It is well known that the
history of America is one of relentless Westward expansion from the original
small East coast settlements.
But eventually that had to stop: the zealots and misfits that had kept
on running as conformity pursued them across the continent washed up on
the West coast and built..... California.
The climate of Northern and Central California is, without
a doubt, the most desirable of any locale I have had the fortune to visit.
It is dry, warm and sunny.
Many places are dry, warm and sunny for parts of the year but California
is dry, warm and sunny predictably, and constantly.
It does rain, but it's a nice, gentle, warm rain, then the clouds clear
and it's.... dry, warm and sunny.
It doesn't get baking hot either: about 78°F, just like an English
summer day without the humidity and the thunderstorms.
And so everyone wants to live in California, hence the
house prices are stupid, and no one can afford to live anywhere near where
they work: near San Francisco 3 or 4 hour daily commutes
each way are not uncommon.
The traffic is, of course, crazy.
California is internationally renowned for its traffic and its amazing
road systems. When I was young I saw photographs of what they had built
and it inspired me to design in my head and on reams of scrap (ex-Culham
nuclear research computer department, in fact....) paper I designed complex
road systems as many small boys do before they discover sex.....
They are really cool to drive on, because the Americans allow, and even
encourage, overtaking on both sides, so you can really belt down the inside
lane then slide in to lane #4, say, to pass the trucks. In a decent car,
that is i.e. not an American car.
It beats me how the country that invented the automobile
in a meaningful sense (transport for the masses) can have got it so wrong.
Weak performance, squealy tyres, dreadful automatics, appalling "Boulevard
ride" suspension, zero road-holding, badly cambered roads, moronic
speed limits, unsynchronised traffic lights, over-tight and corkscrewing
motorway junctions and over-sized concrete expansion joints make what
should be the world's most pleasurable driving experience in to a stop-start
The Americans really should take a leaf out of Germany's book.
You can keep Southern California: too hot, too false,
too much. The English don't like excess and false things.
But Northern California; anywhere from San Francisco
northwards, is heavenly.
The people here are genuinely friendly and have one foot in the earth,
so to speak, like many English country folk (perhaps having a Naturalised
local but English and very good old friend living here helps). They prefer
physical outdoor pursuits to sterile indoor pursuits, so as a result you
see fewer grotesquely fat people in Northern California than you see elsewhere.
Hiking, cycling, running, walking, swimming, boating,
fishing, hang-gliding, bungee-jumping and rock-climbing are all commonplace,
and they all seem to be doing at least one of them.
The Chinese ethnic input seems to have helped: all along the Pacific North
West sushi is commonplace, and cheap. In the UK "cheap" and
"sushi" can seemingly never be uttered in the same sentence.
And they have cheese....
American cheese is a very strange phenomenon: the only cheese you seem
to be able to buy is something called "Jack Cheddar" which is
in fact not cheese at all but some strange thermoplastic with the taste
of very weak soap.
On enquiring whether any tasty cheeses were available I was informed that
it was illegal to sell milk unpasteurised in the USA as this was risking
food poisoning, and hence cheese making as we know it was impossible in
So the whole of France and the UK have died of food poisoning?
We must all be Zombies.
Mind you, I have sometimes wondered about the French.......
But in Northern California they sell proper cheeses that
you can smell as you go through the door of the shop.
Bay Foods (a shameless plug 'cause they're cool) ship all over the
US (presumably in quadruple vacuum-packed containers to keep the smell
in) the few decent cheeses you can buy in the continental US. How they
break the rules on pasteurised milk I know not but they do do decent cheese.
Long may they prosper.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit various parts
of California on business, always sliding in a few "jet lag"
days to be able to explore, and put many, many miles on awful rental cars
over the years visiting strange, out of the way places.
I knew I was in too deep when I realised I had two rental cars from different
airport car parks at one time in different states an airline ride apart,
and it was snowing on me as I drove back to the second airport. Life has
sometimes been too hectic.