As my flight left Bogotà at 12.15 am, when I arrived in San Francisco I had been up for over 24 hours. We hadn’t been given anything to eat on the flight and I was not allowed in to my dorm until 3 pm, so I went to get some strong coffee and a bagel and then wandered around like a zombie for a few hours, sorting out a new SIM card and buying some trousers to replace the ones I’d had since Bangkok, which were barely holding together.
Somewhat refreshed the next day, I set off for Golden Gate Park. While I was there I discovered an exhibition of Turner’s paintings in the “de Young Museum”. It was a magnificent collection. In the more formal works there is an incredible amount of detail, but when you get up close it just seems like smudges and brush strokes. The exhibition was entitled “Painting Set Free”, (a little ambiguity there) and one of my favourite images was this, of his hotel room in what appears to be Italy.
I had arrived in SF in Pride Week, so that evening I joined guests at my hostel and a couple of others on a “Pride pub crawl”. This involved wearing lots of rainbow colours and lights and wandering around Tenderloin district, one of the less salubrious parts of town. I hooked up with a delightful male nurse from Chile and some of his friends. He was so happy to be there and especially at a bar called Gangway, which claims to be the oldest “gay bar” in SF. The evening ended with dancing with random strangers and being escorted back to the hostel around 2.30 am by a guy sharing my dorm. A highly entertaining day.
The downside of being in SF at this time, however, was that the hostel had raised its prices considerably for my third night and that there were no beds to be had at all for the weekend. I spent the best part of the next day trying to find a place to stay and a way to get there. Greyhound buses were putting up their prices by the minute, literally, as “tickets are selling out fast”.
So I ended up going to Sacramento by train.
There were several reasons for this. There were no places to stay in Yosemite National Park and a day trip cost over £100, which for a quick tour and four hours in the park I felt was unreasonable. Also that would still leave me with a problem as to where to stay for the night.
I was hoping to go to Portland, so a stop at Sacramento was not out of the way. Unfortunately there were no cheap places to stay in Portland either.
As it happened, I enjoyed my time in California’s Capital. I went to a farmers’ market, which was totally different from the higgedly piggedly markets of South America, with everything labelled and laid out on trestle tables.
I came across a small park concert of African American music and Joe Leavy, (soul singer with a popular single, Standing in the Shadows), was performing. It was all about the love.
I sauntered into Old Sacramento, which has buildings and a design dating back to the mid to late 19th Century, with a boardwalk and all.
There was a candy store, like a room in Willy Wonka’s factory, where you can try free salt-water taffy in all sorts of flavours, as long as you eat on the premises.
and perhaps best of all for me, down a narrow stairway, a treasure trove of old vinyl music in two rooms and old jukeboxes in the third. The owner and I really hit it off, as he let me listen to some tunes and I started with Jeff Beck. He gave me a hug when I left.
Just a little aside, but important nevertheless. The Supreme Court legalised same sex marriage on 26th July, while I was in San Francisco, so that was another thing to celebrate. While I was walking the streets of Sacramento, however, I got talking to a young woman petitioning for equal rights in the workplace. Her female partner was dismissed from her post as a teacher when it was known that she was engaged to a woman. Discrimination is still exercised and not everyone has the wherewithal to fight it in the courts, while many state’s anti-discrimination laws do not extend to private sector employment.
Bypassing Portland, I took the train through to Seattle. We passed through some outstanding scenery and quite unlike anything else I’ve seen on my travels, because of the coniferous forests and the sweeping plains. After a night and a day of travel through Oregon and Washington, we reached Puget Sound at sunset. The light was lovely and the weather was fine.
Seattle in the sun is a good place to hang out. There’s some interesting architecture, though I don’t think the skyline is exactly as they showed it on Frasier.
Because of a serious fire, they had to rebuild Seattle. Unlike other cities, such as San Francisco, which were built on hills, they built the hill around the city.
The highlights of my time there were my visit to the EMP Museum, (Experience Music Project). There are whole sections devoted to fantasy, horror and science fiction genres, with props and costumes galore. There is a history of the electric guitar and a Jimi Hendrix corner.
This is Nirvana’s demo tape.
Seattle was my last stop on the West of the USA. I had to move on, because the States were proving to be very expensive. Also I think I was a bit dumb. I was back in the First World, where people are organised and have very short holidays. Of course they plan ahead and places are booked up. They have their own transport and carry supplies. My habit of just turning up and seeing how things turn out has had to be modified. I have to think ahead.
Next I will let you know how I get on in Canada.