Thursday, July 24, 2008

Tuesday 10 June: San Francisco – Flowers in your hair

Our hotel was one of the many quirky hotels which San Francisco is famous for. It sits amongst many other hotels (both quirky and chain) in an area not far from Union square a focus of much tourism and shopping. Breakfast is provided in the hall of each floor and so you can go out and pick up what you want without too much preparation. I hardly met anybody going to get my coffee and pastries so could have worn almost nothing had I wanted. I did. That is I did wear something. It was small scale and there were no waffle making machines and no Spanish ladies making omelettes. Which is odd because the room was costing us more than the hotel in Beverly Hills. Beverly Hills! Not round the corner from two massage parlours and within the shouting range of drunks. But the novelty of it being almost outside your door was something.

The day was Sunny but windy. One of those days where I wondered if it might get too hot and Catherine was freezing. We wondered down to the end of Powell Street where the Powell-Hyde cable car is manually turned round and sent up again. San Francisco is blessed with an abundance of public transport. Where as in LA it is invisible and unused, in San Francisco you are never far away from a bus, cable car, vintage tram or other form of mass transport. And if you like the underground form of transport, you can always do the Bart, man. A vintage trolley/tram travels up and down the divisive Market Street and then up the coast. Hundreds of buses and electro-buses cross the city in a variety of ways. And there are two cable car lines. These go north-south and seem to only ever be filled with tourists. They cost 5 dollars a pop, where as all the other forms are $1.50. $1.50 to go anywhere in a big city. It makes most other cities, London especially, look ridiculous. At the terminus for the Powell-Hyde line there was a large line of tourists waiting to buy tickets and passes. And an even longer one to get on the cable car. We queued and got 3-day passes (aka Muni Passport) which give unlimited travel for $18 and then walked up the street. At the terminus they only let enough people on to fill the seats. This is because they know from then on people will jump on at the next few stops. We did so, and followed the line to its end.

Whilst we had been in the queue for tickets, we nabbed a huge folder that was being touted about for free Starbucks coffee. The huge folder contained a tiny little business card thing that was the actual offer (you can have a free iced coffee or iced mochaholic (or something like that) on Wednesdays). The rest of the packaging was useless. The guy giving them out even said, don't throw them on the floor. Guy, tell Starbucks to just give you the card rather than a folder that is instant rubbish.

How the cable cars work is quite fascinating. All along the route under the street is a cable. It moves constantly - you can hear it. The cable car, when it wants to go forward, grabs onto the cable and releases the brakes, when it wants to stop, it releases the cable and on go the brakes. The cable car goes up and down the hills and when going down the two conductors have to literally jump on the breaks. It goes down streets with elderly Japanese tourists holding on the side for dear life; streets that sometimes are just wide enough for two parked cars, and two cable cars and 4 elderly Japanese tourists.

We took the cable car to the end: the marina. Here we wandered around. In the bay was a nice old sailing clipper. After the bay there was the maritime museum. It was not that old a building but it was dilapidated. If it were a ship it would have sunk with all hands. It WAS ship-shaped although certainly not ship-shape.

Our wandering morphed into a search for food. We found a fascinating looking nouveau-Vietnamese. Nouveau but not ouvert. It turned out to be part of the Ghirardelli Square. History bit: Ghirardelli was an Italian who came to California via Venezuela hoping to strike gold, but instead formed a very successful chocolate company. What seemed to be the old factory is now being turned into an up-market plaza with a tourist and chocolate bent. Although it is not finished, many businesses are already open including a McCormick and Kuleto's (this guy teams up with anybody). We went for Lori's Diner as it had outside seating and courting pigeons. Cath had something semi-healthy and I went for a Hot Rod Burger, because you can't get any more American than a Hot Rod Burger. It's a burger smothered in chilli. The burger itself was fine but the chilli was somewhat effeminate and the onion rings were sugary.

