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Going to San Francisco - The Lyorn's Den

Tue Oct. 10th, 2006

12:58 pm - Going to San Francisco

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So, I'm in the US. Not exactly in San Francisco, but close enough (I hope).



I'll spare you the longish tale of my paperwork woes - some of you already know, because I phoned you at insane hours to blow off steam. If you missed that, count yourself lucky.

But finally the paperwork was put in a folder, the bags were packed, and after three hours of sleep, repeatedly interrupted by my cats who felt that something Not Good was going on, and checked on me every hour, I stumbled out of bed, grabbed my things, petted the cats and left the house before sunrise on a crisp and nice autumn not-yet-morning.

My colleague who was to pick me up for the drive to the airport arrived after 45 freezing (three degrees centigrade, in case you wanted to know) minutes. By then I was glad that I had put on clothes for over-airconditioned airplanes. We were just in time for the first flight, which left at 9-something, so at least there was no waiting involved. Unfortunately, there wasn't any breakfast involved, either.

My bags checked in OK. I had been worrying. Usually I do not travel with enough baggage to worry about anything except whether it will arrive. This time, I had close to 30 kilos, plus carry-on! Holy cow! I hate schlepping a lot of stuff. I hate it more when it's mine, because having to do so makes me feel incompetent, disorganized and wasteful. Not to mention exhausted and bad-tempered.

***

Frankfurt airport was chaotic, crowded and noisy with too many long, badly lit corridors. It's always like that, except during the holidays, when it's worse. We didn't know how long the security check would take, so we walked straight to the terminal. Security check went fine, as these things go, though it shocked my cell phone battery into emptiness. On the other side of the security check there wasn't any breakfast, again, except for overpriced bitter coffee and a very bad sandwich from a place located in the smoking area. I've still got a cough (last Thursday, two doctors wanted me to stay home and recover for a week, a transatlantic flight wasn't anywhere in their recommendation), and the smoke really got to me.

More lines, more paperwork, waiting on uncomfortable chairs in a dimly-lit, cold and stuffy hall with windows that somehow managed not to improve matters any. Finally the buses came and got everyone out to the plane. I wonder why some planes can be boarded from the waiting area and some can't. Tiassa probably knows. The day was beautiful, with a clear yellow sun and only a few light clouds in the sky, and everything shone in a golden and green light. In the plane, it was dark and crowded again. I hate enclosed spaces, especially when they are crowded and dark. At least I could switch seats with my colleague, who had a window seat and didn't care for it. And the plane, a gigantic 747, wasn't full, so I had some elbow room, as the seat next to me was empty. If I ever win the lottery, I'll fly first class. Or take a ship.

Once everyone was seated, and the time for take-off had come, we had to wait another 45 minutes for some stragglers, who, in the end, didn't arrive. Some years ago I had to change planes in Brussels, and the plane had to wait 60 minutes for the Prince of Luxembourg. But he, at least, showed up in the end.

From my seat, the wing filled half of my view, and before take-off the wing extended to nearly twice its breadth - I had either never seen or never noticed anything like that before. Still, if I did some contortions, I could see outside. We cruised about the airfield for some time and I enjoyed seeing all those airplanes, all painted differently, from all over the world. Finally we were ready for take-off.

***

Take-off is the best thing about flying, better even then being between the clouds and the sky. This time I managed not to squee, but it was a close call.

I always feel that I should be able to recognize places from the air, as I like to look at maps and have a good memory for them, but for some reason it's much more difficult in real life - maybe because one sees only a small bit at a time, and cannot see the landmarks that one is used to on maps. Also, no one tells you where North is, unless you have a watch -- which I hadn't, because my cell phone was out of power and had switched off.

From the air, Germany is full of villages and towns. They blend into one another. The land is patterned by habitation. Of course, there are also yellow fields, and winding rivers that I can't name when looking down at them, and some woods starting to show autumn colours. After crossing the Rhine, we flew over clouds, and I couldn't see where the land ended and the North Sea began.

