Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Ridin’ USA

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In my week in the U.S. we got around quite a lot. Most of it in Bratwurst, my brothers 1985 blue metallic (although I swear it looks mostly grey) Toyota Camry LE, which probably was quite a posh car at its time with perks like cruise control, fading interior lights and central locking. 130000 miles down the road it's still driving but needs to be fed an extra litre (or quart?) of oil every now and again, the central locking only works 80% and some of the gears of the automatic gearbox are hard to use. Using it with three people plus luggage also meant that we had to be extremely cautious when driving over the tiniest bumps as the suspension is quite broken as well.

But even with all those shortcomings Bratwurst, took us across the different states and elevations between -240 and +8300 feet without major problems (not counting the fact that one tyre was eaten up by the poorly aligned wheels as 'major', that is). Getting around was easy and we could live the 'other American Dream', sleeping in cheap motel rooms which smelled of moth balls to various degrees and indulging in high cholesterol breakfasts and super-size burger dinners.

Motel sign, blinks at night. Despite smelling funny and being run-down sometimes, the motels were generally clean – except for the 'Happy Inn' which while having clean facilites had a severely stained carpet and deteriorated paintwork – I was expecting to find a dead body under the bed there. I wonder at which stage motel owners start making decisions like 'nope, this paint will do', 'the stains in the carpet are OK' and 'we don't need to clean this part of the room'.

But even the most battered motel did have a TV in the room with some kind of cable service (this 'HBO' thing seems to be a big seller). Some even jokingly offered 'FREE continental breakfast' which usually meant nasty coffee and overly sweet pastries. [More food commentary.]

Another thing about the U.S. is re-fuelling. As is well known, fuel is ridiculously cheap. Forgetting about the environmental ramifications of this for a while, it's a nice thing if you have to drive around as much as we did. Coming from a country that is very price conscious when it comes to fuel and where it seems that people will actually drive sillily long detours just to get to that particular petrol station where they can save a cent on a litre of fuel, I was very surprised to see that in the U.S. even petrol stations that were on different corners of the same junction would have prices differing by up to 20 cents per gallon – yet seemingly both remained in business.

And while I thought that Germans may be the worst people when it comes loving their cars and, Americans may be at least as bad. It seems to be Freie Fahrt für freie Bürger on both sides of the big pond.

The dark side of riding around the U.S. is of course public transport. When in San Francisco, I was delighted to see trams and trolley buses. But they were old. One of the tram lines (and of course the cable car) even runs vintage trams from around the world. While this may be pretty it makes public transport look like a theme-park curiosity rather than a modern and efficient way of transportation. No wonder people don't take it seriously.

The worst, however, was when the joke that is 'public' transport was on me: Having to get a ride up the coast from San Luis Obispo back to San Francisco, I learned that there are all of six daily coach connections and a single (apparently even slower and much more expensive) railway connection. In addition to learning that the ride should be a whopping $46, $10 more than the longer rider from Santa Barbara, and the clueless youth behind the counter was incapable of simply issuing a ticket for the longer distance – insult was added to injury by the fact that the bus station wasn't really in town and yet didn't have lockers for my luggage, meaning that I was stranded in a small town with a large bag to drag around between a place where I could have breakfast and the coach station. Inconvenient.

Being a pedestrian seems harder than being a car-riding wheelchair driver.

The only transportation device more popular than cars in California seem to be flip flops.

March 21, 2004, 23:21

Tagged as country:us, travel, USA.

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