Our first full day in San Diego is drawing to a close. Briony’s lying on the air mattress we’re borrowing from our landlady and reading One Day, cars are cruising up first avenue outside our window, and I’m sipping vinho verde ($3.99 from Trader Joe’s. With that, you cannot argue).
Our journey begins yesterday at about 11:30, UK time. Briony, her parents, her youngest brother, his wife, and I all set off for Heathrow with everything we are taking with us: six suitcases (each carefully measured on our bathroom scales, and weighing almost exactly the maximum of 23 kilos), one carry-on suitcase (full of books, and weighing approximately six metric tons), one carry-on saxophone (slightly oversized, but fingers crossed no-one will say anything), and two laptop bags (one is stuffed so full it barely shuts, the other is big enough to fit a laptop from 1989). I am wearing my hiking boots (too heavy to pack), my zip-up hoody and light hacket (ditto) and my straw hat from Morocco. Briony is similarly laden with extra clothing, yet somehow manages to make it look not just sensible, but stylish.
We get all our bags checked and get onto the plane without anybody objecting to the quantity of baggage (or, for that matter, clothing) we have on our persons, and get to our seats. I hoist the sax, the unbelievably heavy suitcase, my excess clothing and my boots into the overhead locker, and we take our seats. It looks like we may even have a full row of three seats to ourselves, when a breathless man appears and says ‘Hey, sorry, that’s my seat but I’ve gotta piss like a racehorse, so can you just put my bag on it? You can steal what you like – you’ve got about five minutes.’ We take his bag, and he’s off. He turns out to be awesome. He’s just finished rodie-ing for a band whose name he refuses to reveal for about thirty seconds, before saying ‘OK, it’s Bruce Springsteen, but you can’t mention that name for the rest of the flight’. He’s also a ballet dancer, an actor, and a surfer, and lives in Encinitas, a ‘surfer town’ (his words) just north of San Diego. He reveals the following showbiz information: Bruce Springsteen never gives anybody any warning about what song they’re playing next – when the song in question is a spontaneous cover, this is a nightmare for the guys who run the autocue (I had no idea rockstars had autocues, but it makes sense). The E street band are a great bunch of guys to work for, except for the fact that they play long into the night when everyone needs to be up early the next morning. Madonna insists on having a backstage bathroom built for her at every venue she plays.
Our seatmate also recommends local beers and breakfast places, and teaches me to plié during one of our longs stretches hanging out in the area outside the toilets in the back of the plane (at one point we are asked to ‘keep it down, because people might be trying to sleep’). And he has a twisted and filthy sense of humour. All in all, he’s a great guy to sit next to for an 11-hour flight.
We arrive in San Diego to the smallest passport-check room I’ve ever seen in an airport. Briony goes to the foreigners line, and I go to the citizens one. When my turn comes, the woman taking my passport tells me to pull Briony out of her line to join me. This is the first time that our insane quantity of hand-luggage becomes a problem, as she performs a spectacular feat of queue-jumping. Then we both get sent to the ‘visa room’ (or whatever they call it). It quickly becomes clear that they don’t get a lot of immigrant visas at San Diego airport. My favourite line comes from one of the border officers, who says ‘let’s make a copy of her passport, just for the hell of it.’ But what really makes it is the response the line gets from the subordinate officer: ‘Umm, the room with the copier’s locked. Do you have a key?’
