Everyone who knows me, no matter personally or in absentia must be aware that
one of my favorite activities is traveling to various interesting locations.
This year, I spent almost the entire October on the North American continent,
in the world's most famous country. The most loved by ones and the most hated
by others. Often, those who love or hate it have never even been to the US. I
prefer to build my opinions solely on the precedent basis. That's why I never
make a final opinion about anything nor I adopt someone else's opinion until I
see the thing with my own eyes.
Not to forget the first impressions, I decided to write them down on my Palm
Tungsten T5 PDA, which I always had in my bag along with the photo camera.
While the pictures were put out in the corresponding
section almost as soon as they were taken, the travel notes were written
on the Palm, then I went through them again and only now, with me being in
Berlin, they are ready to be published.
In this textual stuffing there are various observations made in California,
where my co- workers and I were on business trip. Then I flew to New York to
visit my friend there. Notes about this visit will be published later.
Preparations and the Flight
One day before departure I went to the bank to get some dollars in cash. Though
it's only possible to withdraw euros from ATMs, to get dollars it's enough to
give the card to the lady at the counter and to tell her the sum. In this
case, the money is taken from the account accordingly to the current exchange
rate. American currency was given out in an envelope saying "Gute Reise" (Have
a nice trip).
The security measures they take on the transatlantic flights are impressive.
Till we boarded to our the flight to San Francisco they checked us three
times. Once they did it at the Tegel airport in Berlin. Then they checked us a
couple of times in Frankfurt-Am- Main. There they first x-rayed the hand
luggage at the time of registration, and then another time at the entrance to
the area, where the boarding to the flights to America is done. No metal
detectors there anymore. They ask you to show contents of the bags and search
you all over. A German old woman in front of me was got very excited by the
procedure and said he liked the massage by the young security guy.
After the security check there was a small chat with the airport security about the aim of
the travel. Only after that we could enter the large Boeing-747 and take our seats among
the crowd of passengers. The plane was completely full, all seats taken, so they even had
to offer my co-workers and me seats in different parts of the cabin.
Berlin - San Francisco Flight
Modern technology is incredible. I could never guess that one could surf the net while on
the plane. Nevertheless, the Lufthansa's board magazine had a brief instruction on how to
connect to the on-board WLAN. This pleasure cost $9 per hour. The solution is called
Boeing Connexion. I didn't manage to give it a try, since in SuSE Linux 9.2 wireless
support was somehow broken, while for the WinXP installed on the notebook, which had
been given me by the company, I simply didn't know the password.
In the cabin, I got literally stuck between two children. On my right there was a German
woman with a 7-months baby. First he behaved, but then was whining during almost half
of the way. On my left there was a traditional Arab Muslim family. It consisted of a guy
with a beard, a woman with her hair covered, and a girl of a year and a half, who was
very quiet. Interestingly, when the fellow on the right got interested to know the girl, the
Arab guy shook his head and tried to switch her attention to something else.
It is strictly forbidden to bring food into the States. First the stewards told us about this
rule. Then, in the customs declaration, there were several questions concerning various
organic substances that one could possible have on him. It seems that not a gram of food
is allowed. I wonder if they would consider smuggling of food a chocolate bars they gave
out on the plane. I put mine into the pocket, where it melted and now it's not really
possible to take it out of there entirely.
As to the strictness of the American customs, just before the flight a co-worker told me a
story about it.
The company he worked for back in the 90s took part in some exhibition in Dallas. At
some point they realized they couldn't handle it anymore with the resources they had and
that they badly needed another pair of hands. To get that, they decided to bring another
guy over from Germany. It was quite urgent and he didn't have much time to prepare. So
he took his old backpack, put some things into it and drove to the airport.
As he landed in the States, on the customs he was asked to show the contents of his
backpack. Unlucky enough, he had a small piece of a brownie cookie with hashish. It was
years old, so that it almost turned into stone. However, it still contained a forbidden
substance. In Europe the situation with the light drugs is very relaxed. For having a few
grams of marijuana one never goes to jail. They may even not confiscate it. For example,
in Germany one can only have problems for selling stuff like weed. But in the States it's
very different. Because of the stone-like piece of a cookie the guy was arrested, so he had
to spend a week in a special jail for foreigners who had problems at the border. The poor
guy had even more bad luck, for in the very same backpack they also found some powder
for cleaning some electronic, which was classified as "an unknown white powder". It
only made his situation worse.
