Usually, a journey through a country begins with its capital, but when the country is as vast as Russia or the United States of America, this condition may not be fulfilled.
California is just one of the states of America, but what a state it is!
The population of California is 40 million people, and its economy is twice the GDP of the entire Russia. Practically all modernity was created in California — from Hollywood to the iPhone. New York is known to us mainly for its stock exchanges and hot dogs, while Washington is known for the White House and its ambiguous politics.
California has long considered itself a separate country. Britain exited the European Union, and this exit was called “Brexit.” California has been dreaming of its own “Calexit” for many years.
Once upon a time, California was already a separate country. During the war between the United States and Mexico, the future state seceded from the latter and existed as an independent nation for about a month — the California Republic.
To this day, the memory of it is alive; at least, you can often come across the flag with a bear and the inscription “California Republic” in the United States.
Therefore, it is not necessary at all to start a journey through America from the capital. Especially if the capital is not where it is commonly thought to be.
The United States became country number 41 for the author. After spending two weeks in California and Nevada, I can only say one thing: there was no need to visit the previous countries. The delight of visiting America is equal to the sum of enthusiasm from visiting all other countries combined.
California stretches along the Pacific Ocean for a thousand kilometers, which is approximately the distance from Moscow to Krasnodar. From geography lessons, the reader should remember what happens to the landscape when traveling from north to south over such distances: it changes beyond recognition.
Moreover, California is bordered by the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Central Valley from the east. Because of this, it is impossible to distinguish any average Californian landscape. California is different everywhere; it completely changes every hour of the journey, as if every hour arriving in a different country.
In Los Angeles, there are palm trees and +22 degrees Celsius in January.
By the middle of the journey on California Route 1 leading to San Francisco, palm trees smoothly transition into trees typical of the central region, while the ocean air brings saltiness and coolness.
In San Francisco, it rarely gets hot even in the summer, and the weather in the bay is so unpredictable that it’s pointless to check the forecast even for a day.
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” Mark Twain joked.
On the windward side of the Pacific Ocean, trees stand with hairstyles resembling those in the far north, while in the city center, there is hardly any foliage in winter.
A couple of hours from the city, the Central Valley begins, and once again everything changes around — for many kilometers, there are fields, scattered vineyards, and orange groves. In the midst of them runs a straight narrow highway that leads somewhere into the mountains.
It’s winter in the mountains.
And beyond the mountains? Summer! Actually, not really. In the desert, it is cold in winter, even though the sun is shining.
Americans are some of the most pleasant people in the world. The author has heard many stories: if you have a flat tire on the road, the first passing driver will stop to help. And then even a second and third one. Unfortunately, the tire has never punctured.
And yet, it is impossible to come to America and not become part of a story with help — something will definitely happen to you.
At car rental services, they will offer a car one class higher at the same price. Although it should cost one and a half times more, they don’t mind: there are few visitors at 5 in the morning, so why not increase brand loyalty?
The customer standing in front of you at the supermarket checkout will not leave immediately but will wait until you scan your two shopping carts — and organize a discount using their card.
On Christmas Eve, a poorly dressed person in tattered clothes and disheveled hair will stand outside a convenience store and gaze subtly at the faces of passersby. A well-dressed woman will approach her and ask, “What do you want?” Not bread, not food — “Coca-Cola,” the destitute person will reply. She will buy her a can of cola, something else to snack on, and wish her a Merry Christmas. And yet, she didn’t even extend her hand — she simply looked at their faces. It is unlikely that in Russia, something would be bought for a homeless person without him asking, and if it will be bought something, it would typically be bread or noodles; requesting to buy a Coke or a Snickers would be considered inappropriate.
In Las Vegas, a hotel manager, a dry and thin guy in a Hawaiian shirt and missing two front teeth, who also works part-time at the nearest grocery store (where he receives hotel guests), will see your long hair and say, “Hi, Chewbacca!” And twenty times more he will remind you that you, a hotel client, resemble Chewbacca. You will hope that he will forget about it the next day, but when you bring the key in the morning, he will say, “Goodbye, Chewie!” You will try to take offense, but he will immediately say once again, “Say hi to Han, Chewie!”
Before New Year’s, you will enter Wendy’s looking tired. Along with your order, the cashier will bring you an ice cream cone. “I didn’t order ice cream!” you will say. “I know, but it’s for you.”
America just can’t leave you in a bad mood.
In the USA, there are a lot of homeless people, especially in California.
Los Angeles ranks second after New York in terms of the number of homeless people. Just as often as it is called the City of Angels, it is also referred to as the City of Homeless. The visible number of homeless individuals in the USA is simply enormous.
Just a hundred meters away from the center of Los Angeles, there are entire areas with tents on both sides of the streets.
