Monday, 11 October 2010

We're not in Kansas anymore Toto

Ah, San Francisco. Where Tony Bennett left his heart, and the gays, their underwear. This morning we had a later start than usual, thanks to our gradual acclimatisation to the time difference. So we sat in the Castro to enjoy a fresh orange juice in the warm morning sun. An off-duty drag queen sat darning a costume, happy hand-holding couples strolled up the street with their tiny, overdressed dogs, and an old bear sat in the middle of it all as naked as the day he was born (although, I imagine, significantly more tumescent).

Having gotten the hang of the muni transit system, we decided that today would involve less walking than the previous day. Admittedly, we did overdo it a little, with a packed agenda that would have a triathlete breathing into a paper bag. As if the miles and miles of hillwalking wasn't enough, we even rented bikes and cycled along the sea front, then across the Golden Gate bridge. The official guide suggested that we keep going all the way to Sausalito, but I sensed that Doug's patience was growing as thin as the soles of his overworked shoes. Thankfully, most of the return journey was downhill, and unencumbered by the crowds of gormless tourists that had plagued our outbound slog.

It's Fleet Week in San Francisco, which means that the city is awash with seamen (steady on) as all the naval ships come to the city and give their crews shore leave for a few days. It's a uniform fetishist's idea of heaven.

We watched the airshow from a cafe by the water, and marvelled at how impossible it is to deduce the cost of a meal based on the prices in a menu. Aside from constantly attempting to calculate the equivalent price in sterling, there's the sales tax to think of. Then there's the tip, which here in the US is supposed to be between 15 and 25% of your total bill. On top of that, we discovered a new surcharge called the 'Healthy San Francisco' charge - this was a new scheme introduced by the city's mayor to force bars and restaurants to pay for healthcare for food service professionals. Which is all very commendable, but it does mean that the bill can sometimes run to several pages.

We took the opportunity to have a good mosey around the Castro area, which has a pretty good selection of bars, restaurants and shops. There are some great store names as well, from the 'Squat and Gobble Creperie' to 'The Sausage Factory' pizzeria. Oh, and don't forget the 'Hand Job Nail Spa'. When it comes to naming your business, the smuttier the better. Surely it won't be too long before they stop trying to be funny, and just go for all-out rudeness. Meet you at the 'Fuck Me Harder Pattiserie'.

Where was I? Oh, that's right, shopping. Having marvelled at the extraordinary variety of items available that can be inserted into the human body (not to mention the eye-watering size of them) we moved on to a more mainstream shopping experience.

I was looking for some kind of light walking shoe, and ended up buying a bizarre pair of Vibram FiveFingers. I know that sounds more like something you'd buy in one of the afore-mentioned sex shops, but I promise they're entirely legitimate footwear. They're like clingy, rubberised gloves for your feet and apparently change your entire posture and walking style by "emulating the sensation of being barefoot". I could have just taken my regular shoes off and saved myself a hundred dollars, but figured 'what the hell'. Then I looked down and thought 'what the hell?' From the ankle down I look like an Afro-Carribean hobbit. I'm impressed so far, but no doubt I'll change my mind when I awake in the night with crippling back-ache.

Blame it on the salesman. Unlike a British shop assistant who'd struggle to muster the energy to tut in my direction, the sales people here are so incredibly friendly, you almost feel like buying something out of gratitude. They greet you on your way in, they thank you for your visit when you leave, and they know everything there is to know about every item in stock. Anyone who works in the service industry should be forced to visit the US for a couple of days as part of their induction programme. As a consequence of all this 'super awesome' service, my bank manager and I will be forced to sit down and have a frank conversation when I get back to the UK.

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