As a result, the company layer had to come to the States. Quite some money had to be
paid for releasing the guy, and the way to the US was closed for him for quite a some
time. He is still considered a criminal there, who didn't get any punishment.
So we arrived, took a rental car and went to the hotel
As we checked in, I realized that some impressions my friends had about the States, were
1. They have warnings everywhere, saying that the safety of property and even of life is
not guaranteed by anyone. Indeed, there were many reminders of this kind, starting from
the hotel's parking place. The recommendation there said it's very advised to close the
car and to take everything valuable out of it. There also was a similar reminder on the
door of our room in the hotel, saying we're not supposed to leave valuable items there.
2. American sanitary engineering is very different from that of Europe. Indeed, the
lavatory pan is a bowl always filled with water. Obviously, such a construction would
produce many splashes when a poo falls. The unluckiest people are we, men. When one
sits on such a device, a part of the primary sexual characters involuntary dips into the
The bathtub is not deep. The shower is built directly into the wall. My German co-worker
said it's just the same if they built a phone receiver into the wall and one had to place the
ear against it. However, some of my friends still prefer the American sanitary engineering
to the European one.
Talking of the rest of stereotypes, particularly that America is the country of naked
women. Well, some people say so in Eastern Europe. So far we saw only dressed ones on
the streets. However, recently I hear more about American Puritanism. No real-life
observations on this one either.
On the first day we went to a Mexican restaurant to pick up some food. Having looked at
my red eyes, the girl gave me a burrito of the very same red color. The bread it was rolled
into was also red. Actually because of the time zone change and not sleeping enough, I
looked more like a drug-addict, with a typically mad appetite. To my Chinese co-worker,
Instead of asking "Would you like to have a snack?" I said, "Would you like to have a
snake?" And they say the Chinese eat snakes indeed. Fortunately, he didn't feel offended
and proposed me some Jasmine tea.
In order not to go to bed early, on the first day, in the evening, we went to Palo Alto. The
town is known for hosting the famous Stanford University. We walked along the main
street. There were many cool restaurants, but we couldn't find any bars or pubs.
Fat and ugly American women they talk so much about are not seen yet. On the contrary,
in Redwood City and in Palo Alto I could see many nice-looking girls. The most
population in California I've seen so far is white, and also quite a lot of Asian and
Hispanic race, almost no Afro-Americans.
Adaptation to the other time zone was expected. I was the first time for me, it was
interesting to watch it happen with my own self.
On the day we left Berlin, we had to get up at 5:30 CET in the morning. Then there was
an 11 hours long flight. When we arrived to California, it was 12:00am local time, while
in Europe it already was night. We stayed awake the whole local day, so that not to go to
bed to early, in order not to stick with our European time zone for too long. As a result,
our day lasted for 24 hours. Besides we fell asleep like dead at 10pm, we could only sleep
for 6 hours. For some reason, at 4am all of us were awake again. At that time it already
was 1pm Central European time. No wonder we could not sleep any longer. One can stay
in bed till 1pm, but it's difficult to stay in bad after that.
As we woke up at 4am, no one could fall asleep again. So having checked the e-mail and
talked with friends on ICQ, we went to the local restaurant for a breakfast. Our German
co-worker who had a wide experience visiting the States before, recommended us to have
a typical American breakfast, that is, an egg scramble. Mine was called Mountain View
Scramble, with meat and mushrooms. It was a very substantial and tasty food. As to the
service, I understood that the Americans are very talkative people. We were asked how
we were and then we chatted about the adaptation to a different zone.
On the next day we went to San Francisco
The hilliest city I had ever seen, Kiev, cannot be compared to San Francisco by this
characteristic. Along the highway leading to SF there is a very nice national park. The
tops of the hills overgrown with forest stick into the clouds. The same it is in the city.
