Friday, June 12, 2009

Big American life

Most of the time I forget I'm in the US as so many things here are familiar - the cars, fashions, chain stores, junk food - but then some things snap me out of this dream state:
  • Mega roads - dual carriageways are so old-school here. 4 or 5 lanes or more in each direction are common as well as double-decker bridges
  • Hummers and RV's - although most of the vehicles I've seen are small and efficient, especially in San Franciscos where the Prius rules in popularity, these now rarely-seen super inefficient beasts suggest how pre-peak oil roads might have been occupied. Out on the open roads, huge homes on wheels roam the land with full-sized 4wd's towed behind. I'm happy to demonstrate to their occupants anytime the wonders of creating a house, bed and kitchen from bicycle panniers.
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road - this still catches me out but once I start cycling, I might start to break down my instincts to look the wrong way before crossing streets
  • Imperial numbers - why is it that only one nation still clings to this very complicated way of calculating things?
  • Obama obsession - Barack Obama is on everything - fridge magnets, posters, apartment windows, caps, t-shirts. Irby was carrying out his own Obama survey after 100 days in office with an average rating of "A", sitting between his lowest score, B, and highest, A+.

  • High Mexican population - the cheap tacquerias (a frequent life-saver when I've forgotten to eat) and extensive use of Spanish. A comment
  • No plastic bags in supermarkets - all heavy recycled paper
  • Very visible homelessness
  • Megastores - after my time in the wilderness with Irby, my reintroduction to urban life was a visit with friends, Robert and Jenny, to two big megastores in one afternoon: Costco and Office Depot (like Australia/South Africa's Office Works). Neither could be easily reached without a car (no sign of bus stops or bike racks) and each swallowed up vast amounts of shoppers and merchandise. Costco sold everything from digital cameras to massive strawberry punnets, portable garden saunas to Australian red wine, meat to children toys, socks and bed linen, novels to furniture and photo printing. All the merchandise is stack 12 metres high in one vast shed. I bought a cardboard replica of a USB memory stick and then had to exchange it for the real thing at "the cage" - a secure lockup for valuable, easily-stolen items. Fortunately the system worked.
  • The word "toilet" is not used. Strangely, a toilet is a Rest Room (where is the day bed?) or a bathroom (no baths to be seen). Toilet paper is bath tissue and if you ask where the toilet or dunny is, you usually have to translate.

I'll think of more and add them in. Stay tuned

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