Next I saw was water, and some ships, and some tiny white shiny dots on the water. Some disappeared, some didn't. I wonder if they were smaller ships, or small cliffs, or something else? When you are that far up, a low hanging cloud like a cumulus seems to be on the ground, not above it.

After some times I saw small, green islands with a few houses on it. One side of the islands had cliffs and one could see the waves breaking, a white halo from the air. I think it were the Fareor Islands. They looked nice and cool and open and windy. I was so tired of warm and stuffy and crowded. But there were still hours to go.

At least on the plane they fed us. Quite well, actually, I guess if passengers are busy chewing, they are less likely to be a nuisance to the crew. The food wasn't bad, but eating with no space to move your elbows distracts you from what you are eating.

More clouds. Something white that might have been icebergs. Then land below, white with snow, dotted with not-yet-frozen lakes. It reminded me that it was already October, despite the sun. Despite me being on a plane to San Francisco.

My cough got bad and my neighbors offered cough drops, which helped a little. The pilot announced that we had more than made up for the lost time and would be in San Francisco early. Below were fields so large that at first I felt that we were flying very low, and long, straight roads, and very small villages set very far apart. The sun painted shadows on mountains, some of which (already? still?) had snow on top. Farther south, and the mountains looked soft, as if covered with green or golden brown felt. Turquoise rivers ran into dark blue lakes, and finally we could see the long stretch of the pacific coast, straight as a ruler, the water a brighter blue than the lakes, then the white of breaking waves, off-white sand, and dark green land. Rivers emptied into the sea, not only winding, but dividing and coming together again, forming small lakes and sandy fords -- all those things few rivers in Germany are given a chance to do. The land looked large and empty and incredible beautiful.

Finally, a river that flowed south instead of west came into view. Cities, looking very ordered from above, more straight roads. And then, the bay and San Francisco.

The runways of the San Francisco airport start where the water ends. When I landed here first, some 13 years ago, I expected an almighty "splash", because it looked as if the plane was landing in the middle of the bay. This time I knew better. The landing was smooth and before long we were off. This time we didn't need to take a bus.

***

Outside, it was warm and sunny - of course, it's California. The fog kept on the ocean side of the peninsula. Inside, more dim corridors, more paperwork. Immigration. Baggage. Everyone has dark blue or grey or black bags. If I ever get a suitcase for myself, instead of borrowing from generous friends, I'll get it in sky blue or apple green, or maybe bright red. And tie it with a purple ribbon.

Customs. More corridors, but at least we were finally getting into the less-dim parts of the airport. Local time was 4:30 pm, and my body said correctly, "It's half past two in the night, and I've been up since seven in the morning!". My brain, trained to be optimistic, said, "Shut up, the sun's shining", and during the ride on the Sky Train I even felt that big, goofy grin on my face that comes from knowing that I'm traveling, seeing foreign countries, and all kinds of new and amazing things.

The car rental was amazing in another way. I'd have gladly settled for a compact car and a good map, but my colleague seemed to feel that a VW Golf or the like was below my standing and that I needed GPS. The nice woman from the car rental offered a Volvo. Now, I like Volvos, especially the old, large ones. But I know that my taste in cars is not up to date, so I asked for a picture. Good idea: The car was a SUV, insanely large, tall and looking as if I wanted to drive a race through the Sahara. Eh, no, thanks. How about an Audi? Well, basically, Audis are fine, even if they are generally driven by the suicidal or incompetent. (I hope I'm in the latter category.) Unfortunately, Audis are expensive. Some haggling, until I felt that I was trying to buy a carpet in Turkey, then I got the Audi and I very much hope the company will cover the cost. My goodness. I should have gotten a compact. All those electronics! I haven't yet found out how to turn anything off! ("Anything" here is: light, radio, and air conditioning.)