Climate changes as you move around between the city districts. Those located upper are
foggy and the visibility there is quite limited. There is a huge climate difference between
the towns of the Silicon Valley and San Francisco. It's about 10 degrees Celsius colder in
some city districts compared to the Valley.
Some streets have about 45 degrees angle, so sometimes it seems like the car would turn
over. Despite this, there are lots of cars parked on such streets, though it's not that easy to
park a car in those conditions.
In one of his recent speeches Mr. President Bush said, that because of the energy crisis
the nation must "conserve". Probably that's why the appetizer they brought us at the
Mexican restaurant we went to on Saturday night, tasted like a car tire. Also, the table
was sticky and the menu tended to remain on it.
As we entered the city, San Francisco appeared to consist mostly of one- and two-floor
houses, just like the rest of California. The suburban streets are noisy, crowded and
unclean. The Chinese population is huge. A couple of times we heard Russian-speaking
folks. We tried the infamous "dim sum". Dim sum consists of vegetables, meat and
seafood in a dough envelope. It was very tasty. On the ocean-side we saw a district with
very expensive houses with a view on the water.
Those houses make a big contrast to the streets in the central urban areas. Like in the
Chinese district, they are unclean, but also full of homeless and junkies. Every fifth man
we saw looked like he regularly took some heavy drugs. Fishy black guys standing in the
corners, like on duty. All of this looks quite unsafe. Polk Street.
Now we go out on the Market Street, the local analogues of Kurfuerstendamm in Berlin
or Sumskaya in Kharkov. It's a shopping street. First of all, a very untypical thing strikes
the eye, - multi-floor buildings. We didn't see many in California before. Some of them
are even more than multiple-floor, they're skyscrapers. However, the crowd didn't
change too much and still looks dangerous. I was also surprised by the absence of police
on the streets. Only inside a big mall we saw two policemen.
The public transport, trams and trolleys, are completely old. While the roads are broken
and don't look any better than in Ukraine.
That's not what one expects to see in a developed country, in one of its most advanced
cities. The difference compared to Europe, no matter West or East, is enormous. Central
area of no city I saw before looked that unsafe. Practically, every foreigner who's in the
States for the first time expects everything here to be of top-notch technology, clean and
shiny. In reality it appeared not exactly so. One might ask himself, how come that a
country where cities look no better than those in the 3rd world might become the world's
super-power. That's quite a puzzle.
Everyday life of the Silicon Valley
I didn't manage to buy beer during my very first visit to a supermarket. The guy at the
cash register asked me for an ID in order to make sure I am above 21. I usually don't take
my passport with me, and the overdue ISIC travel card didn't do, though usually I use it
as an ID imitation, since it has my photo. The reason was not that the card was overdue.
Actually I wonder if they are really that good at international travel documents. Let's say,
would they distinguish between my foreign passport and a veterinary certificate?
So, the guy told me that the law is very strict and if it appears that I am under 21 and he
sold booze (love this word) to me, he'd end up in jail.
Fortunately, at the same time at the cashier nearby my German co-worker (he's over 40)
was checking out the stuff he got. Still surprised that I could seem that young to someone,
I asked him to buy me beer, because he doesn't look like he's 20 for sure. The guy who
was serving me, immediately asked the other guy at the cashier where Axel was if he id-d
him. ID him?, - the guy was surprised, but still asked Axel for a document. The internal
German Personalausweiss didn't look persuasive to him, so he took the beer from my co-
worker too. Fortunately, there was Andriy, the 3rd of us, who actually had his passport.
This way we didn't remain without beer for that evening.
Talkative by their nature Americans, who were watching what was happening to us
because of beer, didn't help commenting on it. A man standing after me on the line said,
"Welcome to America". After we went through the cashier, a woman approached us
asking whether we were from Germany. One of her parents was German and she did her
high-school there. So back then she was very glad the drinking age in Europe was 18.
The coins they have here are rather inconvenient. Instead of numbers, their value is
written in a word. Every coin has its name, like quarter (25 cents) and dime (10 cents).
