You could start your personal American Dream here and now. In Valencia street, SF California. Not the worst place to do so.
The engineers that built this city were idiots.
When they came to this place and decided to build a city they pulled out their plans for the countless cities they have been building along the way in the great planes. What has worked once will work again. It has proven its value. They laid out their rectangular street plans. Construction works were hard, there were all these hills they had to work their way up. But in the end they did it, the new city was beautiful. It had all these steep roads reaching for the skies and falling down again into the abyss. From the hilltops you could look down straight alleys extending over hill after hill like an ocean wave. Was it the engineers fault that those bloody horses were not strong enough to pull wagons up there? Later they found out why in other parts of the world they would not build straight roads in hilly places but roads climb along the ridge and have switchbacks. So they decided to do that as well, they had hills here, right? They did Lombard street.
Then some smart guy came along and replaced the horses by cables. That works better than Lombard street. But as with all public transport systems around here they build it, then they stop evolving it and it becomes impractical, old and inefficient.This one, because it’s special and beautiful it became even more useless because it has been taken over by tourists. If on my way home after I have to queue at the stop and wait in line after thousands of Europeans and Asians I would switch to… cycling because it’s me, Uber if it’s any other person.
This city has the worst streets I have been cycling on in my life. Not because of the hills. Some streets are just too steep to cycle up (or down!), so just don’t do it. No, the quality of the pavement is horrid. There are no real roadholes, all of them have been fixed but they were fixed so badly to leave a desert of cracks and bumps behind which makes you feel like sitting in a Malagasy speedboat on its way over the bay to Masoala on a windy afternoon. And that is really bad, believe me. Or to put it in a more American way: like sitting on a young rodeo horse. How hard can it be to fix roads? They do it in other places as well, and they leave a smooth surface.
Otherwise cycling in San Fran feels like home. Red lights are for others as they are in Zurich, and motorists don’t know why their car were equipped with these things sticking out at the side of their car. Those with the mirror in it. No wait it’s to check your make-up or whether something is sticking in your teeth.
I changed into non-cycling clothes today. There will only be some city cycling henceforth.
And I was so fed up with the two shirts I have been wearing for two months now, that I had to buy me some new ones…
No, wait, it is Hearst’s castle. There are few things that are so much American than that. Think of a very (very!) rich businessman who builds a very (very!) large mansion up in a hill on his family ranch in Central California. He is well educated so he knows about history and arts and its value and collects it. Did I mention he is rich? He can essentially buy everything. He builds all kinds of ancient Greek, Egyptian statues and sarcophagi into his mansion. He is in good company, the Greeks reused ancient stones to build their modern times housesvas well… He buys wooden Renaissance ceilings to hang in his house and gothic choirs for his ballroom. All pieces are very exquisit but are not ment to be on a ranch house in California, but in Egypt, Turkey or Italy. The entire ensemble looks in part ouf of place and who would want to live in a dark, over decorated 16th century like palace in 1920, when he could have built a fine Bauhaus mansion to go with the time.
Today the Palace is a California state park. You can visit it on guided tours. Those are quite an an experience. They bake a lot of Hollywood into it, it’s all dramatic and full of grandeur from the bus ride up to the castle to the stories the guides tell you along the way, to the dinner tables set with finest china and vintage 1920 Ketchup bottles. America has a big talent in exageration, dramaturgy and story telling. Thag makes Hollywood so successful and many of their museums more enjoyable and fun to visit as their European counterparts. No wonder trends like gamification come from over here.
The Big Sur coast is beautiful, not as much as the Oregon coast though. In a sense they are similar, rugged and hilly bug the prevailing colors are very different. Big Sur is darker, the dark rocks and mediteranean type dryland plants making a sharp contrast to the white fog. The Ocean itself also reflects the darker colors.
The reason I wanted to sea this coast is literary. Strangely, in Monterey they make a big fuss about Steinbeck and Cannery Row indicating buildings featured in the novel, etc. At Bixby bridge there is no sign
hinting to Kerouac’s Big Sur. Cars stop because of the views and the high bridge, not because of the donkey and the spring and the drunk struggling machista poet in the cabin down there.
All along Big Sur there were white clouds hanging over the coast. Traditional pacific summer fog mixed with traditional Calfornian wildfire smoke, hard to tell which was which most of the time. This fire has got out of hand. A California state ranger warned me about potentially heavy smoke ahead. I asked a cyclist coming up from the South an he said it wasn’t too bad. He was right. It was humid but there was a distinctly smokey smell to it. All in all I did not get more smoke than at an ordinary American campground where everybody needs his campfire at night and some even do in the morning.
The largest impact of the fire on me was the closure of all state parks in Big Sur. So instead of leisurely cycling through for two days covering 30 miles at a time, I had to do all the 60 miles in one day. Distancewise that is not such a great deal but I had started (too) late in Monterey not being able to make up my mind whether I should go on at all due to the fire. Nobody wants tourists in a heavy congested emergency zone. They had not closed highway 1 though and the traffic was so heavy it seemed nobody except me had any thoughts of changing their travel plans. Most traffic were the usual vacationers jamming all vista points (made explicitly to admire the scenery) and every turnout (made explicitly to remain empty for slow traffic aka trucks, big RVs, bikes to pull aside and let faster cars pass), the rest was fire trucks, Calfire service vehicles, big trucks carrying bulldozers, I pulled aside for them, I did not for tourists.