After this we partook of coffee and one of Kara's Cupcakes < > before checking out the chocolate store. It was full of chocolate. A girl at the door gave out small free samples of something filled peanut butter that would kill me if I ate 5. I had 2.

After that we walked to catch another bus, this time to Haight-Ashbury. Haight-Ashbury (pronounced Hate-Ashbree) is an area of town named after two streets that was once an area frequented by hippies. I'd only just heard of it, but to Cath it evoked all of the romance of hippidom. That is free spirited living outside of the system as opposed to being stoned and unwashed. This all happened 40 years ago. Now Haight Ashbury is a tourist street with some hippy-themed stores. There is very little evidence of real hippies living there. The odd street hawker and particularly hairy old man was all we saw. Off the main street are some great houses. Some have been painted in striking but pleasing ways. The odd one has hints of psychodaelia. We wandered round trying to find vestiges of hippiedom and then walked further down Haight to a more grungy/rock part of town. An empty bar played Ministry in the mid afternoon. I know I'm getting old as now I believe there is a time of the day that is too early for Ministry.

We struck off and found a nice local café – Café du Soleil (formerly called Boulange de Cole Valley). There we had beer and wine and observed local life. It was a definite neighbourhood, with allegiances and conflicts. One person tried to move her chair into the sun slightly further away from the café. She was very jovially told that some do-goody curtain-twitcher complains every time a chair moves too far into the sidewalk. There was even what I thought was a drug den: a house outside of which a gang of motorcyclists made lots of noise and at one point a couple of young kids sloped into for a ridiculously short amount of time, trying to look cool and not scared or suspicious.

In American Apparel, amongst the usual array of slinky clothes for skinny teens, were tiny t-shirts for tiny dogs. This is where people buy them. (We'd seen a couple on the beach already.) There was quite a selection but I didn't see any of their skinny jeans or sheer, see-through underwear for dogs.

We took a bus back that took us along Market Street to somewhere near where we got on the cable car that morning. The length of the queue for the cable car was actually only about the volume of one cable car for once. Soon after, it was back up to former length. Cath waited outside the public autotoilet but because of some clearly dodgy deals going on. She never got in. When the time was up for the person in there, someone waiting outside, handed him something and the door closed again. I'm still clueless as to what could have been going on. I can only suppose drugs or criminal stomach trouble.

We went to Chinatown to look for a snack for supper. It was a bit late, about 10, but we were surprised to find nothing whatsoever opened. Chinatown is somewhere I expect to have some late night places. But given that about 3/4 of San Francisco seems to be Chinatown, I can't say we explored much of it. To make sure we didn't die of the munchies, we popped in to witness the sort of crazies that frequent late-night pharmacies.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Monday 9 June: San Francisco – Tipping

The US is a tipping culture. That is not to say it is a culture on the edge of a precipice, although in some ways that is true. I mean that tipping is a necessary part of social interaction. Much of the business you do will have some sort of tip/reward. It is different in the UK and other parts of Europe where tipping is limited to restaurants and cafes (and is roughly around an accepted mark but variable according to service, and often optional) and for bin men (who get a Christmas gift or else you rubbish isn't cleaned up so well in January). In the US it is customary to leave a gratuity for hotel room cleaners, give bellboys and door persons cash in their hand and even to tip taxi drivers. As a European it feels condescending and unnecessary to tip someone for doing their job, but Catherine assures me it is as part of the culture as haggling is in other cultures. It should be noted that wait staff in the US are often not even paid and rely on the tips which in most of Europe would be illegal.

Despite being one of the shortest flights since the Wright brothers flew for about 10 seconds, Catherine still managed to sleep. She is an inspiration to us all. We nabbed a fixed-price airport shuttle bus (plus tip, of course) to our hotel. The driver didn't speak a great deal of English and my Mandarin is not what it was, but we punched the address in the GPS and strapped ourselves in. On the way, a local also taking the shuttle bus warned us about dodgy areas. Don't go straight on or right out of the hotel, otherwise it was fine. The bus drove via the "straight on" route so we could see it wasn't the most salubrious sections of town. We vowed to avoid it during the small hours of night.

