We’ve now had four days in the States, and we’re certainly wondering which country we are now in. Sure, there are lots of signs that we’re in the US – lots of very very wide roads, lots of very very fat people, and lots of fast food joints. But then, everybody seems to speak Spanish. It’s amazing, in LA and further south, there are spanish signs and adverts all over the place, and the staff we meet in hotels, motels and restaurants all seem to have english as a second language. I did expect that there would be plenty of Mexicans and ex-Mexicans in California, but I hadn’t expected their impact to be so pervasive on the state. As we’ve moved south of LA, many signs and adverts are now appearing only in Spanish, with no English translation. Let’s hope the road signs don’t start going that way too!
America is some of the things we’d been expecting – but I don’t think we’d really imagined the scale of each of those things. Things like roads which are obscenely wide. Outside of our motel is a road which 1 mile up is a normal single-carriageway road, but outside of the motel it is 10 lanes wide. I crossed it on foot to the Starbucks opposite (to use the wireless Internet connection), and it felt quite intimidating walking in front of 5 lanes of traffic all poised to surge forward through me. This was heightened by the fact that the “WALK” sign started to flash “DON’T WALK” after just 2 lanes of traffic – and I had 8 more to go!
You always read about Americans being obese, but again, they do that bigger than anywhere else in the world. We’ve seen some obscene examples already of people being overweight, and especially of families where every single member from the smallest child is huge. For some reason they all seem to be staying in motels! I read in the paper yesterday that over half of all residents of New York are clinically obese, and California can’t be that far behind. It seems that CA is a state of extremes – 1/3 seem obese, 1/3 seem ‘normal’, and 1/3 seem anorexic.
America is also the capital of capitalism, which means that people can buy what they want. It also means that unless people pay for it, it isn’t available. Internet connections are a good example – in Canada there were cheap Internet cafes all over the place, charging around £1 an hour to use a PC. Here, there are very few, but there are more wireless networks available, to connect your own PC. In Canada, we were paying around £2.50 for an hour’s wireless Internet access from our Tablet. In the US, it’s £4 an hour, or £25 a month (every single StarBucks in California offers wireless Internet). So we can get online easily because we’ve got our own Tablet PC, but it wouldn’t be anywhere near as easy if we weren’t carrying our own PC. I’m writing this in our motel, which has just set up a wireless network (sadly, they’ve not got it quite right – the signal is very bad in the rooms and in the lobby – but it’s great at the extreme ends of the corridors. I’m currently squatting on the floor at the end of the third floor corridor!).
So overall our impressions of America are mixed – initially poor – and we were wondering if we should leave for Fiji earlier. Then we started to find some of the good things, like the good motels, and we became more balanced in our views.