The Ballards - USA California







 

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 slow mess.
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 the US.
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.
Apparently Tomales 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.