What can I say? Going abroad always feels good but going to America, especially to California, on top of it for pleasure, is especially special. The reputation for open-mindedness and advancement California’s acquired are great magnets, despite all the negative, mostly political, campaigns, so sure I was looking forward to flying over the ocean and almost two continents to see for myself how the Golden State copes with it all.
First things first: California is huge, California is diverse. California is only one part of the USA, 1/50 to be precise, albeit the third largest within the union (by area). It extends almost 800 miles in length and has it all: ocean coast, snow-capped mountains, deserts, dense redwood forests.
Secondly, California is an economic powerhouse on the world scale. Think Hollywood, think Apple, think Internet, to list only the obvious determinants. This means there’s wealth and knowledge galore. Both are quite obvious. There are several super mega universities that make themselves known and heard, whereas money, well, the money is an absolutely private affair. It is evidently not spent on roads (really bad) or public transport (public what?).
Then, California has always been not only a trendsetter state but also one of the most progressive ones. Especially San Francisco, a city with wonderful both position and layout: just remember the hippies and later the LGBT movement.
Speaking of San Francisco, it is a marvellous city. It’s built on countless hills, some quite steep, others longish and flat, so it’s visually impressive. It’s also quite colourful. The houses come painted in many different shades and there are numerous murals, particularly in the Mission district. People of San Francisco seem to be opinionated and expressive which I dare say only as a mere passer-by.
Silicon Valley, as notorious as it may be, is a quiet flatness caught between the mountains and San Francisco Bay Area. Here, it’s all about business, hi-tech business, and it seems to be on steroids.
As a tourist, you’re not bothered here. Everybody minds his or her business. You find yourself surrounded by super humans, developing whatnot, knowing a hell of a lot more about almost everything than your average smarty, or dispensing a hell of a lot more money than you can grasp. Truth be told, there are not only super smart people nor only super rich but the idea that the world’s future is going on here is persistingly alive.
As far as stereotypes go, I found the following to be true: car dependent urban sprawl is more than evident and nobody wears proper shoes. But, mercifully, it’s not anymore impossible to get a (relatively) good and regular-sized cup of coffee.
Still, what I found to be different from my last visit is the lack of the contagious enthusiasm and proverbial American optimism that were intense and palpable a few years ago. You don’t see many happy faces on commuters or shop assistants. They even sometimes appear as if they couldn’t be bothered which I never expected to happen in high performing America. There are a lot of the homeless too. Last but not least there are a lot of (heavily) overweight people as well.
It used to be much easier when we were younger, I guess, to roam around the world unburdened with the gloomy state of the world. With age and experience one gains a more sober approach. The world out there is huge, it is a jungle, and for many, life is a struggle. You pay attention and it doesn’t feel comfortable seeing it for real. I couldn’t help being occupied with Mr President’s political promise to “make America great again”. The line resonated with me often during my short stay in Silicon Valley because from what I saw, oh man, it’ll be hard work.
To make you think:
If California’s the future, why are so many leaving? (to Texas apparently) via curbed.com
Why San Francisco is a nightmare, according to science via businessinsider.com
The Absurd Primacy of the Automobile in American Life via theatlantic.com
To make you smile:
Coming to America (so very much 80s)
If you’re going to San Francisco by Scott McKenzie
California Dreamin’ by The Mamas and The Papas (check out the hair, THE hair!)