The bay,

Ruth Thomas heads to America‘s West Coast to discover the fast food. fast freeways. hot coffee and tall trees ofCalifornia.

In San Francisco the food shops knock you down. At least. Dylan Thomas thought so when he stayed there in 1950 and. if he was referring to Chinatown. it was quite probable that he meant it literally. Shops crammed with meat. fruit and pastry bulge onto the road. and any lane that‘s wide enough to support a few stalls invariably groans under the weight of ginseng and herbal ointrnents or. for the discerning

tourist. condom-filled fortune cookies.

Food is a pretty dominant force wherever you go in America. But more than any other state. California. land of fast freeway driving. is also the birthplace of fast-food chain stores. I spent one particularly profound half-hour driving behind a cattle truck along Freeway 101. passing en route at least five Denny's Diners (an even meatier establishment than McDonalds). Thundering along a lot of blank. hot stretches ofCalifornian tarmac meant that I sampled an ungainly amount of Denny‘s fare. Thick waffles. hash browns. ‘International Slammers’. eggs over-medium. over-easy. scrambled (but not boiled). burgers. steaks.

..-" a

Petritied Forest, Calistoga. Nappa Valley. California

bacon. . . Even the salads had ground beef in them.

By the time I left the country. I had become a vegetarian. although on the day of my conversion I forgot. and indulged in a bright pink hot dog at a baseball game at Oakland Stadium. ()n that occasion. as well as breaking my veggie vows. I also witnessed the breaking ofa record. when ace batsman Ricky Henderson stole an apparently unprecedented number of bases. As soon as he had reached last base. a gaggle ofTV crews and reporters. looking singularly unspontaneous (had they been tipped off?) rushed onto the pitch to record the great moment. Even Ricky‘s elderly mother leaped into the fray. exuberant in a scarlet tracksuit. and eulogised loudly into a

he bear and the burger

nearby microphone.

Back on the freeway. a Wacky Races kind ofjourney was undertaken to get from Oakland to Yosemite National Park. Travelling in (.‘alifornia is virtually impossible unless you have access to a car and are willing to take your life in both hands. There are. so it seems. no driving regulations in the state. although a 50mph limit is said to be in force. Ifthis is the case. velocity seems a heart-poundingly random affair among a high percentage of drivers. Vehicles are allowed to overtake and undertake from all lanes the indicator often considered to be a ‘feature‘ about as necessary as an auto-reverse tape deck.

An American state is a big thing to

70 The List 13 - 26 September 1991