One 5 and 1 cent coins it is also written in words "one cent" and "five cent"
Stanford University in Palo Alto isn't a state-owned educational institution. Instead, it's a
very successful and rich private company, whom the Silicon Valley and a big part the IT
in general own their existence. The university campus is placed on quite a big territory,
which has a lake, some statues and a lot of other interesting things. In front of the main
entrance there is a lawn. When we were there, two groups of people played volleyball
right on the grass.
Redwood city is a town where the American office of gate5 is located. It's also famous
for the presence of many other major players of the IT market. Like, for example, on the
other side of the road there is the Oracle campus. They say that when Larry Ellison
ordered the project to the architect, he said he wanted the buildings look like databases
and have color of money. That's why they are cylinder-shaped and the glass has green
nuances. In front of the buildings there is an artificial lake with fountains. Once I took a
walk through the campus. In the halls of several buildings I saw big banners saying
However, not all the companies here are as successful as the famous database solutions
vendor. For example, for the company gate5 rents some office space from, planetweb, the
happy start-up boom times are over. I think that's also the reason they have to rent a part
of their office to other companies. There are many buildings 100% similar to ours in this
area, built by the same project. In the end of the IT boom many companies closed, so the
buildings are mostly empty.
Redwood city is a small and cozy town. Very green, there are lawns, palm-trees and big
birds, looking like gooses. The infrastructure is not brilliant though. Public transportation
doesn't exist at all. That's why without a car one has nothing to do there. The first trip to
the downtown amused us a lot. The Redwood City downtown appeared to actually be two
long buildings with stores and restaurants and a big parking near them. One of the stores
sold sunglasses with a special discount for Oracle employees. I would have never thought
that Oracle staff was so poor, that ever makes storeowners sorry and willing to help.
Though of course it's a marketing measure, only proving that Oracle is very much
involved into the local economy.
Last time I saw an office with cubicles in 2000, during a business trip to Israel. Offices of
all other companies I worked for were more traditional, with rooms and tables. Maybe
it's just a random coincidence, or maybe cubicles in the Old World are just not very
widespread. We don't have cubicles in our German office either. Its style is more bureau-
like, with tables from IKEA and rotating chairs.
Though cubicles nowadays symbolize the IT industry, it felt rather unusual for me to
work in them. First of all, there is not enough light. Only the lucky ones, whose cubicles
are located next to windows, can enjoy good illumination. Second, because of the feeling
of being completely isolated, some of your neighbors would speak on the phone so loud,
that during the morning you can easily find out all the latest news along with the brief
impressions of the recent movies, without having a need to surf specific sites.
In one of the cubicles we found a small self-service store, where everyone could take
candy or chips, leaving 50 cents for each piece. Food is in boxes, while the money should
be left in a small plate. It's supposed that the employees are honest. No surveillance
The office kitchen is equipped with an old video game, with an ability to play together.
The idea is of course killing lots and lots of graphical sprites representing monsters.
Sometimes a picture appears, on which a guy holding two man-like chicks says a
motivating phrase: "Big prizes. Big money. I love it!"
The video game looks exactly like those that could be found in big amounts at
amusement arcades in my childhood. Character control is done using two handlers. One
is for walking, the other one for shooting. The device is in the office kitchen because one
of the planetweb founders used to develop such games in the 80s. A planetweb employee,
who saw us play once, told us proudly that many of those games were developed exactly
here, in Silicon Valley.
Many things at the planetweb office (whose part it shares with gate5, the company I work
for) remind of the happy start-up and Internet boom times. Especially the meeting room
where we sit every morning reminds me of the end of the 90s. There are cool chairs
around the big table, a TV in the corner and various gadgets all around. On the
whiteboard there is a plan for some software products. Its essence is easy to guess from
what is written: mp3 playback, iTunes support, CD burning, shopping. Next to the
planetweb roadmap, there is our schedule for today. Mostly related to optimizations for
the format used by our navigation solution. Maximal size reduction is our goal, so that
more data could fit on a smaller card.
It looks like Palo Alto is the most interesting place in the area. Unlike Redwood City,
where the downtown is parking and a couple of buildings, in Palo Alto there is a central
street. There are bars, restaurants, clubs and people walking along. Mostly youth.