Having dumped our bags and freshened up, we decided to sample some nearby nightlife. We had two bars that seemed close in mind. The first, a blues bar had a Southern Swing band playing. But the $15 cover seemed a bit much for the one drink we were after.

The second place was further than it had seemed on the tiny map. It was closing up as we arrived. It was 10:30. Somehow we had expected better of somewhere of San Francisco's repute. As we wandered back, we saw that many restaurants and bars were closed by 11. It's not quite what we had expected. What WAS open was Borders bookstore and the Virgin record store (which I thought had gone out of business). So you can't get a beer at 10:30, but you can buy a book or classical CD. Is this really the message we want to give our kids?

So instead we grabbed a local beer from the late-night liquor store and partied in the hotel. Well, when I say partied, I mean Cath slept and I wrote jokes. Not being the cleverest of lambs, I had bought a bottle of beer, but had no opener. A sensible man with more attire on would have gone down and asked the porter, instead I used several coins and suffered a few lacerations to my fingers before I was able to get into the well-earned beer. Early settlers who had to wrestle bears for their beer would empathise.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Monday 9 June: LA – What we missed

There were a couple of touristy and very American things we did not do during this short trip.

First was renting Harley Davidsons and riding off into the desert in the style of The Wild Angels, Easy Rider and every other US 60's counter-culture movie starring Peter Fonda.

The other thing was visiting the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. Richard Nixon is famous for embodying everything US presidents are renowned for, except he was the one who got caught. Things they should have there are the incriminating White House tapes, a balaclava used in the Watergate hotel break-in and a packet of cigarettes smoked by Deep Throat.

I'm still waiting for the Clinton museum to open.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Monday 9 June: LA – Tar not very much

We broke our fast but were unable to get to the waffle maker again because of a throng of children and their parents. However, today there was a little Spanish lady who made omelettes how you like them. I like them warm, full of mushrooms and made by Spanish ladies.

After this we checked out and drove to the La Brea Tar Pits. The tar pits are several patches of tarry water that are filled with animal bones and surrounded by school children. Over thousands of years many creatures have found themselves trapped in the sticky pools, sunk to their deaths and been preserved as bones. For the last 100 years or so, humans have peering into the pools and recreating the creatures from their bones. There are thousands of wolves, sabre-tooths (which are no longer called sabre-tooth tigers because they ain't tigers) and American mastodons, which are like mammoths, which are like hairy elephants. (You didn't know America had elephants, did you.) Many of the creatures whose bones were found in the pits are now extinct. This could be due to the fact they kept falling in the pits, but that doesn't seem to be the most popular theory. Only one human skeleton has been found which is surprising considering how many kids there are running and screaming all around.

If you have trouble imagining how these creatures could get trapped in the tar, models of mammoths illustrate. On one side of the largest pit, a female sinks as her mate and child look on helplessly. On the other side, a happy little mammoth strides merrily off the edge unwittingly into the black goo. The human kids all run around merrily in what is essentially a place of death.

In the cheap museum, you can see many reconstructed skeletons, some life-like models and some awkward animated ones for kids still young enough to like that sort of thing. There are some facts, but possibly the best bit is the quiet arboretum in the middle (which is forbidden to groups of children). It has plants and a pool containing big koi and an abundance of turtles. The turtles swim about lazily or sun themselves. They were all relaxed except for one little one, who enjoyed aggravating the others by swimming in front of them and waggling its paws in their faces. A teenage brat turtle. Awesome.

