Archive for August, 2011

4 the road

1 lariatGetting in a car and driving through a chunk of American nothing has always had some huge appeal to me.  I loved American road movies like ‘Convoy’, ‘Easy Rider’ and ‘Vanishing point’ – I especially loved the comedy ones like ‘planes, trains and automobiles’ and the ‘Cannonball Run’ – but maybe the biggest influence was Jack Kerouac’s book – On the road.  The book that made me hit the road in the first place.

0 nothingSo with a little bit of courage and a lot of naive romanticism I hit the road heading south from Vancouver to the American border.  My route was simple – First drive through Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Utah to the gambling and entertainment paradise of Las Vegas, Nevada – Then return back through California to Oregon and Washington.  I’d brought camping equipment, cowboy boots, and a tub of Kimchee given to me by a Korean friend.  The only map I had was an A4 size one that came free with the Lonely Planet which didn’t exactly provide the level of detail needed – In fact I spent quite a bit of time driving while trying to read the inside maps of that massive edition – though I never got lost once.

2 petrolAnyway, driving through northern Washington past Seattle it wasn’t long before the green northwest gave way to an endless landscape of dry grass and rocks.  My first stop was the town of Yakima, home to much of Washington’s wine trade and apparently the Palm springs of the state.  Here I fill up on a massive, tasty pulled pork sandwich at the Lariat before heading on and climbing up onto the central plateau of the rocky mountain states.  I made pretty good time, stopping in Dunkee – where a plump gas station attendant, wearing a t-shirt that says ‘freedom Isn’t free’ fills my car while telling that his cousin speaks seven languages.  I eat again outside Boise, Idaho.  Filling up on a huge club sandwich.

nowhereJust before Utah 1372km in, as the sun is setting, I stop in ‘the middle of nowhere’ to get gas – the attractions here are two alpacas, and being the only fuel in miles.  At this point I’m ready to sleep and decide to stop in the first town over the state line.  The road around here is just one straight line to nothing.  At one point my car begins to shudder and shake. What’s going on?  I realise I’m sitting at 185kmph – I haven’t turned for 45 minutes.  I slow down pretty quickly.

3 alpacaAfter 1559km and 16 hour driving, I stop at some town 160km from Salt Lake City.  A couple of beers in the bar across the street – only 3.2% in Utah!!, and I retire to my motel – car parked outside the room, just like in the movies.

5 salt lake churchThe next day I’m glad to have made a big push the day before.  I only have a seven hour trip today, nothing!  First I stop in at Salt Lake City, visiting the religious centre for the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints.  Its a nice if pretty bland town, but definitely worth checking out if you happen to pass.  The central cathedral is pretty impressive and the people are as nice as you’d ever meet.

6 mormon kidsI roll on, hammering down the road stopping at the eagles landing service area and Beaver, Utah – birthplace of Butch Cassidy no less, just after here I break the 2000km mark and I know I’m close.  Listening to Right wing radio talk shows is great around here – they really love Obama these guys!!

6 mormonJust before I cross the border into Nevada I drop through the Virgin river gorge.  Dropping straight off the edge of mile high Utah is an experience I won’t forget.  Red sandstone walls on either side, foot heavy on the brakes as I’m going down so fast.  The bottom is the desserts of Nevada.  Its pretty flat from here on in.

As soon as you cross the border the casinos begin. Big grassed areas in the middle of arid desert – pretty surreal.  Surreal too is at the moment I’m seeing Vegas in the distance on comes the Who’s ‘Who are you?’ – CSI anybody??beast

I drive straight into my hotel, Circus Circus, and get ready to hit the strip.  What a trip 2320km, two days, five states and a shitload  of fast food…

Next part 2 – The City of Sin

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bb san fran streetEverybody I’ve ever met that’s been here has fallen in love with this relaxed, fun city – and I was no exception.  How easy is it to fall for a place that’s just so pretty, so laid back, with so many interesting areas to wander, have coffee and just simply hang out and soak up the atmosphere.

aa mex mural

And in SF the atmosphere just oozes out  – The people, the buildings, the history,  the amazing arts scene, so much character, and no one seems to be trying at all.  aa vesuvio signThere just seems to be some sort weird thing in the water that makes things seem cool – In fact I felt so much cooler just being here!chinatown fortune cookie maker

The coolness factor is pretty visible when you take a wander through the amazing array of distinct neighbourhoods.  This range seems to give this actually bb did youpretty small city a sense of proportion way bigger than it is.  As you turn a corner and move from the bland modern functionality of Union square to the hyperactivity of Chinatown, then to the cafes and boutiques of North Beach its like moving from one completely different city to another.  The rejuvenated old pierssea lion 3 and ferry buildings of the waterfront seemingly have relation to the wooden Victorian town houses of the Upper Haight,  where hippie culture still lives strong on the corner of Haight and Ashbury – albeit next to Ben and Jerry’s!streetcar (The clock on this corner has stopped at 4.20pm for a long time, i wonder why?).  But something, just like the streetcars and cablecars binds and unifies the neighbourhoods of this diverse city.

ee haight 420But its not just the pretty streets or the cool inhabitants that make this place, the romantic movie made notion of SF runs deep in anybody with any interest in American counter culture, and for me two of my favourite culturalrock submarine highlightsof the last century happened here – This was the favourite haunt of beat writers like Kerouac, Burroughs and Ginsberg, who we rockdrank in dive bars playing jazz, writing poetry and books like ‘on the road’; And also where the summer of love kick started a worldwide hippie phenomenon.  I got such a buzz being able to drink in a bar that a hero of mine like Jack Kerouac used to drink, or to hang out in bars along the Haight.

cc mural lady 2And then there’s the food – really this deserves a whole post on its own (and many people have devoted there life to writing about the food here).  So much good food, on every aa kerouac streetcorner something different – a quirky place selling coffee and hand made croissants so flaky people in Paris would be proud, Italian bakeries selling fresh focaccia, Chinese restaurants where even the waitressmusee mchanique doesn’t know when the meal will end, Northern Californian Italian places where the food makes you speechless, gastropubs making sausages that pair with incredible brews made in the basement.  The list goes on…and on – and all this made with some of the best local produce found anywhere on the planet.sfmoma head  It would take years of hard work to really get on top of the food scene here.  I’d relish an opportunity to try.

old newSo I’m pretty sure you can tell I’ve fallen in love with this city, just as everyone does.  And if you haven’t been – unlucky you!truth

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