San Francisco August 2016

A mid-blue Cadillac Mustang tentatively slows, curb crawling with the driver leaning forward peering out the dusty front window. Smiling and waving, Steve steps forward, phone in hand, to open the front passenger door.
– Hi, I’m Steve.

I drag my suitcase from the pavement. As it dumps onto the bitumen, the driver appears by the rear door and heaves both our suitcases into the trunk. They land between slabs of bottled water and a forest-green sports bag that may or may not have a small dead body inside. Over-dressed for the surprising warm weather, I peel off my baggy black jacket I have carried with me from Melbourne before jumping in the backseat.

I’m still reminiscing over my breakfast – a six-egg white omelette with sautéed kale, guacamole, roasted baby yams and shaved turkey breast. Could it be any more American? Egg white omelettes and turkey breast first came to my attention thanks to a plethora of television sitcoms. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen them on a menu in Melbourne. Unfortunately the tea was truly American in style also – tepid dish water. Thankfully, I brought a stash of real tea bags with me from home. These will have to be rationed out over the next month. Americans may start their day with coffee but I’m a cup of tea girl all the way. I’m not pretty without my cup of tea.

America and Australia may well have been colonised by Britain, but the tea has an altogether different standing in Australia than in America. I’ve visited the USA three times and rarely have a found a kettle, electric or otherwise, in a hotel room. During our three days in San Francisco, I had tried and failed to light the gas stove so I could boil some water for tea. There’s no point saying I should go out to Starbucks to buy tea. I need tea as I’m pottering around getting ready in the morning. This is a non-negotiable.

On our final morning in my new favourite city of San Francisco, I woke early and sat on the mustard velvet love seat peering out the bay window. While the world went about its workday morning business, I curled up and caught up on my journal writing. I decided to take one last go at lighting the mid-century stove in our eclectic Air Bnb. Our host is a photographer and the apartment reflects his visual aesthetic.

Visual vignettes are everywhere. An over-sized glass candy jar filled with fluorescent-yellow foam ear plugs graces the bedside table. 1960s postcards decorate the table lamps perched on the triangular tables twinning the love seat. A wooden artist mannequin resuscitates a polymer cockroach. There’s a fine line between art installation and amenity in our second floor Oak Street apartment.

With the stove finally conquered, I realise I need to go out hunter/gathering for milk. Americans may like their tea floral, black and insipid but I like mine strong and milky. Coffee here in America is filter coffee with creamer. Creamer is a bizarre concoction of corn syrup solids with hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil and white powder thrown in to make it acceptable. Espresso is yet to take strong hold.

So out I trek to find somewhere to buy milk. I aim for a service station or convenience store thinking that will be my best bet. A block west and half a block north and I find two service stations opposite each other. Things are looking positive. As I stand on the street corner waiting for the lights to change, I pull my jacket tight around me to guard against the chilly early morning wind. Unmarked white buses pull up just prior to the intersection and collect a small number of people I’ve just noticed gathering for some unknown reason. Later, I discover this is a common practice to bus staff out of town to large corporate estates.

As I enter the store, I head towards the fridge I see at the rear. There’s no familiarity with the bottles I see on the shelves. Out of the way, I manage to decipher images and words to find plain, unflavoured milk. It would have been easier to buy soft drink, sports drink, juice or even bottled water than milk. America clearly isn’t a strong dairy culture.

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