It is strange, but the statistics say that the homeless population in the USA is only 0.18%, while in Russia it is 3.5%. It’s strange because it appears to be the opposite based on what we see. However, the statistics are correct, and outside of Los Angeles, the situation is much better.
Among the homeless population in the USA, about 20% are mentally ill. Not just “urban crazies,” but individuals with severe mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and acute depression.
Once, the state funded clinics for the mentally ill, but over time, this program was scaled back. Now they are not treated for free, and as a result of alcoholism and drug addiction, mental disorders are only increasing.
Americans have a very accustomed attitude towards people with mental health issues.
In San Francisco, the author lived in a hostel that was set up in former barracks of the American army. These were several wooden houses with poor heating, offering the lowest price in the city and a view of the Golden Gate. The room in the hostel was private, while the bathroom was shared.
On the evening before Christmas, I stepped into the shower, and yelled in Russian curse throughout Fort Mason: “Fuck your mother!” On the bathroom floor, there lay someone, with his head towards the door and my feet.
The someone instantly jumped up, looking terrified, and started repeating frantically: “I’m getting dressed! I’m getting dressed! It’s okay, I’m getting dressed!” He was a decent-looking guy, around 35 years old, wearing a jacket and jeans.
A psycho. Maybe armed! After all, everyone is armed in America, right? I need to calmly explain to him that nothing happened and quietly make my way to the administration. They will call the police, ambulance, firefighters, and possibly the Russian ambassador.
The administrator rushed over like a bullet when he heard about the incident, but he quickly ran back and disappeared along with the person who was lying in the bathroom. After 15 minutes, I had to go to the main building again to find out what was going on.
Here the author encountered true American political correctness. The administrator spent 10 minutes trying to explain to me that the guy was mentally unstable without using the word “crazy.”
“Hello again. Have you found out who he is and what he was doing in the bathroom?”
“Yes, we found out. Everything is fine! We made a query in the shared hotel database, and we received a response stating that he travels frequently, stays in different cities, and checks into various hotels without any incidents. So, he is safe, don’t worry. He registered in the hostel, in the room next to yours, which accommodates 12 people. His documents are alright.”
“Great, but what was he doing in the bathroom?”
“We checked the surveillance camera footage... It shows him walking around the kitchen and talking to himself. Quite a while, actually. As for the bathroom, you know... there are people who are not like you and not like me. I mean, they are just like us. They are also people, they look the same, live their lives, work, have friends. But sometimes they are not like us. They may talk to themselves or someone who isn’t really there, well, someone imaginary. After all, everyone has an imagination, right? And they can behave strangely at times. Maybe when they drink a little or during a full moon. Who knows why he was lying in the bathroom. Perhaps he was doing something. In general, he is not like you and not like me, you understand?”
“You mean he’s metally ill?”
“Yes! Exactly, that’s what I’m trying to say! Anyway, guys, relax, you’re in America. And damn, it’s Christmas today, hey!”
The author didn’t believe until the end that there is no decent food in America. So, take the dumbest rumors about American food and multiply them by 10 — that’s the truth.
Almost all food in the USA is incredibly tasteless and comes in huge portions.
If it’s McDonald’s, the burgers are bland, and there’s only ketchup for the fries. If it’s a café in the city, they serve a stack of pancakes as tall as a skyscraper for breakfast. If it’s a café in the village, they bring dishes that were dug up somewhere at a Mexican landfill, along with a disgustingly slimy omelet with overcooked bacon. The bill for this nauseating breakfast is $15.
In any other country, the saviors would be the Chinese and Arabs, but not in the USA — both Chinese and Arab eateries are just the same. Finding tasty food in America is not easy. Truly good food that left a lasting impression throughout the trip was only found at the farmers market in Los Angeles.
Traveling in Europe is about trains and buses. Traveling in the USA is almost always about cars.
America holds the first place in the world for the length of its road network, and the majority of its roads are of excellent quality.
Everyone has seen those fantastic photos of an endless road disappearing into the desert. There are many such landscapes in the USA because a significant portion of the country’s territory is covered by deserts.
These roads are not illuminated at night, similar to many roads in Russia, and the only landmarks are the posts with reflective coatings.
In the center of major cities, the roads are in the worst condition. It may seem strange, but it’s simply because to repair them, the street needs to be closed. With American road congestion, it is simply impossible to do so.
This is certainly an advantage of Moscow — in Russia, it’s possible to close half the city to repair roads. However, the advantage is quite fragile because roads in the USA are still a hundred times better. Yet, there are some wildly patched sections made with heaven knows what.
One thing that is truly lacking in America is electric utility poles. Almost throughout the country, they are still made of wood.