On the way back to the hotel to pick up our luggage, we drove up Rodeo Drive, famed shopping haunt for stars. The street was mostly full of tourists looking for stars, just like we were. We arrived at the airport with plenty of time to spare. The trouble with LA is at one time the roads are fast moving and you can fly anywhere, but a few minutes later, it all grinds to a halt. There wasn't a great deal of choice at the airport, so we had to eat at Chili's a chain that is a kind of prefab Texas. I had fajitas that were adequate if you ignored fact that everything had been sweetened.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Sunday 8 June: Los Angeles – Muscle Beach (far away in time)

Sleeping was not as easy as you'd think. The hotel had one of those air conditioning systems that works by loud mechanical gears, clunking pistons and turbines from the days before oil. We found out in the morning it is possible to switch it off, but then of course everything heats up because LA is all about sunshine and chaos. It's hot and sticky.

Those of you who complain about the size of UK Sunday Newspapers should get a US Sunday Paper. There's enough written material here to keep you going a whole month. And enough wood to build a shed.

The hotel had a buffet breakfast like most hotels. It was pretty good with a fair selection. Best of all was a make-your-own-waffle machine. However, this was so popular you could never get to it for kids.

The morning concierge also had that actor look. It's pretty safe to assume everyone in LA from the road sweeper to the mayor is an actor. It should be noted that even the state governor is an actor. (In the loosest possible meaning of the term - he's actually only a bodybuilder who can read out lines, but in Hollywood, anything goes.)

We took a walk around the area. It was not the movie-star part of Beverley Hills, but a highly Jewish area. With kosher delis, Hebrew schools and groups of men walking around dressed in black with big hats covering little caps. We stopped in Label's (probably pronounced "Labelle" rather than "label") for so-so coffee and coffee cake. I liked the coffee cake, but it was perhaps a bit early in the morning for sponge. Cath said it wasn't at all what she thinks off when she thinks of coffee cake. The guy seemed to mutter when we only ordered coffee, I think annoyed that we didn't order any of their staple sandwiches.

A number of years back, a friend, Carolyn and I staged a few cultural exchanges. She came to London and I went over to see their three capital cities Washington DC, Disneyland and Universal Studios. Since then she's been married, separated and now moves in theatrical circles.

Carolyn and her friend Arjay had agreed to show us about a bit. As they were running late we decided we had time to feed Catherine. We went to "Factor's Famous Deli" which was closer, bigger and better labelled than Label's. We sat in the nice garden whilst Cath had a great ALT (Avocado Lettuce Tomato) on rye bread (of course) and I had a very decent cup of coffee (decaf as there had been much "caf" at breakfast). This meant we were a little late getting back and nearly missed the friends. But eventually we got together and drove to some of the places to see and be seen in LA.

First off was the Santa Monica Pier a popular tourist and pleasure zone. Off the pier is the beach front. The beach is beautiful golden sand made 1,000,000 degrees by the sun. Near the pier is Muscle Beach, made famous because here men and women with bizarrely formed pectoral muscles would perform amazing feats of sand-kicking.

Although we had been hoping for stars, the beach is more for your regular people, so we saw only one instance of over-the-top breast enhancement. We saw none of what we were really hoping to see (and something a lot of guys are apparently getting) butt implants.

Dogs were very much in evidence. LA is dogtown. People have all shapes and sizes of them. There is a tendency for the smaller more effeminate dog especially wearing a designer dog T-shirt, but you can also see many of the super-large variety often filling the back of a large pick-up truck.

We moved on to the Venice area named after the canals there. We didn't see any of those, but wandered down a street famed for its quirky shops and good eateries before popping in for some good old up-market slash quirky versions of regular foods. I had a pretzel burger which proved that sesame buns or wholemeal rolls are still the top thing to put burgers in and not pretzels. But you can't blame them for trying.

Along the beach a variety of stores and home-made stalls appealed to the hippy in all of us. And also the fashion victim in all of us, as the ultra-tight leggings painted made to look like jeans proclaimed. People sold their wears or set themselves up as human guitar-wielding jukeboxes. One man declared that he would insult anyone anytime for a fee. We nearly took him up on it.

