thomas m wilson

Arriving in America

June 8th, 2007

I’ve been in the US for two days. I caught a cold on the plane thanks to a slump in my immunity because of sleep dep, but this morning I’m starting to feel better. This arrival in San Francisco has been bringing up some family related stuff which I won’t go into here, but I can say that I left this place over ten years ago and most of the major events of my adult life fit into the time space between leaving here and arriving back Tuesday night. Seeing downtown San Fran, and seeing Marin County (where I used to live) north of the city, is good after all these years.

Some first impressions of the US…

The cars really are big here – I thought they were big in Australia, but many people drive SUVs here which make Range Rovers look small. The money is paper and grey and green and looks like what you imagine ‘real’ money to look like. African American police officers rocket down the highway in Highway Patrol cars that look like they are out of the movies. Streets often are called ‘Fourth’ or ‘Van Ness’ or ‘Lombard’, without the ‘St.’ afterwards on the sign. The speed limit is 55 miles an hour on the highway and everybody sits at 70 because California voted to do away with speed cameras. Food is reasonably cheap. People pay tips.

After coming from Samoa there are a few things I’m really loving: I can drink water from the tap – what a luxury! There are no mosquitoes! The air is cool and not humid! There are no dogs barking at night or lurking on the street! Ahhh… I’m clearly not cut out for life outside the first world. It is so nice to have healthy, organic food easily available (the health food grocery shops in North California are the best I’ve found anywhere). And so nice to have a few books and paintings and fast internet around in the house where I’m staying. The summer is on here and it is somewhat disorientating and jarring to see young tomatoe plants in people’s gardens and dry grass on the Marin hills at this time of year (when Australia and New Zealand have been dipping into the colder months). Still, I’m adjusting. And even the summer here in this Mediterranean region is a cool relief after the constant warmth of the tropics. In the shadows or in the mornings and the evenings I need a jumper on, which I’m liking. I know much of the wealth of this country that I see around me is paid for by cheap oil and cheap Mexican labour, and I dislike the culture of consumerism here, but I’m happy to have arrived.

Marin County is the area north of the city, just over the Golden Gate Bridge. The few suburbs (towns), such as San Anselmo, Mill Valley, San Rafael and Novato, sit on the eastern side of an area of hills covered in a patchwork of dark leaved oak trees and dry, gold-coloured grass slopes. In many places you can look up from the shops or houses and see the hills – a nice compromise between the urban and the rural. It doesn’t look that opulent to me, but I hear that this is the second wealthiest county in the US. Despite this they all vote for the Democrats. From a British/Australian perspective the people are very American in an ‘irony-deficient’ kind of way, but at least Northern California has attracted a good number of non-conformists (like myself).

I walked through Fairfax yesterday. Comparing it with funky little towns in other parts of the Anglo-saxon, English-speaking realm such as Denmark in WA, Bellingen in NSW, Geraldine in south island New Zealand (well Geraldine isn’t funky)… I like Fairfax. It has the advantage over those other places that in one hour’s travel you can be in the downtown of a big city. Yet like those places it has beautiful nature not far from the high street. Of course the average price of a house here is a million American dollars, so that isn’t so attractive if you wanted to buy a house here I suppose.

Last night I went into City Lights Bookstore in San Fran’s Northbeach. I’ll put some photos up later, but I can say that I wish I always had access to this place! The best poetry section in the upstairs room of any bookshop I’ve been to. And some fast, pulsing jazz on the stereo downstairs.