As I publish this, I am sitting in San Diego airport waiting for my plane to Dallas-Fort Worth for the final visit of my North American trip. Having now spent a week in Canada and a week in the US, I have had so many new experiences, and it has been fun to share them with you on this blog; several of you have commented kindly.
If the predominating food impression in Canada was ketchup, here in the US it is what they call a sandwich, and which I would call a burger bun. Ketchup is not so ubiquitous, and generally is served in little plastic bags. I think that probably 70 per cent of my meals have been between two halves of a bun. On Saturday, I even was served Ahi (which is what they seem to call tuna) in a bun; two great steaks with a spicy coating, served only slightly cooked, together in a single bun. Very nice, but strange. They give you piles of paper napkins, because it is very difficult not to make a mess. The vegetables have been almost non-existent, being mostly potatoes (and almost all in the form of chips—which, by the way, they seem to call chips here, and not fries) with the occasional doubtful ‘well, I suppose I could find you a salad’. the only real attempt at vegetables was in that theme park thing, when they were inedible.
I have seen the most enormous jars of peanut butter. And the bread is strangely sweet and reinforced with all sorts of vitamins and other useful bits that your average American could have got far more agreeably in some vegetables.
Tea is available, but never what I would call tea; it’s Earl Grey or otherwise flavoured tea, which is okay, but I’m looking forward to the real thing when I return. I have a rule to stick with the national drink when I can; coffee in coffee drinking countries, tea in tea-drinking countries. Coffee in Ireland is (usually) horrid, tea in Italy is (almost always) horrid.
The sounds here in San Diego are the muted roar of traffic and the gentle whir of overhead fans. The climate is quite remarkably agreeable here; consistently warm, but never so hot that you can’t sleep, and not at all humid. So they don’t really need air conditioning here. It is very, very, pleasant indeed. The sun doesn’t shine all the time, but it doesn’t seem to rain or get cold. The grass is not our gentle, soft English grass, but a tough, unreal-looking plant with a tinge of blue in it. I can’t imagine a horse being particularly keen on tucking into this stuff. I wonder whether this is the famous Kansas (?) blue grass.
The people are a little more reticent than the Canadians; there isn’t the meet-your-eye, chat-at-the-drop-of-a-hat instinct that I met in Toronto, but I have found people to be pleasant and cheerful, assistants are friendly in the shops.
The wildlife is quite different to Canada. No chipmunks, for a start, and I have seen very little running around the place except, of course, the jogging bird and the surfer dude (q.v.). Perhaps the dearth of wildlife is because there are coyotes round about—I’d love to see one of those—who will take anything if they are hungry, including cats. There are also raccoons, skunks and possums, but I didn’t get to see (or smell) any of these either. Unlike Canada, California seems to go in for LBBs. Little brown birds, that is. I have seen a lot of sparrows, and a pair of mocking-birds has been stealing the grapes from my host’s vine. These look like slightly large thrushes, which is a bit disappointing. And that’s about it, really, unless you count the Guinness bird (=toucan for those younger than me) I saw in a cage at Seaworld.
In Canada, I was really quite taken aback at the attitude behind the wheel. I am no stranger to aggressive driving—I lived in London, remember. Joe, an American lodger I had a year or two ago, used to remark that driving in Britain frightened him, because it was so aggressive. Well, Joe, I can honestly say that my experiences in North America have scared me from time to time, and the US has scared me more than Canada. The attitude is deeply antinomian in some matters, and obsessively law-abiding in others. In town, cars screech to a halt at almost every junction and corner. But on the freeway, they hurtle along at any speed in any lane, and cheerfully overtake on inside lanes as a matter of course. Someone will proceed at a leisurely pace in the outside lane, being overtaken by maniacs in the nearside one. People chat on phones, eat, shave, do their lipsticks and nails and probably carry on light industry while tailgating the person in front. If they bother to signal before a manoevre, you will probably miss it because on most cars, the directional indicator lights are the same colour as the brake lights. They shift lanes all the time, and I’m sure they must often hit. They turn right even on a red light—I think this is legal in California, but not generally in the US. Oh, which reminds me; some things are legal or illegal in one state but not in another. You just have to know, somehow. I love driving, but, you know, I think that in the US I prefer to be driven. Fortunately, I have been driven by people who are safe drivers (at least, I have never felt in danger—well, okay, once we had a close shave). And American constantly grumble about the price of petrol. They should try British prices, which are more than double what they pay! I’m told that until recently you could see Humvees about all over the place (doing one or two miles to the gallon). Now you can pick them up for a few cents.
What nobody ever talks about is The Big One. The San Andreas fault runs a short way off the coast here, and the experts confidently expect it to do its thing sometime soon; apparently a serious shake, like the one that destroyed San Francisco a hundred years ago, is overdue. And they expect it to be a lulu. San Diego, say the gloom-mongers, could disappear under the waves quite easily, for it is low-lying. Many of the buildings here are earthquake-adapted, and people are supposed to lay in stores of bottled water and canned food against the awful day. But nobody speaks about it much.