Exactly in Palo Alto on Tuesday we spent our first really cool evening in California. The
CFO of our company came from Berlin with some business affairs and in the evening he
invited us for a dinner. The place was called NOLA, specializing on food from New
Orleans, a very damaged city recently. The recipes based on the French cuisine however
survived. It made it possible for us to enjoy some crab soup and fried catfish with mashed
potatoes. Our CFO comes from Switzerland, from the French canton of the country. So
like a typical French guy, Christophe is a big gourmet. That's why if he recommends
some place, the food there is excellent for sure.
While the interior look of the place is new-age-styled, they seem to employ waitresses
with silicon boobs only here. I was surprised by the size the tall lady who was serving us
had. Probably it was also seen on my face, so Christophe commented immediately by
saying "Fake stuff". Then we saw another lady who was keeping the bar. Because of the
breast size, she probably could only mix cocktails with her both hands stretched. After
all, they must have a reason for calling the Valley Silicon (or is it Silicone?).
By the end of our first weekend in America we decided to have a dinner at the nature. At
a supermarket we bought some sushi, that are less expensive here than in Europe. Two
plates with nigiri and maki and a salad were about $14.
So that to enjoy the meal more, we got into our rented "Buick" Jeep, which I called truck,
and went to Belmont - the town just on the opposite side of the highway from Redwood
Belmont is situated on a hill and there is a very nice view on the neighborhood. In such
places they usually have so called "vista points" - places with parking and a couple of
benches where one can enjoy the view. The visa point we found was memorial, dedicated
to some good dead dude, from what the plate said. Quiet, so that not to bother the spirit of
the passed away, we took out our meal and started to eat.
Meanwhile, a cabriolet with 5 or 6 guys parked near our truck. After some time, one
more guy came on a motorcycle. The biker quickly exchanged some stuff with the guys
and immediately left. Then it smelled like weed, the guys asked us how our day was and
if the sushi were good. They didn't behave aggressive though and drove away soon.
This morning, when we left the hotel, we found our truck, which spent the night
peacefully in its parking slot, scratched. The scratch crossed the both doors and the fender
and it was likely to be made with a key. Having in mind, that re-painting it could cost us
some money, we got upset. However later we found out that the minimal insurance we
took for the car was supposed to cover this kind of damage.
Curiously, the evening before that, our German co-worker told us that probably one of us
scratched the door of a GMC. We parked next to the GMC the day before. I couldn't
really remember that, so I went to the GMC to take a closer look. What was supposed to
be a scratch appeared to be a banal bird shit, that got smeared when it fell down there. So
if we assume the guy saw us coming up to his car and examined it, then the reason for a
possible revenge is still unclear. On the other hand, it was not very likely scratched by
someone who just passed the parking. No one here gets from one place to another by just
walking, without a car. Anyways, there are dorks everywhere.
We made it to the end at the Smash TV videogame, which is in the office kitchen. It was
written a long time ago by the founder of planetweb, whose name is Ken. Quite funny
that the bonuses in the game are given, except for the money, in vacations, cars and also
in luxury things of the 80s - super VCRs and toasters. They're even named so, "VCR
bonus" and "Toaster bonus". There is lots of blood in some places of the game. Monsters
that are drawn with ancient sprites bleed abundantly and their bones get bare. The main
evil creature in the end of the game is the guy who was motivating the players all the
time, by saying phrases about money and prizes. Author credits list looked huge. There
are more than 10 people who participated in creation of the game. Among them, there is
someone with a funny name Ray Gay.
I found out what the planetweb company we are sub-renting the office from, is doing. It
is also clear now what the feature list drawn on the white-board in the conference room
meant. They are not actually into development of some multimedia tool for Windows like
one could guess. Actually, they develop highly flexible and configurable embedded
software for DVD players. This means, they have an engine (with its own internal
scripting language even), which can be extended to meet requirements of any device
vendor. It explains why there are so many TV-sets and DVD players in the office. A year
ago the company was almost broke, but then they got this project and quite good
investment from Phillips. I have always been curious how people manage to get contracts
with such fat companies.
