Sunday, 13 July 2008

Postcard from America

I recently returned from America's West Coast and, Boy oh Boy!, the Americans have done it again. As soon as I landed all the stereotypes crawled out of the woodwork.
In LA, the old guy had the young blonde latching on to his sleeve; the obese American lady ate her double cheeseburger with large fries, gulping a Diet Coke in between bites. In Venice beach, a tall black man went for a nocturnal walk with his dog. This would not be noteworthy, were it not for the fact that the mutt was made of plastic and rolling on wheels. I was enraptured.

The weather was perfect, which is what you'd expect from the east coast. With the exception of a few days (seven - out of a nine), when it rained, hailed, and thunder stormed, the sun shone and the sky was a clear blue.

The hotel in Orange County was lovely (or lonely): insulated, isolated, and desolated. Breakfast was a t(h)reat. "More syrup with your fried lard? How about a chocolate glazed frozen banana? Maybe a jelly donut?" That's alright, I assured the affable lady, I'll just stick to my hash brown and ice cream. She then plied me with coffee until my eyes bulged out of their sockets. I felt much better.

My room had a television so I did not need to go out for further entertainment, which is just as well, since there is nowhere to go in Orange County. I sat riveted to the screen watching real-time police chases. When that was over, and after Judge Judy summed up the small-claim case in 28 seconds, I leaned back and watched the infomercials. A trembling preacher beseeched me to walk the path of righteousness with him or at least buy his book 'Every day A Miracle' for a mere $19.99 I bought it there and then. Praise the lord for credit cards.

Then, an elderly lady (who swore she was over 60 but didn't look a day over 30) explained how her wrinkles had all disappeared within two weeks of using the new AllGone cream. She went on to relate the miraculous effect it has had on her self-confidence, family relations and bank account. A lithe man advocated a fold-up-all-in-one muscle stretcher. He testified how it transformed him from a fat slob into a Greek-God in less than 6 weeks. Since then he has had three job promotions and seven marriage proposals (two of them from women). Next, a psychologist looked straight at me from the screen and asked me if I have ever wondered about the merits of breast reduction, penile extension or eyebrow enhancement. My mind wondered; then it wandered, and now I fear it may have left me completely.

The natives, I found, were very friendly. They all wanted to know how I was today, and they bade me farewell with a cordial 'happy holidays'. In between they said a host of other things, but I couldn't understand their nasal accent, so I just smiled inanely. I expected to return with a bit of a twang to my accent but I am glad to report that my tomatoes still don't rhyme with potatoes.

In Catalina Island I drove an electric buggy and, in the evening, took tea near the port. I was minding my own business when a fastidiously dressed octogenarian lady wearing layers of makeup and bright red lipstick, struck up conversation with me. She almost died on hearing I was from Israel. Immediately she planted herself next to me and proceeded to tell me how much she admires us Jews and how she resented "'ol 'em black people comin onnis island an takin ol em jobs from us". Beneath the crusty layer of face powder I detected a tear.

Los Angeles is an urban sprawl, connected by a network of freeways. A car is essential. As soon as I walked into the rental office I knew I was in good hands. Glen promised to take care of me. First he upgraded me from a pleb-size car to a full-size (for a handsome charge I later learnt), then he talked so fast that I no longer knew what he was doing to me. The car was big, fast and comfortable. It had armrests, cup holders, coin holders, pen holders, air-conditioning, ABS brakes, cruise control, power windows, power mirrors, auto gearbox... everything short of a blow-up driver to drive me. But I had a NeverLost system. I called her Lucy: she directed me, with the aid of 8 satellites, to wherever I wanted to go. All I had to do was punch in the address I wished to get to, and my wish was her command. She would begin: "calculating route (route rhymed with lout): turn right at the first turning and keep to the left." At the end of the route Lucy would declare triumphantly: "You have arrived at your destination." I miss her dreadfully.

In the East coast you can go through a red light if you are doing a right turn. Many keep an anti- radar detector in their cars, to protect them from police speed radars. The police developed a radar detector detector. So the radar detector manufactures have now developed an anti-radar detector detector. I have still not heard of a radio detector detector detector.

The coastal route to San Francisco was magnificent and the tempestuous sea sent spectacular waves to the shore bringing seals with them. I had never seen seals in the wild, and by their expression it was clear that they had never seen me. We studied each other for a while and then, disappointed, they swam back to sea.

San Francisco was excellent: vibrant, sunny and friendly. I loved the freedom, space and choice. Alcatraz prison by comparison, was eerie, dark and sinister. It lacked freedom, space and choice. It was a very merry time in Saint Jose. There were father Christmases everywhere and the plastic dogs all barked 'Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer' if you clapped hard enough in front of their noses. In a little village close by, they were enacting the nativity with a life-size animated cast, including donkeys, sheep, wicked taxmen and angels who flapped their white pillowcases above a new born child lent to the production team by the local maternity ward.

America might be the land of the free, but it is not cheap and the dollar is not the easiest of currencies. All the notes look alike and a Dime (ten Cents) is smaller than the 5-Cents coin. Calling abroad is another interesting - and expensive - experience. A quarter (that is a 25-Cents coin) is the largest coin denomination and it would require 28 of those to make a call to Israel from a call box. So a calling card is the only way to go. Which entails dialling 38 digits. If you want to call me from the US please proceed: 1-800-423-8129-29430-52317-1-1-011-972-3-5289216. If the number's engaged it may be helpful to memorize this sequence by finding mnemonic patterns. Alternatively, you can call the international operator. You will get through to a menu-driven system and the following prompts: "If you'd like to hold for 20 minutes and then be disconnected, press 1. If you'd like to be disconnected now, press 2. Thank you for calling and have a good day."

All told, America's east coast was awesome; full of weird and wonderful characters who will follow – or haunt - me for days to come. The food was great, and in abundance (I am still finishing off my doggy bags from the Mexican restaurant having been banned after committing the capital crime of 'double dipping') and the weather - I am told - is always good.

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