Considering that I need to buy a new car some time in the next two years, I wonder if there's any hope of getting one where you can just open the windows, adjust the mirrors and the seats and turn things on and off with a quick move of your hand, instead of having to work through complicated combinations of buttons and wait for some small motors to take their sweet time in doing what you could do manually in half a second.

My colleague was driving, which was OK, because while I found driving in the US quite easy, I hadn't been that tired last time, and I had driven a car which you could control by doing things, instead of pressing buttons. At least I got the navigation system to work.

We arrived at the hotel, I checked in and unloaded my bags, then drove my colleague home and wished, again, for a VW Golf and a map. I did that even more on the way back, when I was out of sync with the navigation system and always took turns too early and needed half an hour for the ten-minute drive. It had been getting dark in the meantime, and through the tinted windows, seeing anything that was not brightly lit was hard. The other cars had become disembodied twin lights. I finally managed to find the hotel without causing an accident, and after three tries even managed to put out the car lights. (I have looked for the manual today, but none of the compartments that I feel should be there opens. I wonder how long until Manufactum sells cars.)

***

The hotel is, I have been assured, a very good one. If you have ever been to a good business hotel in Germany, you might remember that all is in bright colours, very light. The furniture is light and easily moved and might even seem a little flimsy. Even if you have AC, the windows open. The floor in the lobby is usually stone, and it looks cold and polished and tends to give you inferiority complexes if you happen to be unkempt or have mud on your shoes.

Now, this hotel, it is in a beautiful, park-like neighborhood (yet directly next to the motorway). The lobby looks a little like some aged, but well-kept community space, with a colour scheme reminiscent of the 50s, a fireplace, a big TV, lots of upholstery, and windows to the park. The buildings, arranged like terraced houses, four apartments to a house, look flimsy, and one starts to understand how Hollywood got the idea that people could get shoved through walls by anything weaker than a bulldozer.

While the walls seem flimsy (I haven't yet tried to shove anyone or anything through it), the furniture makes up for it in bulk. Large couch. Large bed. Large desk chair. Gigantic kitchen stove. Dark carpet. One whole side of the room is windows, but they do not open and have a slight milky sheen. In front of the windows are dark, coniferous trees. There's a TV, and a desk, and a couch table, two night tables, lots of cupboards, a large closet, yet no bookshelves. Everything in the bathroom is extremely low: The washing basin is lower than an average desk, the bathtub only comes up to a hand breadth below my knee, and to operate the flush button on the loo one has to bow down to it. I wonder if it was made for shorter people. Maybe 150 cm or less. The kitchen counter is quite fine, though. The fridge is large and clean, there's a dishwasher, a place to eat in the kitchen, and a radio alarm clock next to the bed. Which was, by the time I was taking inventory, telling me that it was 8 pm. My body was helpfully informing me that I had been up for 25 hours.

I took a cold shower because I didn't find a way to change water temperature and was too tired to walk back to the reception desk and ask. I barely remembered to take my contacts out and then tumbled into bed. It was too warm - the air condition didn't go below 68 F, which is about 20° C, and the nights had been a lot cooler in Germany (where I sleep with my window open unless it's freezing), and for a while I was actually too tired to sleep, but finally I closed my eyes, and when I opened them again, the alarm clock said 2 am. Which is 11 am at home and would be the latest time the cats would allow me to sleep without feeding them. I fell asleep again, and six hours later my (now recharged) cell phone alarm woke me.

We had agreed not to go to work the first day, but instead get over the jet lag, and I intended to unpack and finally get that darned map. I went down for breakfast, which was OK, though not spectacular. The fried potatoes were very good, and they had lots of fruit, but no black tea. As I rarely eat breakfast, there's not much to complain about. (Except the lack of tea.)

***

OK, I'm leaving the office now. I've got no web connection here, I hope they'll fix it tomorrow. I'll back-date this post.

Oh, and I just met a guy who was in technical school with me. The company is strange that way.