I discussed my recent impressions of the United States with an old pal from Texas, who I
never yet met in person. He told me, that the restriction on selling alcoholic beverages to
the youth under 21 is actually limited by the parents' approach to education. This means,
if you're 18 and the dad comes along, feel free to go to a bar and order and drink what
ever you want. It looks like the rule is made to help parents raise their children the way
they prefer. So that those people who think their child is too young to drink could sleep
peacefully till his 21st birthday. Or something. Anyways, for me it's still too strict and
Of course, since almost a year that I spent in Germany, I improved my German from an
absolutely zero level to an actual ability to understand in common what's being written or
spoken. However, still I cannot communicate well enough using this language, so there is
a way to go.
Here in America, it's damn cool to realize everyone around speaks the language I can use
to express myself quite easily too. Despite English is my first foreign language I had
never been to any English-speaking country before going on this trip.
That's why it's even a little surprising that I have no problem understanding the locals,
including the slang part of their language. Actually, even living in Germany I have to use
English on daily basis. First of all, it's professional. But not only - the leisure too, like
movies or cartoons that I watch in original sound. That's where I got most of my slang
There were some minor issues though. Once at a supermarket I bought a beer snack - a
pack of dried meat. It was called "Beef Jerky". Already knowing words like "jerk" and
"to jerk off", the "jerky" word made me curious. So I asked my friend from Texas and he
explained me the original meaning of the verb "to jerk". So probably the "jerky" word
comes from the fact that the snack is actually being jerked against one's teeth or
something like that.
Friday night, exactly when all three of us went to Palo Alto for a dinner, our Ukrainian
co-worker Andriy left his passport at the hotel. After the supermarket beer accident, I
always have mine with me.
At the New-Orleans cuisine restaurant where we had already been during the week, there
were no free tables, but they said, if we would have waited for about 45 minutes, there
would probably be one. We were also given a pager, a round plastic thing that starts
blinking red lights as soon as there is place.
To make the waiting time shorter, we went to the nearby bar where we had already drunk
some jeagermeister once. First we went to the kickers table, played a couple of games,
then felt completely dried out and went to the bar to get some beer. Of course, we were
afraid they would id all of us (here I remind that Andriy's passport was at the hotel). And
that's exactly how it happened: for three beers they wanted three ids. While the girl at the
bar was attentively studying our passports, I studied the big silicone boobs of the other
one (damn, plastic surgery is very common here). As a result, they didn't only refuse to
sell beer to our passport-less co-worker, as we feared, but also strictly forbade him drink
anything in the bar, even cola. Otherwise, they said we would have trouble.
After some more kickers, when I rushed to the exit, finishing my beer on the go, the same
big-boobed waitress came to me and asked... no, not the phone number, but the damn ID
again. Disappointed, I told her they had already id-d me and asked whether I could see
her ID. She answered with a harsh "No" and insisted that I showed my passport to her for
the second time. The obvious reason was, that she remembered us, but was not sure
which one of us was not allowed to drink. While she was trying to figure out the details
of Ukrainian travel documents, I studied her décolleté again. I think the reason is that the
place owners already had some problems with the authorities regarding selling of alcohol.
Above the bar there were papers saying "Fake ID? We will confiscate it and sue you".
The device they gave us at NOLA was still not blinking, though it'd been about an hour
already. Moreover, we got really hungry. So we went to continue waiting directly next to
the entrance to the restaurant. The entrance was shared between NOLA and with a very
crowded bar with quite a straightforward name "Booze".
There was a guy who checked Ids of everyone who entered the bar. So that we don't wait
in vain, we asked him whether our forgetful co-worker would be allowed in. "Okay, if he
goes to the restaurant just to have some food, I'll let him in" -the guy said.
The bar territory was separated from the street with a ribbon. While Axel was enjoying a
cigarette on the street, a chubby guy appeared from behind the ribbon. He wore shorts
and slippers on his bare feet and asked Axel for a cigarette. Talkative, like everyone in
this country, he asked where we came from. He was very glad to find out it was
Germany, because he spent his childhood on a US military base near Frankfurt. He and
his parents liked it all the 7 years they lived there. The guy introduced himself as Dustin
from Colorado, a rugby player. In California he was just like us (almost), because of the
job. He did construction works for a big fountain they built at the luxury hotel named
"Four Seasons", which is exactly on the road we used to enter Palo Alto. We liked the
way he spoke at most. His first reply always was "good, maaan".
