All images and text is copyright of Chris Wormald and may only be used with written permission.
A big bonus for anyone flying into San Francisco is to arrive; (in the daylight with a window seat!).
The plane describes a big arc; coming in from a northerly direction, the view is stunning of the harbour with its islands and iconic bridges. Sweeping over the city to the international airport in the south east; all that water, all those boats!
Transport from the airport to the city is easy on the Bart train or in one of the shared taxis for a flat fee, although one has to wait for the driver to gather a full contingent of passengers. Being dropped at the door of wherever you are staying is a definite luxury, and the ride through the city, whilst the other passengers disembark, went some way towards orientating this new visitor.
It was my first trip to America, and in my mind were all the stereotyped images exported from a culture who, for the last 80 years, has bombarded the world with its media, fro
m the endless Hollywood and television stream of excreta to books full of powerful, still photos; the landscape by Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, cityscapes and towns and the roadside by Robert Frank, strange people by Diane Arbus and Richard Avedon, and nightmares by Weegee the Famous. In my mind I saw walls of my favourite photographers’ work and eagerly anticipated the SFMOMA, the famous Museum of Modern Art. A bitter disappointment – not one Weston or Adams, or indeed anyone’s work that I wanted to see.
During the next week and a half, the culture came to life as I walked around the cities on the tourist trails, galloped up north on a Greyhound bus to see the redwoods and back by an Amtrak train. The buzzy university city of Berkeley linked by the Bart train, where everyone talked on their mobiles and/or sat at their laptops in coffee houses, surrounded by people, yet in total isolation, was a great contrast to San Francisco where tourists and locals rode the trams together.
I walked the length of Haight Ashbury and Golden Gate Park, thinking of the birth of the alternative society and the internet and still dotted with psychedelic hippy detritus.
I drank latte at the beach-side Warming Hut near Crissy Field, a newly created wildlife area, whilst gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge and Marin County, watching people exercising dogs on the beach. I listened to a talented Joni Mitchel style singer/songwriter in a wharf-side bar, whilst drinking the most expensive pint of real ale I have ever had!
I gazed at diving pelicans and sea-lions as the sun set over the harbour. I discovered garlic bagels and cream cheese as a perfect breakfast snack, sadly unavailable in France. I mooched around the Fisherman’s Wharf piers taking in the historic ships and went on a ferry trip to beautiful Sausalito, where I lunched on a fantastic clam chowder, walking it off whilst I looked for the remaining arcs.
San Francisco is an amazingly cosmopolitan place, people of every race and colour on the Bart train and on the buses; and of every size from the joint clichés of the morbidly obese, eating fast food in their cars, faces smeared with sauce and grease, to the stick thin, sweaty runners and joggers, punishing their bodies to the point of exhaustion on the many footpaths and up and down the many steps.
But there is one very memorable mental image that I have taken back to France to mull over.
All the homeless; with their trolleys full of belongings along every main street. It was a shock to discover them in a country with the highest standard of living/consumption in the world. In a country that interferes violently in other countries when it thinks they do not come up to its own high standards. The maxim, first look in your own back yard, comes to mind when surveying this sad situation. I was used to seeing street people, the homeless and the beggers in India, but encountering them in such numbers in America was a shock.
Again on a direct return flight from and to Heathrow, BA lived up to my expectations with decent food and plenty of orange juice.
I wish I had had the budget to stay in California longer and visit other cities and parks, but I found it an expensive place to be on location, even staying in rather depressing hostels with shared dorms.