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Poe's North American Tour '99

Episode 14: No Fog on the Bay

California is one of those places that everyone has seen, thanks to the wonders of the silver screen, but most people have never experienced. It's famed for sunshine and starlets and silicone (and I got to see sunshine at least), but it was the only point in three months of travelling where I felt cold, incessant sunshine or no. Ontario hot, California cold, who'd a-thunk it?

We left San Diego and its perennially cheerful sky (apparently it only changes there when the Santa Ana sweeps in and puts everything on edge) and headed up the unnaturally wide Californian highway to San Francisco where we finally caught up with the heat - in fact a freak heatwave which topped a hundred degrees. I experienced over a hundred a couple of times on the tour, as far north even as Toronto, but England has never recorded temperatures over a hundred, giving me something else new to experience.

Our stop overnight was in Pismo Beach, midway-ish, which was where I found I could stand underneath the light in the bathroom every now and again to stop shivering. It wasn't quite what I expected from sundrenched California... the tv movie about Bill Gates seemed a bit more like it though.

First, however, was the sprawling mass that is Los Angeles. We didn't stop, just skirted it on the highway, but every road sign pointing inwards brought home to me just how much LA has become part of modern culture. Chicago had much that seemed familiar from film, but here it seemed that I recognised the name of every street, road or boulevard. To all you Cosmonauts who make it your home - do you really have to look both ways before crossing the road, just in case someone's shooting a car chase down it?

After LA was a long drive up the San Andreas Fault - you can look right across from the highway to see where the ground has torn itself apart at some point or other. Somehow I felt safe, but I'm not sure why - this is land in flux and there's nothing to suggest that it's done churning yet. Before the start of the tour, Teri had sent me this site which constantly updates with every new quake that hits California. I knew all about land in flux, or so I thought, but this site lists forty to fifty quakes every single day in California. That's a bit more in flux than I'd have liked to know about...

I'm not sure where we forgot to turn off the main highway to drive the highly recommended Route 1 up the coast past Carmel and yet more towns I've seen in the movies, but forget we did, leaving us a trip less interesting visually but that we made up for in conversation. Treacle tended to drop off in the back seat, maybe because Teri and I were well stuck into hitech shop talk.

Not only are we in the same business but we were due to stay in Los Gatos, south of San Francisco, as guests of Teri's brother who is a much more major name in the industry than either of us. He proved to be an interesting character - I really wasn't expecting a British new wave fan in northern California - and he and his wife were charming hosts. Check out Dan's latest online venture, NameZero, and sign yourself up.

We spent a little time wandering around Los Gatos - it's a strange place. The houses are nice houses, but half the neighbourhood is a building site where people were rebuilding and renovating as best they could under strict construction laws. The houses also seemed relatively crammed together, at least by the American standards that I was starting to become used to - by English standards they were well spread out. The surrounding hillside was gorgeous too, but I'm not sure how people can justify the almost seven-figure prices. It seems that any buyer would just be paying to put Los Gatos in their address. Maybe this is the California that the movies tell us about.

Los Gatos is only one of a number of smaller towns south of San Francisco, and they are the home to many a Cosmonaut. I managed to avoid all of them on our drive into San Fran proper, knowing that I was going to try to organise something, at the last minute as always. I spent a while phoning round players and a meetup of sorts came together for the day after the day after.

But first it was the Golden Gate which is golden only in symbolism. You can curve up a road behind the Golden Gate and wander ever closer watching it appear over the lip of the hill. And while it doesn't seem that big while you're driving over it, moving up the hill it felt like I was almost on top of the thing. I'm not surprised that the people who paint it never stop, as the bridge is big and the wind off the ocean was strong.

And of course the non-existent fog won't help much either. Maybe it was my presence screwing up local weather patterns, as it did in Texas and was to do in Seattle, but there was no fog creeping up the bay like a thousand and one blues songs had warned me about. I could picture Jorma Kaukonen waking up and gazing in puzzlement. "Looked outside my window, fog came up the bay... nah doesn't work. Let's try something else."

The Golden Gate is a toll bridge, but for some bizarre reason that only works one way - maybe the round trip just takes far too long to be a valid alternative. But we got through for free anyway by having three people in the car. I like these Californian traffic laws - we cross toll bridges for free and whizz down the highway in empty car pooling lanes. Of course if you try to cross the road on foot, you'll probably be arrested for jaywalking. Yeah, seriously. I guess America really is the land of the car.

And the next day seems a convenient point to pause, for here's where we split our schedules. Teri and Treacle went off to see Fisherman's Wharf and catch parts of the Extreme Games, and I headed in different directions to catch up with Bilt who has seen San Francisco evolve and mutate through many years. So, in the next enthralling episode of...

Previous Episode: Dead Englishman's Gulch.


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