Not only Andriy, but also our new friend from Denver became a victim to the severity of
the local laws, right on the spot. When he tried to smoke behind the ribbon, which served
as a boundary between "bar and street", the id-checking dude asked him to immediately
decide whether he's drinking or smoking. Apparently, one couldn't do both at the same
time. In order to smoke, it was required to leave the beer bottle behind the ribbon where
"bar" was and go to the "street". Then, to have a sip, you must extinguish the cigarette
and go "home" - behind the ribbon. Sounds totally dumb, but that's controlled really
How much strict, we realized shortly after getting into the restaurant. When we
completely lost hope that our gadget would ever blink, I went to the girl whose job was to
take people to their tables. She said they tried paging us many times, but we hadn't come.
The nearby bar, where we were, appeared to be not in the covered area. And I was about
to praise it like the greatest invention of all. What a disappointment.
Another interesting fact is, that the strictness of the ID law didn't apply to the restaurant
that evening. Here we ordered a big pitcher of beer, to which the waiter brought three
glasses not asking any questions. That's exactly like the classics - Beavis and Butthead -
used to say: "If you have an id, the President of the United States will kiss your butt.
Otherwise they will beat the shit out of you".
One more thing about the language. Once we went to Belmont to have lunch at a Chinese
restaurant. A Chinese woman took our order. Another woman, waitress who brought us
dishes, was Hispanic and her English wasn't good enough even to ask, for whom a
certain dish was. She actually spoke no English at all, so after looking at us trying to
explain with gestures, she went back to the kitchen. As she returned, she already knew
where to put the plates. However, I still wonder one thing. In which language does the
Chinese manager talk to the Mexican waitress who doesn't speak any English? My only
guess is that the Chinese lady speaks some Spanish.
Second time in San Francisco
Today, a week since our first visit to San Francisco, we took the opportunity to check it
out for the second time. And this time we saw it from a completely another prospective.
The secret is simple. Anywhere in America (no matter, North or South) one must know
the city districts. Polk Street and Market Street where we were last time, though they are
located in the downtown, were not the places one would like to start exploring the city
Walking the areas close to the Coit Tower and the financial district with its skyscrapers, I
developed a kind of an envy at those people who live on the quiet streets there. Not only
because it's a very picturesque place and there is a great sight from the hill and one can
see the city like on a palm and the bay. It's also because in order to afford living there,
one should have a really nice income.
San Francisco with all of its hills is not very well suitable for older people. Even for the
youth, walking the streets that always go upward and down under a 45 degrees angle
might be a good daily training to keep the leg muscles in shape. If we take a look at the
city map, it's possible to notice that it was built the square-cluster way. The streets cross
each other under the right angle. It's a disadvantage of all the relatively new cities, but no
doubt, it's much easier to get around.
That day all the sights in San Francisco were turned to the sky. On the roofs of the
buildings there were groups of people with photo cameras and glasses with beverages.
Everyone was watching the air-show. Planes were flying so low over the houses, that one
could hardly help remembering the German Rammstein and the Ukrainian Sknyliv.
That's even strange they take a risk to arrange flights over the city after such accidents.
Fighters flying between skyscrapers unintentionally reminded about another not so nice
event, the 9/11. Organizers clearly wanted to surprise the public and they managed it
American pensioners are no different from their West- and East-European colleagues.
While Axel was exploring a sports store, Andriy and I were outside near the car, talking.
Our co-worker's shopping went slowly and the Californian sun was already warming us
for about 40 minutes, before I noticed that our car (nickname "truck") was totally
unclean. In this situation, what an average citizen would do? Right, scratch things in the
dirt the car is covered with. That's what we did. Our inscription also contained some of
the Russian foul words. Then we took pictures of us with the car and the stuff we wrote.
