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“I’m afraid that Hefenweissen is a Premium Bottle and so isn’t available on our Happy Hour prices” the waitress solemnly told Matt.
He mustered up his hammiest English accent, “Well, can you pour it into a glass for me and give me it on Happy Hour?”
“Ummm…” she stood there, lip quivering, “…yeah, okay”. She was powerless against his accent, “there’s a… substantial price difference” she mused, “but I’ll… figure it out”.
And that was my first experience of the power of a charming British accent.
We have now been in the USA for three weeks and supposed to have covered most of the West Coast, popped into Mexico, fixed up the car and smashed the technology blogs of Silicon Valley. However, the Customs and Quarantine service, the Mortal Enemies of Overlanders everywhere, once more intervened to destroy our best laid plans.
Hannah the taxi actually arrived in the country almost a full month ago and the team (already anticipating port and customs delays after our Australia experience) touched down a week later. After a very expensive two weeks of constantly nagging the shipping agents and being told that we would be charged $100 storage fee per day for the privilege of not being allowed our car plus “around a fifteen hundred bucks” for the customs inspection itself we finally managed to get the car released from Oakland port and start working towards our goal of fixing the cab up after the 32,000 mile trek from London to Sydney and starting the long drive over to New York.
The only benefit of these agonising and costly delays was that we actually managed to have a decent look around the city of San Francisco, home to hills, trams, homeless people and of course, the Golden Gate bridge.
[[posterous-content:pid___20]]San Fran Hills
To be frank my first impression of San Francisco wasn’t great. This may have been mainly because we were staying in a dodgy neighbourhood and because I decided to take a walk on my own down a see a small punk-gig in the famed Bay Area punk scene. As I walked through the dim streets to the venue, snatching glances at the map on my phone, I actually felt amongst the most unsafe of anywhere on the trip so far.
[[posterous-content:pid___22]]Achor Steam and Banner Pilot
But the following day my notions were reversed as I walked down to the huge Golden Gate Park and out to the ocean. On the way I took a rest at the top of one of wildly steep hills and a friendly old lady saw the map in my hand and asked me where I was heading.
“Out to the ocean?” she remarked, “okay, where’s your car at?”
“Um, I don’t have a car, I was just going to walk there”
“Walk!?” she scoffed, “Okay, if you go down here three blocks,” she said, pointing back where I just came from, “there’s a bus stop, you need to take the Number Five westbound”
“Okay… thanks, have a nice day now!” I said, pretending to tie my shoelaces until she was around the corner before finishing my epic trek down through the sprawling park and down to the beautiful Pacific Ocean.
The coastline walk provided stunning views of the famous bridge and the equally infamous island prison of Alcatraz that we had taken a boat over to for a look around the previous day. The chilly cells were a world away from on the sunny wooded slopes overlooking the bay and assertions that we could, “easily swim to the city!” were quickly withdrawn once we saw the frigid water and swift currents up close.
[[posterous-content:pid___4]][[posterous-content:pid___3]][[posterous-content:pid___1]][[posterous-content:pid___0]][[posterous-content:pid___2]]Alcatraz and our boat crew
Once the car was finally freed we headed south of the city to a great British Classic Car garage called On the Road Again Classics where they have an impressive collection of vintage sports cars and a full complement of knowledgeable, skilled and friendly mechanics. These guys really helped us out and over the next week or so we replaced the gearbox (or as they call it, the ‘tranny’), changed the brakes, rebuilt the whole steering rack, fixed the fuel leak, recarpeted the interior, replaced the blown front speakers and of course gave Hannah her new exterior facelift along with a whole host of other minor repairs and refits.
[[posterous-content:pid___28]][[posterous-content:pid___29]][[posterous-content:pid___27]]On the Road Again
We also were saved from sleeping on the hard, cold concrete floor of the workshop for a few nights by awesome mechanic Dane and his great family Evelyn, Tommy, Shawny, Cadance and the others (sorry, I’m not too great with names) who took us into their home, cooked us dinner and let us sleep in on their sofas on more than one occasion throughout the week.
Bill, Tom, Dwayne, Dane and all the other guys at On the Road Again have totally sorted us out and I genuinely don’t know how we’d be fit to make the coast to coast drive without their great help and warm hospitality. So long, and thanks for all the pizzas, guys.
[[posterous-content:pid___23]][[posterous-content:pid___10]]Couchsurfing HQ and interviews
With the car ready to go the team had a weekend to kill before a number of press appointments in San Francisco so we decided to split up for a few days. Paul and Leigh drove over to Lake Tahoe for a cheeky spot of snowboarding whilst I joined Jon for a drive up to Portland, Oregon along with another long term taxi tag-along Matt (the guy who travelled with us through China and Asia and invited himself along for the USA).
For those not up to speed with the story, Jon is a Texan who we met whilst in Pakistan last year. He wanted to join us for the USA leg of the trip, but we told him he could only join if he bought a new York yellow taxi… so he did! ‘Skinny Margarita’, as she’s now called is an ex-cop-car turned typical American Yellow Cab.
Jon has an old childhood friend called Drew living up in Portland we took the drive to pick him up to join us for some of the drive across America…
[[posterous-content:pid___14]][[posterous-content:pid___17]]Breaking down during the interview…
But in the meantime we spent President’s Day weekend in the unusual city of Portland. This place is far and away the hipster capital of anywhere we have visited. The city is rammed full of vegan bakeries, second hand record stores and microbreweries. A walk down the street involves drowning in waves of waxed moustaches, fringes and nose rings. In one day we saw a guy taking his parrot for a walk, in the evening a spontaneous breakdancing battle broke out in the bar we were in and then we were invited to confusingly named, “Dog Party”.
Don’t get me wrong, the place is awesome. I’d recommend watching the excellent comedy show, Portlandia, if you’ve ever visited the place, it’s scarily accurate.
After a smattering of interviews back in San Francisco with the picturesque backdrop of the Golden Gate bridge (including one for a Spanish TV channel where they pretty much just asked us where in the world we could find the girls that were muchos jamon por dos huevos) we are now ready to finally get on the road and start the trip proper.
So just quickly for those at the back we now have two cars and six team members (four English, two Texan). By Saturday we should be safe and warm in LA then we’ll be racing across to Vegas, Texas and Florida for Spring Break.
The reaction in the States so far has been phenomenal and we can’t wait to push into the interior, see more of the place and meet more of the people. Keep a