Once again the so-called beautiful people were less in evidence. But then it was Sunday and they were probably in Church. Or at kabala school. Oh hang on, that's Saturday.

It had been nice to see Carolyn again, even for a short amount of time. We shall have to make sure it can happen again soon.

At night, back at our hotel, the streets were patrolled by gangs of men in black coming and going, possibly to their gang head quarters, or "sinnergogs." We had planned to go out and watch some sketch show performed by improvisers or some other Sunday twist on improv or just find a haunt to hang out with the stars, but tiredness due to obscene heat (in my opinion, not Catherine's) took over and we collapsed on the bed.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Saturday 7 June: Dallas; Los Angeles, California – Blocking

It was one of those days that starts like this: We got up, had breakfast, went shopping and then it was 4 pm. Catherine at least got some new shoes and sun glasses out of it. I got a cosmetics case. A big sturdy, manly cosmetics case in which I will keep razor blades - but still a cosmetics case. After lunch, it was time to drive through the erratic Dallas Saturday afternoon traffic to begin the rest of the day, which was very different to the start.

It started with our plane to Los Angeles being delayed on arrival at our end. Once it had gotten there and they had loaded us on, they reported a technical problem with the cargo hold. This didn't take as long to fix as we had thought, but we were then already quite delayed.

LA is a sprawling mess but somehow looks like Christmas from the air at night. It is to my knowledge the most chaotic city in the world. At least outside of Asia. It's like people refuse to organise anything there, but leave it up to people to sort it out for themselves. The roads are madness as everyone fights for themselves with practically no public transport to speak of. As a result merely retrieving your bags at the airport is mayhem. Even this simple thing is chaotic in LA.

However, it being LA, their airport offers some great people watching. Cath observed a typical producer type shouting down the phone because there wasn't someone there to meet him with a card with his name on it. "I pay a lot of money for this service..." he L.A.d. I noticed a tall, model-proportioned woman in a designer yellow tracksuit looking suitably aloof and far too well made up for someone who just got off a plane.

The car hire shuttle buses jockey for position – there are so may of them. Other airports have one shuttle that takes you to each of the lots. LAX (it certainly does) lets all the companies fight it out amongst themselves. Even we knew in LA you need a car. Despite the mayhem on the streets, there simply is no other way to get from A to B in a city where A and B are the other end of the alphabet to each other. The Hertz shuttle bus took us to every terminal and then slogged its way to the Hertz lot. Here we fought through a ridiculous array of counters to find one taking people, albeit in a short-tempered way. What didn't help was that a flight from China had just arrived and people were having to decipher Chinese Driving licences. Especially difficult without any recognisable letters and the fact Chinese dates are written year-month-date (largest first, just like their addresses). Our server warmed to us when she discovered Cath had moved away from the US. There was an almost dreamy look in that weary eye.

The drive was suitable chaotic. Trying to find our way amongst the Saturday-night traffic, along the badly kept roads, using the poor signs and inadequate maps. We made numerous U-turns and once, drove over an area not for such an action just to avoid coming off of the freeway into a bad area. Gangland, if movies are to be believed.

Somehow after a few false turns (including U-turns, M-turns and 8-turns), we made it and arrived at our hotel in the heart of LA's rich district, Beverly Hills. It should all be plain sailing now... No of course not. We drove down into the heart of the building and then realised there was no way up for people not yet checked in except the steep, narrow car lane. So we drove up and let the valet deal with it. We were now in the hotel. What could go wrong? Well, this: The hotel had one room left that they were reserving for us. It was "blocked." "What?" said we. "Blocked." It wasn't clear completely what happened. The actor behind the counter (I'm not kidding, he really was an actor who having been in a Tony-award winning play in New York had relocated to LA to get into movies) explained that someone had called and "blocked" the room. The supervisor, who didn't appear to be an actor but a hotel man, although had a good face for The Sopranos, came and after a call to the manager (mysterious and unreachable – it could have been Marlon Brando) and then IT (probably all Bollywood stars) said that someone had the room open on their screen and so this had blocked it. To solve it, the man who was waiting for his follow up to his roll as younger brother in Surfing Mumbai reset the system (for the hotel itself or the Marriott chain as a whole was not clear).