All this time an old lady sitting on the front seat of an old-styled car nearby was staring at
us. That's her job or something - we thought and went to take a glance inside the sports
shop. Fortunately, we found our co-worker already paying for his stuff at the cashier. As
soon as we went out, we saw something really wonderful.
Right in front of our truck, exactly at the hood where the inscription was left, we saw the
second old lady, looking at it really concentrated through her glasses. Obviously, trying
to understand what we wrote there. Our appearance didn't disturb her much. She finished
reading, then joined unhurried the other lady in the car, ran the engine and asked me:
"Po-rushki? Ty govorish po-rushki?" ("Russian? Do you speak Russian?" with a terrible
accent). Though we didn't get a chance to chat, for it was the only thing she knew in
Always standing guard over the Homeland security. Senior Citizens of the United States.
It looks like most of the Bay Area homosexual population is employed with the GAP
network of clothing shops. Last week, when I bought a pair of jeans, there was an
obviously gay guy at the cashier, with her nails done, with make-up and such. Today at
another GAP store at the Stanford shopping mall another guy of the same kind sold me
clothes. This one was much older, somewhat chubby, with a short haircut and very polite.
He was nice enough to give a call to another floor to find out if they had t-shirts of my
size. Like all Americans, he was very talkative. So, while he was dealing with the bill and
credit card stuff, we discussed prices on clothes in Europe and in the States, and also the
dollar-euro exchange rate influence over the prices. After all he figured out it was
cheaper in the US and said: "I noticed you're kinda stocking".
By the way, GAP clothes are cool. It's a pity they had to completely close here in
Californian climate is amazing. Exactly during the season when the weather starts to get
nasty in Europe, slowly getting into its worst phase - winter, here it's sunny and during
the day time one can feel comfortable wearing a t-shirt. In the night, however, sometimes
it gets rather cold. For such cases, houses in San Francisco are equipped with some
minimal heating. Though it's easy to notice they have no real frost by the absence of
windows with double glass.
Palm trees on the streets are often neighbors to the regular European trees, like oaks or
birches. They say it's never too cold here. No big heat either. That's probably the reason
why the local flora is not extremely southern, like it is in the Middle East. Though it's
warm enough for some tropical plants.
On the last weekend in San Francisco, near the Coit Tower we saw a flock of green
parrots. They say in Australia on the streets there are parrots that we are used to keep at
home as pets. However, here I didn't expect to see any exotic birds. Combination of
birch-trees and parrots so far looks somewhat surrealistic to me.
After we rode our "Buick" up and down the Valley a hundred of times, we tried every
radio station we found. Afterwards we realized there were only two one could listen to:
live 105 and the bone 107.7. They're both like Hardradio.com, with the only difference
that they broadcast on the regular FM. The music they have is rock and heavy. Many
classic bands, like AC/DC, Queen, Helloween, Black Sabbath and others.
In all the American coffee shops that belong to the "Starbucks" network, they have a
practice of asking your name when placing an order (fortunately, not an ID :). I think, it's
more kind of a psychological thing, which gives customers the feeling that someone
actually cares to know them. When they asked my name for the first time, I got confused
and asked "Why?"
The problem is, despite this thing seems to work (why - read books by Carnegie), names
themselves cause problems. The point is that there are many foreigners here, whose
names may sound unusual to the regular American ear. With my name there was no
problem, it's an international one. However, they spell it a different way - Constantine.
The name Andriy, for example, has to be pronounced like Andrew. Most of the
difficulties had our German co-worker, Axel. They didn't even get the spelling, when he
said "Axel, like Axel Rose", who they should actually know in the US. Thus they used to
spell it like Xel, Axl and so on. I advised to explain it by saying "Excel, like Microsoft
Excel". But then we made out a better solution. It's better to tell another name, like
Arnold, with a heavy German accent. After all, they must know their own governor in
Our next stop - New York
We're flying to New York now. I am remembering reading a column written by some
guy in a weekly city guide in Bucharest. The brochure used to tell about clubs, events,
opera, ballet and such. His column in one of the issues was starting with a phrase: "Iata-
ma in capitala lumii" (here I am in the capital of the world). Quite a questionable
expression, must say. However, in 5 hours we'll see the capital. Or whatever you call it.