and found an even uglier place: Oxnard.

Ventura and Santa Barbara came and went...was I having any fun yet?

Thought it would be a good idea to stop and look at stuff, so turned off highway 101 and headed for Gaviota State park. Paid $8 to enter and then went and sat on the beach looking at the oil rigs a few miles off the coast. I paddled in the Pacific and lay on the sand. Due to the breeze, my ear and nostrils, and later, I discovered, my camera began to fill with sand. Back to the car and tar. The soles of my feet were completely black and I am going to have to throw my shoes away as soon as I locate another pair. (Man packing!)

Back onto the highway and more rolling scenery as well as Los Alamos and the Vandenburg Air Force base. Mid-afternoon and where to stay? Buellton looked promising until I saw a hoarding proclaiming "Buellton home of split pea soup" somehow that dampened my enthusiasm. On to Santa Maria then (pop 90000). Hmmm...still not sure that I was having fun. Then I remembered the radio. On came Martina McBride "This is KRZE 105.9 crazy country" and slowly I began to smile.

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

"Walking on Sunset"

After a typical US breakfast of Corned beef hash, hash browns and just the two eggs (it was the diet option), the whole city lay before me. Here, public transport seems to be an after thought, with a rather rudimentary Metro system and a fine collection of buses that would see me having to change every few stops. So, I decided to do what everyone advises against and walk!

A cool humid morning changed to a blistering hot day as I trudged around all those streets that we know so well from music and the TV: Hollywood, Wilshire, Santa Monica and Sunset Boulevards. Lennox and Melrose Avenues as well as Vine and Le Brea, home to the infamous tar pits!

The day wore on and the sun grew hotter as I sauntered past various film studios and the homes of the wealthy. Luckily their servants were invariably using lawn sprinklers which kept me slightly cooler although I did get some odd looks. As the city is so vast everything seems to be several miles away from where you are currently standing. Eventually after walking much of the length of the star studded and tawdry Sunset past Graummans Chinese Theatre with the famous hand and footprints in the cement out front (Gene Kelly had tiny tootsies), I hopped on the Metro down to Union Station to witness the Conductor ringing the bell and shouting "All aboard"!

My only concession to Californification so far has been a fruit smoothie which contained: 2 apples, half a mango, half a pineapple half a banana and half a kiwifruit. Also wheat and barley grass, broccoli, spinach, green tea sprollina chlorella, blue green algae, garlic and of course yum!

I am looking forward to getting the car in a few minutes and heading out of LA. However which direction to travel?

Monday, 4 June 2007

"I love LA....We love it!"

Long and tedious flight sitting next to a man who insisted on coughing into his handkerchief and then examining the contents. In the row in front a young couple fuelled on fizzy drinks fidgited and moved their seat backs several times an hour. Eyes red with watching films and old tv comedy...."Cheers" had some good lines, but "Wings"? That was never funny! Immigration wasn't nearly as long and tedious asI expected then out of the airport to the tender mercies of Isaac the Latvian cabbie who took me to the hotel although he did have some trouble finding it. He called the despatcher via the 2 way radio and got directions that way. He said he was able to do that as he knew English. A mate of his didn't speak a word and so was always getting much for "the knowledge". Now trying to get my borrowed US pay as you go phone working. Everyone I talk to is achingly polite using my first name more times than a football manager mentions the name of his interviewer..."Gary" however I can do the credit card thing until it comes to a lack of "zip code" at that point it all falls apart. Think I may give up for today....those 17 episodes of "Cheers" have given me an idea...