Almost home, but not quite! We're in San Francisco now for a very short stay, prior to jumping back on a (non-Qantas, thankfully) plane for the long haul home across the Pacific. All the while we've been travelling round we've been accumulating quite a store-house of trivia about the USA that didn't quite fit into any of the other blog topics we've done so far, so this is the Trivia blog, a miscellaneous grab-bag of stuff we've noticed along the way.
America's famous, or more likely infamous, for its gun laws and gun law enthusiasts. So how many guns have we seen (apart from those on the hips of police and security officers)? None! That's right, not one. We kept an eye out for gun racks in the back of pickups all through the South, and not a firearm in sight, folks. We saw plenty of gun shops and huntin' ads, but no guns anywhere. The only place where we actually saw a sign saying "no guns allowed in the cafeteria" was in Grand Canyon, and we didn't see anyone packing a piece there, either.
Now, one thing we did see everywhere was yellow School Buses like this one. Apparently there's an act of Congress specifying how a School Bus should be designed, and different companies make them according to this design. There's a strict road rule with School Buses: when the bus stops and pokes out its arm with the red 'Stop' sign, traffic in BOTH directions has to stop. Everywhere we went, all drivers obeyed this rule. One really lovely example was out in Cajun country in Louisiana. The School Bus in front of us stopped in a country road. Cars in both directions stopped. The first little boy got out of the bus: he was the big brother, he looked about 7. Then his little brother climbed out. He looked 5. Then the School Bus driver got out, held the boys' hands, walked them across the road to their front gate, the boys ran in to Dad on the porch, everyone waved. The driver returned to the bus, the traffic was still waiting patiently, then once the bus was underway, so was everyone else.
If School Buses are ubiquitous, then Winnebagos – also called RVs or Recreational Vehicles (truly mobile homes mostly driven by retirees keen on spending everything they own before the kids inherit it) – are a very common sight out on the highways. And around 90% of all Winnebagos we saw were also towing another car behind, usually an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) like this Honda.
To keep ourselves amused on our 4000 mile drive, Pammy and I played an informal game we called 'Numberplate Spotto'. As we drove along the highways we'd call out the first sightings of numberplates from different American states as we spotted them. "Hey look, Arkansas plates!". The rules are strict and ruthless, however. We both had to see the plates. It was no use saying "I just saw an Illinois plate" if the other person couldn't also see it, because we'd just accuse the other of making it up and would scotch any pleadings that "I really saw it, I did, truly ruly." Hee hee hee. As the weeks went by, we had probably spotted about 40 or so out of the 50 plates on the list (or 51 counting Washington DC). "Oh wow, Rhode Island" was spotted in Georgia – that was a biggie. But in the end we never spotted North or South Dakota (don't they ever go travelling, those guys?) or Vermont, or Wyoming, or Idaho, Nebraska or Alaska, plus a couple more. The prize? None, of course, silly. If it helps anyone to understand these rather odd rules, they're loosely based on those used on Stephen Fry's TV Quiz Show, 'QI'.
Cottonfields: we saw stacks of these, from the bone-dry northern parts of Texas all the way through the South and on over to the counties around Savannah Georgia on the East Coast. While most of the fields were big things, where mechanical harvesters munch through them in autumn, there were also lots of little cotton fields tucked into corners here and there, where the big machinery couldn't possibly go. I wonder if they still hand-pick these little patches of white?
Italian motorcycles: in all of our 4000 mile trip on the roads of America we didn't see one. And then in New York, in a shop window, a Ducati, used as a prop to sell Ducati luggage to Manhattan yuppies. How humiliating! The day after I took this shot I saw my first Italian bike on the streets, and lo and behold it was my bike – a Moto Guzzi V7 Classic. It's not a common bike anywhere, and there it was, turning off 5th Avenue in New York. As we pottered about the streets of New York we spotted more Guzzis and Ducatis in roughly equal numbers, but the total spotted was still less than 10. I tell you, American motorcyclists, with their love of Harleys, are missing out on some nice machinery.
Here's another rarity: one dollar coins. These are the only ones we spotted: spat out of an automated parking lot payment machine in Galveston, Texas. I didn't even know that one dollar coins existed over here until then. Everywhere you go there are greenbacks – one dollar notes. These are such an anachronism. You can have a wallet bulging with notes and still have less than $20 on you. I watched a TV talk show where the majority liked their paper money just as it is and didn't want $1 coins, so in the end I decided that until America ditches the greenback and replaces it with coins, it's not really serious about economic reform. It's my litmus test. I'm waiting, America!
Ice: it took me a while to get into this, but hotels everywhere have ice machines on most floors. And ice buckets in every room. We mostly stayed in fairly nice hotels everywhere we went, yet not all of them had fridges in the rooms. But all had ice buckets and ice machines. After a while I got into the same routine as the other travellers here. Once settled into the room, I wandered down the corridor, filled our ice bucket with ice, brought it back to the room and used that to chill our drinks. It feels like a remnant of times gone by, when no-one's room had a fridge, which everyone has gotten used to now and doesn't want to let go of.
Art galleries. I could say quite a few things about the art galleries we visited here, but this photo was taken inside my favourite on the trip, the Museum of Modern Art – MoMA – in New York. Like the wonderful Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I love MoMA's embrace of design as art. It's where I'm at with art, too.
And here's to all those museums and galleries with strict "no photography" rules. Blahhhhhh to them all! This photo of Buddy Holly was taken outside the Buddy Holly Museum in Lubbock, Texas, so I could photograph it, legally. But I couldn't show you any more of the Buddy Holly Museum, because they're protecting copyright in there. Same goes for the Guggenheim
© in New York, and the Hank Williams Museum© in Montgomery Alabama.
Finally, this is one of those pleasant discoveries which has come from eating out for breakfast so much. We've both developed a taste for eggs cooked 'sunny side up'. We always just thought of these as fried eggs, but cooked in a teflon pan, they're just sunny side up, with nicely runny yolks. We cooked these eggs for ourselves in our little Manhattan hotel room for breakfast: the 'bread' is two bagels, split in half, then halved again, and pan-fried too. We've always been poached eggs or scrambled eggs kids for our Sunday breakfasts, but every now and then we'll have them sunny-side-up, and each time we do so we'll think of this wonderful holiday.
One more blog post to go before we fly home, a little report on our short stay here in beautiful San Francisco which we'll put up here tomorrow.