A distinctive feature of the state of California is the blue Call Box signs, which can be found in any remote area. These are not emergency telephone boxes, but simple machines with 3 buttons: a blue one for reporting an accident, a green one for car breakdown situations, and a black one for running out of gas.
Why not use mobile communication for these purposes?
There are two reasons. Firstly, it’s difficult to explain your coordinates if you don’t have a map with a navigator — all the roads look the same, and there may be no signs for many miles. Secondly, the connection leaves much to be desired.
By the way, even in California, the technological paradise of the entire planet, not everything is perfect with communication. The most affordable carrier, T-Mobile, is unavailable in a vast territory. More expensive companies like AT&T work better, but still, there are areas where coverage is far from ideal.
Only 3G coverage maps are freely available, but in reality, the cellular reception is roughly the same. As for internet access in the desert, it’s not even worth dreaming about.
Since there are so many roads in America, it’s understandable why there are so many motels here.
All American motels are the same and equally good. Every motel looks like it’s from a movie, designed like a movie, and follows a movie-like template. Most of the time, they consist of rows of two-story buildings without any architectural flair, surrounding a spacious parking lot.
Moreover, in any motel, even in single occupancy rooms, there is a super comfortable king-size bed.
The interior of motels is outdated in advance. For instance, the desk lamps were probably manufactured back in the 1970s. But oh, how they are! Smooth switch operation with a distinctive sound, wooden finish, and two outlets on the body. Any old item in America is incredibly high-quality.
The second essential attribute of any motel is the Bible.
The USA remains a highly religious country. While in developed countries in Europe, less than 20% of the population is religious, and in Russia it’s around 35%, in the United States, religion is significant for over 70% of people.
In general, the story of housing is similar to the story of motels — a large part of America is still built with identical single-story houses. They are as much of a real stereotype as everything else we know about the USA.
A typical American house seems like it’s taken from a computer game. However, single-story doesn’t mean poverty. Such a house can be anything, for example, a run-down dwelling in the ghetto.
Or it could be affordable housing in a good neighborhood in Los Angeles.
Or a really nice house in Santa Barbara.
The main difference between houses lies inside and boils down to the price of furniture, television, and fireplace, the presence of a living room, and the size of the kitchen. It’s similar to Russia with its gray panel apartment buildings, which are identical on the outside but so different inside.
American cities are extremely vast. Sometimes it seems like they have no end, and the whole country is built with the same density.
Las Vegas is the smallest city among the three great cities of the US West Coast. It is a massive casino of overwhelming absurdity, completely unsuitable for housing.
Only here, in 2017, can a billboard of David Copperfield be the size of a 10-story building. Perhaps the souls of forgotten stars from the 90s go to Las Vegas after death.
The entire city is a cluster of tasteless hotels, casinos, and insane attractions. Las Vegas is somewhat similar to Yorshkar-Ola or Chinese artificial cities, where architectural debris from around the world has been brought together here.
It’s only possible to look at Las Vegas without bloodshot eyes at night when the illumination takes over. That’s probably why I subconsciously deleted all the daytime photos of Las Vegas and only noticed it after half a year.
All the tastelessness is deliberately created in Las Vegas. Kitsch and shows are the easiest way to make as much money as possible without creating anything substantial. Tourists don’t come here twice, and as soon as another hotel ceases to be relevant, it’s simply dynamited right in the city center, and tickets to the best seats are sold.
San Francisco is the second largest and most significant city in the United States.
Describing this city is pointless because San Francisco is the center of the universe. The entire modern world was created in this city and its suburbs, where Silicon Valley is located.
San Francisco is beautiful in every aspect. It is not densely packed with skyscrapers like New York, and there are no single-story ghettos like in Los Angeles. It is actually one of the most European cities in the USA after Boston.
It is pleasant to be in San Francisco every second.
Los Angeles. In the ranking of the dumbest cities in the world, Los Angeles would take second place because
it is too dumb Las Vegas exists, which is even dumber.
Los Angeles is a city without end or boundary. Its area is approximately equal to Moscow, but the problem is that there are also suburbs of Los Angeles seamlessly connected to it. The total area of the city’s visual extent is 10 times larger than Moscow within her Ring Road.
Twelve thousand square kilometers are built in exactly the same way.
A small piece of downtown with a few skyscrapers is visible from any point in Los Angeles, not because the skyscrapers are enormous, but because the rest of L.A. is predominantly single-story.
The downtown area itself is a rather dull patch of land, occupied by homeless people and office clerks. Just a hundred meters away from it, the ghettos and slums begin.
There are rare pleasant places to visit in L.A., such as Beverly Hills and the beach areas.
But we don’t come to America just for the beaches, do we? We come for life. Let’s start with that.