It was all very interesting, but not at one a.m. when all you wanted was a bed. Sleep, perchance to dream... Oh, no, now all these actors have got me at it.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Friday 6 June: Dallas – Downtown

For some reason it was my turn to have trouble getting up. Catherine is usually the one who needs the sleep. I just need coffee. Now we were out of Seattle, something told me I would have to temper my need for the brew as it just ain't so good in Texas. Just because things are bigger there, it don't mean they are always better. Texans may disagree.

First venture out was to visit Cath's aunt and uncle who live not too far away. They've been under the weather lately and it's always fun to visit then. They have a lot of fire. Plus there are old photos all around, not only of Catherine as a cute little girl, but also from time before the world is as it is now.

There is a lot of support here for Obama, which is really very encouraging. But the support is tempered (my new word) with a feeling many people have that he is going to get assassinated. People remember Malcolm X and Martin Luther King; and hints from Hilary Clinton about the Kennedys have certainly fuelled it. I hope of course this is just pessimism, as things seem to have much improved since those days - assassination-wise at least. However, the US is a country with a lot of guns and a lot of nutcases. Not to mention large, well-armed, well-organised, politically interested groups with some form in this area, such as the Mafia, the Oil Business and the CIA.

We had dinner in Pappadeaux the Sea-food chain (as opposed to the Sea food-chain) allegedly started by a Mr Pappadopolopodous who wanted to sound more Louisianan. They do great Cajun stuff such as gumbas and etoufees and the place is consequently very popular with the locals.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Thursday 5 June: Seattle; Dallas, Texas – Down in the Underground at Midday

We were both up early. Cath typed up notes from her conference and I thought of breakfast and the accompanying coffee. We decided that after checking out, there was enough time to slip in one tourist thing before we headed to the airport. Just round the corner was the base of the Seattle Underground Tour.

It's a tour that goes underground, because there is more to Seattle than what you see. The pamphlet said the tour was side-splitting, but it was more like slightly amusing verging on groany. It was very interesting, giving you a well-told, somewhat humorous introduction to the history of the city, and how it comes to have an under-street level. But the tour itself is too long for the information it imparts. Instead of going into three separate areas you only really need to go into one as part of a longer tour. But you can't deny they are onto a good thing. Tours every hour at 15 dollars a pop and ours had something like 80 people signed up. That's $1200 (divided by 2 tour guides, the company and the rent they have to pay to the shops and buildings who own the bits under the pavement we visited; Oh and tax).

So we saw a few things we wanted to in Seattle. Although we didn't make the pilgrimage to the Subpop record label offices. Seattle is not a big tourist town, and doesn't seem to be a desperately great place to live (although it does seem to attract tramps). But then the two things Seattle is known for is coffee and Grunge. And neither are things that really imply it's a great place to live. In fact just the opposite.

We snatched some lunch at Marcela's Cookery - New Orleans Cuisine, grabbing a jambalaya and etoufee and admired the masks on the wall. It's a cute little place created out of love it feels.

Getting to the airport in Seattle is pretty easy. A taxi sets you back 30 dollars and takes 20-30 minutes. We allowed far too much time, but then I like to be cautious. As it happened our flight was delayed by something like an hour. Internal flights in the US now only SELL you food and alcohol, but the water is still free. The in-flight movie was "College Road Trip" which was more family-orientated than the title suggests. But I watched it without the sound so those kids and cute animals could have been swearing like bitches for all I knew.

