We were warned. When Amtrak goes wrong, boy. Surat Thani was a bit scary, stranded in the deadbeat corner of nowhere in an entirely foreign, unfamiliar place. Emeryville train station (San Francisco’s feeder stop) – for all the foreign it’s all too familiar and simply irksome. Early start, backpack hike from hotel up and down SF’s giddily infamous hills onto a bus transfer to a stop not on our ticket (apparently Emeryville is as good as Oakland – heart stopping *we’re going to miss our train, wrong bus* panic over) and all the while Coast Starlight has had a ‘train/trespasser collision’ = 5+ hour delay in a station with no wifi. Horror. As we were due back in LA at 9pm this most likely means a nerve wracking wait in Downtown LA before the Metro starts again at 4 am. We’ll see about that one.
The same Downtown was a pit stop before we went up to San Francisco. Considered a ‘dodgy’ area, seedy, don’t be walking around after dark kinda place. Undoubtedly true, yet the novelty for a States virgin allows a distinctly rose coloured tint to creep. That homeless guy muttering to himself looks like Bubs, harmless. Samuel L Jackson over there, working out some situation. Fire escapes for the RENT-esque to croon over and all sorts of intersections ready for a chase. It’s a film set, a novel, such is the familiarity with America as described and imagined. 6 days in and it’s becoming more real, like it could be really be touched and traversed and taken in on the immediate. It’s wonderful.
The advantage of train travel: a sense of scale. Crawling along California’s spine with coast on one side and straw coloured all American scenery on the other. Slopes and bumps that fall somewhere between rugged and rolling depending on their proximity to a town. A taste of our next train to Grand Canyon, of Mice and Men and O Brother Where Art Thou. Big Sur there, Silicon here, Fraiser’s apartment somewhere far up there. Sheldon likes trains, there’s a Modern Family – Arrested Development up ahead.
Making friends with Cathy, one of many friendly locals to have already made our acquaintance, was also uplifting given a Brit’s usual disdain for any conversation on public transport. I mention her here simply for future recollection.
Actually, Nic’s turning into Bob. Having been rewarded with a chat about philosophy and Melvyn Bragg on the bus into LA, he’s turned quite the socialite. I bide my time and break in when required (navigating the testosterone fuelled banter of ridiculously brash young men during England’s first World Cup match – unwittingly we chose a bar in SF’s Italian Quarter – one such example).
North Beach and City Lights. Height Ashbury. Berkeley. Golden Gate. Each met expectations so perfectly there is almost no need to record much at all. Intelli-Hipsters, Marijuana Grunge, coffee swilling Cals and well paid joggers respectively. A heady mix.
San Francisco is a stream of interesting upon fascinating on quirky. Swish 20’s apartment blocks fading into back street mural art and the still beating pulse of that swinging decade many moons ago. From on high, white houses twinkle in the sun with a near Spanish glow and the art deco features on even the most run down of quarters are so striking it’s hard to keep calm, impossible to not walk into the many comically vintage cable cars given all the delights above streetview (Google car passed us by, felt exposed). Tips and taxes not included remain infuriating but I’m sure it’ll click at some point.
Cliffhanger Averted: Arrived in LA at 2 am. Taxi to Hollywood. Lying in Marilyn Monroe’s old boarding bed.