13th May 1986
I’ve been away longer than a year – last Monday was my anniversary. Flying into Los Angeles completed my circumnavigation of the globe; it’s just over three years since I was last in the USA.
This is the same hotel I stayed in for a week then. I still like San Francisco, though there is a different mood abroad. Maybe it’s in me, but there seem to be more shop fronts advertising that social security checks can be cashed within and more people sleeping on the street.
“Spare me seven cents, Mister?”
“Why seven?” I pondered as I passed by.
For $1 one can still pass the windy chilly evenings in the grubby warmth of the Embassy and cheer as Sylvester Stallone single-handedly and monosyllabically wipes out the opposition in three movies on behalf of good ol’ USA.
Fred, a fellow friend of Ladakh, called by. His adjective for the area is ‘sleazy’. Local eateries are now predominantly Vietnamese and Kampuchean where they were once Chinese. It’s a subtle difference of cuisine yet a dramatic acknowledgement of America’s role in destroying much of the cultures of south-east Asia just a dozen years ago. Right wing America has to accept responsibility and does so by admitting a quota of refugees.
San Francisco is the most liberal and human scale urban environment I have encountered in the USA; it is pleasant to stroll around. Although the ex-hippy enclave of Haight Ashbury is now home for the new ‘skinhead’ culture, I can still drool over rack upon rack of records which I have difficulty in finding in England. These include deleted ECM albums which I have to post home because I have too much personal baggage. They’re not only worthy souvenirs but are all needed as I attempt to come to terms with total western culture.
Thoughts turn to my immediate future in the UK, of familiarity, involvements and a comfortable lifestyle, both mental and physical, with the creation of a new home. This will have an atmosphere which will reflect a year spent living out of a backpack. A year of different cultures, a year of learning passed too quickly. Yet a year which will always remain, and not just in these pages but with the reinforcement of ideals and the creation of new ideas. It has been consistent.
Yesterday I went with Fred to his community college on appropriate technology class. Held in the home of Pete Zeigler called Earth Lab, nothing much happened. A trailer load of compost was collected from Urban Ore to build up seed beds. Eileen, a New Yorker, had never planted anything before.
Talking with Pete proved interesting though. He used to write the reviews of tools for the Whole Earth Catalog, a well prized and much valued guide to alternative life styles for the English squatting movement some 15 years ago. Like me, he has a set of Undercurrents, the magazine which highlighted experiments in appropriate technology in the UK. Solar energy is now big business in Australia and urban Fiji. Transnational corporations have yet to make more than minuscule investments in wind, wave and other renewable energy resources in anticipation of the slowdown of the nuclear power industry following Chernobyl, or in the event that OPEC finally manages to boost oil prices to permanent realistic prices.
So Pete and the energy environment programme of Berkeley’s Community College persevere with the sixties idealism. Grown up Meccano, cast iron holed for bolts and readily found road sign poles support the shaft, and fibre glass replaces oil drums for catching the wind. The hope persists that greater environmental awareness will ameliorate the acquisitiveness of America.
My emotional and intellectual inclinations are in total support as I use my credit card to wing my way home.