The second leg of my awfully big adventure saw me flying into San Francisco late on Friday afternoon. There was significantly less anxiety this time around as I knew my children and the best boyfriend in the world could survive without me as we discovered when I disappeared off to Australia for a month. It is still a bit of wrench, but I quite like long haul flights now – no emails, people just give you wine and I watch more movies then than I do any other time in my life. The jet lag is negligible. I wake up at around 4am but I do that at home too. I hope this does not mean that I will suffer when I get home…
The shuttle service from the airport was an adventure in itself. I opted for the shared shuttle service as it’s the cheapest and not having the luxury of family waiting for me (like in Oz) and a notoriously awful sense of direction I thought it safest just to pay someone to deliver me to my hotel. I knew that San Francisco was hilly, I mean, I’ve seen Steve McQueen in Bullet, but I had no idea how hilly. I’m not a roller coaster kinda gal so opted for the ‘don’t look down’ approach during some parts of the journey. I’m also not at all religious but found myself saying a small prayer to the God of brakes and clutches. When my fellow traveller wished me luck as we dropped her off first, I knew I wasn’t the only one holding on for dear life.
The hotel receptionist could not have been nicer. She asked me where I lived in the UK, I usually say not far from London when I’m anywhere abroad but explained I lived in a small town near MK. It transpired her sister lived in the exact same town. What are the odds! We had a lovely chat about her sister and I found myself being offered a room on the top floor instead of near the middle where my original room was. The view from my room is just amazing. The pics don’t do it justice, but I can see out across the bay and I am intoxicated by the night time view. For someone who is slightly ADHD the twinkly lights are just so much more interesting than telly. It’s like having the biggest big screen TV ever 🙂
I unpacked and took a walk around just to get my bearings. I wasn’t at all hungry, having eaten seemingly endless meals and snacks on the plane so I just chilled in my room and waited until it was a reasonable time to go to bed, despite the fact that my body was telling me it was 3am in the UK.
Saturday saw me hitting the hotel gym because when in California and all that. Gyms are big here. Walking around there are endless gyms in amongst the shops, the open doors (it’s also very warm here right now) give you a glimpse of people running, pumping and sweating through workouts. Health is a big deal here. They have a channel called Beachbody TV!
I needed to sort out some vitals. A travel card so I could get around, some food basics – I have a fridge in my room and the cost of breakfast was ridiculously expensive so, as I mostly only eat yogurt for breakfast I stocked up, water, milk, some trail mix – I’d never had this before, but I now eat bags of the stuff! I sussed out the laundry, thankfully the hotel has a guest laundry as I packed much more sensibly for this trip, mindful that people will give me lots of printed information and that the children will all expect gifts, so I left a little room in my case. Travel cards have been essential wherever I have stayed and in San Fran you need a Muni card. I got horribly lost around Chinatown looking for the bookshop that sold them, but getting lost is absolutely the best way to explore a new place. Eventually found the bookshop, but they no longer sold Muni cards J Maps are also vital so found the Tourist Information office and got myself a route map. I also needed a different SIM card. I had planned ahead this time, taking one of the kids old iPhones so I didn’t need to keep changing SIMs when I wanted to phone home. Luckily the hotel is right next door to a T-Mobile shop so that was easily sorted.
Saturday was definitely a day of walking, but I kind of sussed out the place a bit too. There are some startling differences between here and home. Everything is more expensive than you think because they add taxes on after you pay for something. Homelessness is a big problem, I’ve seen people being shooed away from café entrances for asking for food, people with evident mental health problems being ignored and begging, lots of begging. It’s pretty different to the ads we see at home about Californian life. I have found that a bit hard to be honest. Other cultural differences include tipping for everything, but I was given solid advice about this by my brother who lives in Phoenix – good service 20%, mediocre service 15%, crap service 10%, don’t tip in coins, tip bar staff for every drink they serve, even if it’s just a dollar. I’m getting the hang of it. Slightly weirder differences – there are quite big gaps around toilet doors. This might be oversharing but it’s a thing.
One of the things I find hardest when away is knowing what the shops sell. At home we all know Tesco, M&S, Boots but when you are abroad you have little cultural reference. I wander into places which I think might be a little grocery store only to find it sells art supplies or something. Because I’m British, I pretend I totally want to look around at all the art supplies so spend 15+ minutes browsing in a shop I don’t want to be in before making a face that is supposed to depict ‘oh you don’t have the art supplies I wanted’ and walk out. Please tell me I’m not the only one who does this.
I digress. Having settled in a bit and survived the first couple of nights, even taking myself out for dinner, I decided that Sunday would pretty much be my only sightseeing day so I headed over to Alcatraz by ferry. It is an amazing place and well worth the trip. As I listened into the audio tour, I couldn’t help but think how being trapped on an island reflected some of the conversations I have had with older people living with dementia. At the very end of the audio tour there is this quote from a former inmate which really did resonate with some of the comments I’ve heard:
“and I’m watching the cars whizzing by and the people walking and everything was moving too fast and I didn’t know how to move with it and then I remember how envious I was of these people, they all had a destination, they are all going someplace and I didn’t know where I was going. And I was scared to death.”
This image and quote also resonated, it never ceases to amaze me how you think you are going off to do one thing but it informs your thinking about your research, even if those thoughts are a bit tough. Thinking time is so important and something I see less of at home with the pressure to always churn out a ‘product’, there seems little space for creativity.
Monday has seen me coming to terms with my route map and heading off to visit with the very lovely Jason Flatt and Amy Mack (who should really be a rock legend with a name like that). Jason and Amy work at University of California, San Fran in the Institute of Health Aging. We had very interesting conversations around health disparities and the LGBTI+ community, sexuality and dementia, screening, training, human rights and came up with loads more questions than answers J Jason and Amy have a long to do list of projects but I’m very much hoping that we could link in with Australian colleagues at some point and put a project together to further our research endeavours. Mind buzzing with opportunities and options. A fabulous day, the sort where I think maybe a career in academia wouldn’t be so bad 🙂