Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fresh off the boat

Things I have learnt during my first fortnight in America...

San Francisco isn't as warm as you think

You know when you're told about something over and over again, but it never quite sinks in until you experience it for myself? Well, welcome to the Bay Area's weather. Granted, it has been almost constantly sunny since I got here - beautiful, clear-blue-sky, smiley face sunny. But as soon as the sun disappears - and sometimes before - it can get pretty cold, with sea breezes giving the chill an extra bite. I kind of like it, perhaps because it reminds me of the weather in Edinburgh. In July. During a heatwave.

Not everything in American is bigger or better
Tissues, for example, are tiny. You'd think the idea of large "man-sized" Kleenex would go down a bomb here, but I'm yet to find any. (Note to self: Possible business opportunity? Aim for porn industry endorsement, work from there.) And, for a country so in thrall to the over-consumption of energy, the electrics here really could do with some work. Lights dim when the fridge turns on, plugs spark when you connect them, there are electric sockets in the bathroom - all of which is doubly disturbing when you notice the absence of an earth pin on most appliances.

Some surprising things are both bigger and better
Coming back into town from Oakland yesterday evening, we were stuck in a big traffic jam approaching the Bay Bridge. With the low sun shining in my eyes, and the hazy white light reflecting off the sea and the polished bodywork of all the enormous SUVs and cars, I realised it was probably the coolest traffic jam I'd ever seen. Kim just thought it was a bitch though.

Brick turns to dust in an earthquake
Apparently wood or reinforced concrete are much better in the event of shaky-ground moments, as traditional red bricks just crumble. There is a garage round the corner from where I'm staying that has a sign stuck to its brick outer wall saying that it may be unsafe in the event of an earthquake. I'm not sure who this sign helps, however, other than the weirdly prescient.

US cuisine isn't all McDonald's and Taco Bell
Well, actually I knew this already. But, having been impressed by lots of the terrific food last time I was in California (particularly the cheeses and beers), this time it's the turn of ice cream. The Bi-Rite Creamery round the corner is home to some killer vanilla (surely the yardstick by which to measure any ice cream maker), but it also offers such unique delights as roasted banana, chai spiced milk chocolate and salted caramel.

Service culture is great - but not all of the time
People who work in shops here are astonishingly helpful. They just can't help you enough. Sometimes they are helpful as if their lives depended on it. All of which is very handy indeed for the casually clueless shopper (me, for example). But not if I am hungover; turns out then that all those questions and all that chatter is just plain annoying. Same goes for mornings.

I'm famous
After years of patiently spelling out my name to people in England who thought my surname was "Laidlow", "Leadlaw", or - on one memorable occasion - "Ladylord", I have travelled halfway round the world to find that everyone here can spell my name no problem. Why? Because a company called Laidlaw is (by its own estimation) "the largest private contractor of student transportation services in North America", and therefore has its name written on the side of most of the yellow school buses here. Fame at last!

Ameoba Records is amazing
I think this warehouse-sized music store on Haight Street may soon become my favourite record shop in the world. And probably the only reason it isn't my favourite already is that I'm slightly scared to visit again too soon, lest I run out of money in my first month here.