So we have finally arrived in San Diego to begin this trip. I say “finally” because the last few months have been hectic as we moved house for the first time in two decades, sold our house in France, helped my 87 year old Mum move from Worcestershire to Devon and I kept something of a legal practice going around the edges.
So it was with an enormous sense of relief that we pulled out of Thiftwicket Lane on Wednesday morning to start the drive to Heathrow. The amazing Amy Jansen – singer and podcaster extraordinaire – has kindly agreed to house sit whilst we are away, looking after our dog Bella and the cat Simba. She happened to be in London on Wednesday so kindly offered to collect the van from long stay parking in Heathrow later that day, thus savings us going bankrupt by car parking charges for 2 months.
The flight was boring – well all flights are boring. British Airways has clearly had a bad pandemic and, for all the welcome messages as passengers returned, costs were clearly being cut to try to save the business. The result was rubbish films and indifferent food. But we pay them to get us there; not entertain and feed us on the way. The highlight was crossing Montana (the route took us via Greenland) with totally clear skies and views of spectacular mountains. We had recently seen the Jane Campion film, “The Power of the Dog” which is set in that landscape in Victorian times. A stunning film where, as so often with her films, the landscape is one of the central characters in the film. That will be for another trip, preferably in the summer months as they were all covered with snow at this time of year.
Still 11 hours straight in a cramped seat was a challenge. Eventually, at about 4pm local time, we circled around the mountains inland of San Diego and the pilot pulled off that magical trick of descending at just the right angle so that the plane landed in the airport. I know it is technology, pilot training and skill but it still feels like magic as the ground rushes up to meet us at just the right time.
We got a taxi to the hotel with a 67 year old Russian taxidriver, Gasadney, who had been in the USA for 40 years and had an infinite ability to see a glass half empty. He amusingly complained about taxi regulation in San Diego, other drivers and most of all that we had booked a hotel far too close to the airport as that meant it was hardly worth his while taking us on the meter! For us, this was now about 2am and well past our bedtimes so it all sort of washed over us.
We went out for something to eat due to the paucity of the BA fare, but it was difficult find the right place and we ended up having fish and chips at a Germanic themed restaurant. We could only eat half of what we were given so the rest came back to the hotel in a doggy bag.
A short night and we were up at 5am having failed to persuade our body clocks to change time zones any faster. But on the plus side, the bikes were out of their bags and re-built by 7am. We then went out for a glorious ride along the beach and had coffee and a muffin. Welcome to America!
Later that morning we cycled up to San Diego University to meet the hugely nice and even more impressive Mary Jo Wiggins, a law professor at this prestigious school of learning, who had invited me to give a talk about practising law in England to her graduate class. I have no idea what they made of me – but it seemed to go down fine. I tried to explain how there were similarities between the US and UK legal systems but also some considerable differences. Here they seem to be able to justice without wearing wigs on their heads in court – a strange and unusual modern practice that clearly will not stand the test of time but they are sticking to it for the moment. Afterwards we had a delightful lunch with Mary Jo in the faculty restaurant overlooking a vast valley where large (but for us unidentified) birds of prey circled in the the thermals. The university has lovely buildings in a hispanic style and a great feel. It must be a privilege to spend student years here.
We then cycled off into the commercial area to get provisions. In contrast to the university, poverty was openly and firmly on display. The USA is a hugely successful economy with a society that tolerates extremes of wealth in a way that is a challenge to Europeans. We passed rows of parked ancient campervans – no doubt the only home many of their residents have. I was reminded of the film “Nomadland” where the central character rejects the idea that she is homeless, saying that she has a home but does not have a house. Below the camper vans, there were tents where homeless people lived under freeway bridges. It is a feature of this society that I suspect we will get to know well in the next 2 months.
We bought food, found a bicycle shop, remarkably called “Bernie’s Bike Shop”, for a few bits and pieces and bought a US sim card so we could call without incurring roaming charges.
In doing so we found Ocean Beach Village – a freewheeling community next to the ocean with a hip feel. There was no need to smoke marjuana here – you can get high just by walking down the main street and taking in the atmosphere. It was reminiscent of walking back from the tube to our flat in Kennington in the late evening. We later came back for a drink in a Mexican Bar that had symbols of the Day of the Dead – and took us back to our travels in Oaxaca, Mexico in the early 1990s.
Meanwhile in another part of the world a crazed dictator invaded a sovereign neighboring state and the rest of the world wrung their hands and did little. The least said about Ukraine the better but it shows what a fragile world we live in.