By the time we get to the baggage carousel, everything’s been taken off and set on the floor. Among the assembled bags are five of our six items of luggage. That’s right, one is missing – the biggest one, the one that has nearly all of Briony’s clothes. Things start looking very bad when the woman behind the BA counter informs me that all of our bags are listed as having arrived in San Diego. Eventually someone else brings in all the bags that haven’t been claimed from our flight. Among them is a big black suitcase that looks a lot like ours. The woman from BA calls the number on this bag’s tag, and asks the woman who answers whether she meant to leave one of her bags, and if not, whether she could bring the bag that she took instead back to the airport. The woman doesn’t speak very clear English, but makes it clear that A) the bag she took is ‘in the back of her truck’ (which is really not a reassuring thing to hear), B) she’s driving to her home in Oceanside (over an hour away from the airport) and C) she won’t be turning around until she’s got her kids home. So, we are advised to go and get something from McDonalds (the only place still open in the food court) and await further information. I borrow a cell phone from a woman whose friend’s bag was left in London and call our landlady to tell her we will be late arriving to the apartment. Shortly after this, the woman whose phone I borrowed, and her friend, are given a reference number and told they can leave. Unfortunately, when they try to leave through the only doors out, they set off an alarm that had been set by accident. At this point, these two people – who have been waiting for over an hour because their bags didn’t make it onto the plane – are told they can’t leave until the harbor police come and speak to them, so they can explain why they set of the alarm. I suggest that as witnesses, Briony and I could explain what happened, seeing as we’re hanging around for a while anyway, but no dice. This has become a matter of national security, so common sense has been replaced by inviolable protocol. We are all assured that when an alarm goes off, the harbor police come in ‘about thirty seconds’. In this instance, they arrive in about a half an hour. Briony and I go up to McDonalds, I order some food, and before I have even had time to begin eating it, a man appears with the suitcase! So it’s off to the super shuttle, and then to our new home.
And you can just make out the bay in this shot (taken from the same balcony)
We unpack a bit, now delirious with exhaustion. I stuff sweaters into tee-shirts for pillows and Briony opens up my sleeping bag for a blanket, and we crash out and sleep fitfully. I wake up roughly once every half an hour, thinking it’s 7 AM and then thinking ‘damn, I need to go pick up a rental car, but I’m waaaaay, too tired to drive’. At about 3, Briony tries to rouse me, saying it’s after eight and we need to get going. I suggest to her that she has another look at her watch.
Eventually, we give up on sleep, get up at 5, do a bunch of unpacking, and then go to Hob Nob Corner for an awesome breakfast. Then a stroll around Hillcrest, some coffee beans bought from a lovely guy at Peets coffee, and our courtesy pick-up from ‘Dirt Cheap Car Rentals’. The guy who picks us up is from Tijuana, which, he tells me, is full of Padres fans who come over for the games. I’m pleased to hear the Padres have a devoted fan base. The guy also demonstrates to me what conversational ‘Spanglish’ actually sounds like: ‘Mira that restaurant’, he tells me at one point. ‘it’s muy bonito, the best Mexican food in San Diego.’ With the woman behind the counter at ‘Dirt Cheap Car Rentals’ we talk about schools (her kid’s only three, but she’s thinking about kindergarten already) and I jot down High Tech High’s website for her. Regarding the car, she explains that ‘it’s got some dents and scratches, but there’s no deductible on the insurance, so we don’t need to mark them all down’. Evidently, ‘Dirt Cheap Car Rentals’ doesn’t deign to bring in the mechanics for something as trivial as dents and scratches (at only $399 per month, I’m definitely not complaining). Our car is a Suzuki Swift (Suzy Swift, as we now call her). Suzy has her fair share of dents and scratches, a grey paint job that looks like those pictures of statues that have been damaged by acid rain, a tape player, and no central locking, air conditioning, or, I believe, power steering. She also has the turning radius of a much larger car. Perhaps one with more than four wheels. But having said all that, she’s got a lot of style – and a surprisingly roomy trunk when you drop the back seats down.
We go with Suzy to the local AT&T outlet, where I fear the worst, but am proven wonderfully wrong when two guys with an immense and not entirely legit technical knowledge set us up with iphones (what do I mean by 'not entirely legit?' One of the guys told us about how he 'hadn't played World of Warcraft in ages', before adding 'Yeah, I had this program going that kept it running while I slept, I was raking in money... I'm not allowed to get an account on World of Warcraft anymore.'
Then it's on to Trader Joes! (More to come, when I've got time).