Because of wind, our plane took a detour and we were even more delayed, but as it happens it didn't matter too much as because of some miscommunication, Cath's parents were in bed and not there to meet us. We called them at what was then something like one in the morning and felt quite bad about that.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Wednesday 4 June (pt2): Seattle – Private Property

From Ye Olde Curiosity Shop it was a quick uncurious walk to Pier 52, where the ferries leave from. I'd just missed one to Bainbridge Island, and the next one was running late, so I had some time to sit and laptopulate. As well as take some pictures. Several signs stated that the current maritime security level was MARSEC1. Three more and all ferries launch a pre-emptive strike on Vancouver.

Bainbridge Island is the nearest island to Seattle city centre. It's a 35 minute ferry ride and it's free to come back, but not to go. Due to delays, I didn't have a huge amount of time there. I would probably come back with a bike next time and get further into the island which is supposed to be very pretty. This time I walked around the harbour and attached village.

The island is a sleepy little place that is home to many commuters (being so close to a big city) and does try to look tourist friendly. The scenic harbour-front walk starts off being very well sign-posted, but every so often you meet a private property sign and have to go on a non-harbour-front detour. In fact the who walk end unceremoniously with a sudden dead-end and a sign stating "Private Property - NO Trespassing. End of Waterfront Trail."

No detour, no ceremony, nothing. The picture even shows two walker with a jagged red line through them they way pictures of people always appear in The Omen just before they are decapitated gruesomely. Somehow you are not made to feel welcome on Bainbridge Island.

It's not that the locals are unfriendly, it's that they are at work in a high-pressure lawyer's office and paid quite a lot for their little plot of land, thank you very much, and don't want to have it soiled by the likes of you admiring for free what they will still be paying off in 40 years time. The harbour seems to be about 90% private property and 5% sludge. The other 5% is very nice and well signposted.

But as I said, the main attraction is supposed to be the beautiful countryside elsewhere. And next time I'm looking forward to visiting another village memorably called Creosote. One good thing I will say about it is they can spell there. The Harbour Inn was spelt like that. With a u.

In decided to head back early as my ferry had been 15-20 minutes late and the ferry after the next one would cause problems if it was also late. Unfortunately the next ferry was bang on time and I missed it. So I grabbed decaf coffee (Catherine has since pointed out I seem to think about coffee once every three minutes) and a breakfast cookie (breakfast I only think about once a day; twice on special occasions). The latter was twice the size of a regular cookie and made with things Americans might have for breakfast, such as oats and peanut butter.

I laptopped and listened to a hillbilly-haired taxi driver on his cell phone. I was sure he said he'd just got out of prison. There seemed much less people waiting to go back than there had been coming over. Even the cleaners were bored. When I moved seats to get more light, I left a leaflet behind on the chair. It got eagerly snapped up within a couple of minutes.

Of course the next ferry was late due to low tide. It was indeed not very full, but waiting on the other side to board was a huge throng of commuters. All of them oblivious to the thoughts I'd had of kicking over their private property signs.

As I was running late, I walked quickly. Past the numerous Fish and Chip stalls. I was pleased to see they call them chips, but only when they come with fish, otherwise they are still fries.

We had one more night in Seattle, and to save money we moved out of the conference hotel into something with a star or two less and a price to match. It was next to a demolished building and didn't give you a free newspaper. But it did provide breakfast and have free internet, so its clear the extra stars (and money) are for providing newspapers and not being next to derelict buildings.

After checking in and spreading our stuff around the room, we went out to find food. Our first choice turned out to be a very noisy baseball bar-cum-restaurant. Baseball is kind of like cricket for the common man played on a diamond instead of a line and featuring higher balls and more shouting. We ate some wonderful seafood at McCormick's Seafood Bar washed down for me with a watered-down Guinness (I suspect that's how American's like it, after all they drink Budweiser with pleasure) and then a much better Sam Adams. Served in pint glasses as well. Having overfed, we dodged the zombie-like hobos and headed for an early night.