Around the world in 50ish days – Day 1


14/9/05 (Note I took in to account the effect of the dateline so none of that ‘Oh no, we didn’t make it back in time!’, ‘Oh yes, we did!’ à la Phileas Fog for me.)

So, here I am in the US of A. The first thing that struck me as I went through immigration at LAX was how many employees there were. While in Australia or the UK you’d be lucky to have one person telling people what to do at the passport control queue, here there seemed to be at least seven. No matter how small the potential problem, there seemed someone employed solely to solve it. I guess that is the result in a country of 300 million people that has a relatively low minimum wage and is the home of capitalism. The other thing that struck me most in my five hours in LAX was how truly multiracial it was with pretty much equal numbers of whites, blacks and hispanics and a signifacant minor minority of Asians. It reminded me, as I get reminded every time I go back to the UK, that for all the talk of Australia being a multicultral (admittedly a slightly different concept) society, it is still extremely Anglo-Saxon dominated.

Anyway, that was LA done for me, and it was on to San Francisco. Being too cheap to invest in a cab all the way from the airport I got a train downtown from where I planned to get a taxi to Stella and Leon’s (my aunt and uncle’s) place, a few kms away where I am staying. The train, as all public transport is in this city, was marvelously efficient. But as I left the station I couldn’t find a taxi so I began wandering around looking for one (not wanting to give away I was a tourist by pulling a map out — as if the 70L pack on my back hadn’t already done that). As a first sight of America ‘proper’ (i.e. outside an airport), it was an eye-opening experience. It turns out I had wandered into Tenderloin — both the most curiously named and dodgiest part of SF. It truly felt like I was in GTA. Tempting as it was to jack a car, run a few people over then crash the car into a wall, blowing it up, I managed to resist and extricated myself from this less-than-welcoming part of town, found a cab and removed myself back to white, middle-class suburbia. A note of caution however to anyone else who finds themselves in such a situation: it is probably unnecessary to let out a Ned Flanders-ish scream when you see three big black guys with baseball bats walking towards you. It turns out that in this country that as well as using them to smash people’s heads in, they have found another use for them — playing baseball.

There are plenty of other oddities about this place. I am still struggling with the money and its greenness. My inability to tell the notes apart without a few minutes to study them and a book on US history to allow me to identify the presidents adorning them means I will invariably just pay in 20s and am very rapidly converting all my currency to one dollar bills and one cent coins. As I do whenever I travel I am again coming to the conclusion that Australia’s greatest ever act was doing away with one and two cent coins. I am already dreading having to remove my belt when I go through security when I fly to NY as the weight of pennies in my pocket will no doubt pull my pants down. In addition to driving on the wrong side of the road (which has already nearly got me run over a number of times), it turns that their taps and jars also work the wrong way. If I had a penny for every time I have spent ten minutes trying to twist a ‘tight’ lid/tap only to realise I’d been turning it in the wrong direction and had to spend the next ten minutes trying to turn the now actually tight lid/tap in the correct direction, my pants would be falling down even without the removal of my belt.

Anyway, that was my first day in America. Stay tuned – day two highlights are coming right up.


2 Responses to “Around the world in 50ish days – Day 1”

  1. While in that country, I frequently fell into the trap of looking in my wallet and seeing 10 or 15 notes and thinking I had enough money, only to pull them out and realise I had 14 one dollar notes.

    I just dropped my pennies as I walked along. It provides an inexpensive trail in case you get lost.

  2. It’s the worst monetary system I’ve ever seen. Though it does make it fun to tip people with notes. Roll them up tight and hand them over and they won’t immediately know that you’ve only given them a buck.

    It works in reverse, too, if you’re generous and not a tight-arse.