I arrived on the Monday and got driven down from the airport to the hotel where I freshened up, called Rowan and sat by the pool till she turned up to ferry me away for chat and iced tea a teeny tiny delicious slice of pizza (well, I’d had a snack and dinner and drinks and nibbles on the plane and I knew I was going to eat dinner soon and I wanted it to feel like dinner.
So I was like totally like wow I'm like in America!
The afternoon was warm and bright and sunny and I actually felt like it was late afternoon rather than the middle of the night, sitting by the fountain jotting.
The flight was much better than I feared - comfy seat, lots of leg room, movies to watch, a menu to order food... I didn't see a lot out the window as I napped a lot and watched Gosford Park but I did see what I think was Greenland. Ice, snow, rivers of ice, crumpled and scored land. No sign of habitation, roads or any touch on the landscape - stunning. I sat by a window and watched it pass, amazed I was actually seeing it.
After that, Canada and the US mountains seemed almost hemmed in. As we got closer I finally realized how BIG the Bay area is. I also spotted the inspiration for Sim City! Especially the financial district. And so much water - the bay, the rivers, the canals... I had a clear view of the golden gate and it looked like a toy! Soft landing, short queues at immigration and customs and the luggage was really quick. I couldn't spot my driver at first but she turned out to be a nice chatty lady who drove the scenic route to Cupertino.
We stayed in a hotel/motel open-plan courtyard around the pool and fountains - my room had a sitting room, a coffee maker in the bathroom and a big bed (3 times the size of the beds in Paris but sadly my sweetie wasn’t there). As the notes I wrote by the pool said "My travel adaptor didn’t fit any of the sockets here so I’ll have to watch the power."
Monday night the Apple PR guy and the Xserve product manager took us out for dinner (although the free snack table in the bar that appeared each evening would have done us!). we voted for Mexican and leaped into the cars to cruise down the Interstate to the place recommended by the hotel. Turns out Baha Fresh is a fast-food joint, although the tacos looked gorgeous so we ended up at a sit-down, tiles and terracotta place where they make guacamole at your table. As we were getting up from dinner there was the earthquake - well, I didn’t notice a thing. By this time I was beyond tired and went to bed about 10.30 US time (I didn’t want to know what UK time it was!).
Tuesday morning was up early, pack and quit (I wasn’t staying the second night and I was in such a hurry I left my coat in the room; hope they’ll still have it in August!). Going onto the Apple campus was weird for m; I know lots of people who’ve worked there, my first paid job was on a Mac magazine, I’ve covered Apple for years at a distance and I have the fascination that distance allows with Steve Jobs. Seeing Infinite Loop on the signs made my heart jump, but catching up with old UK colleagues at the breakfast table outside brought me down to earth pretty quickly. And the sunshine made it all seem a little unreal too; we don’t get quite that kind of light back home.
And the product looked amazing, was notable for the fact that I heard Jobs and senior Apple people say the word ‘humble’ - rare that - and may never actually be a big thing for Apple at all. It’s a nice idea but... I asked my question (so I show up on the Webcast) and asked techie things at the post-partum in the Piano Bar and laughed like a drain at Job’s private, off-stage comment on the guy who wanted the Xserve running Mac OS 9 ("I wouldn’t like to be the salesman trying to shift this thing with OS 9 on").
After the launch we had lunch in the Apple canteen (huge place, delicious sushi, enormous range of food), got taken to the Apple Store on campus to buy souvenirs, took some photos that the PR guy said were OK and the security guy said weren’t - and found ourselves at the exit. The PR guy pointed us back at the hotel - and went off to work! As my wireless card couldn’t find the Apple WiFi network (you have to know the channel and the ESSID and the Apple tech folk reminded us PC users that AirPort software does that automatically so they don’t even know), so what I really wanted was an Internet connection.
I thought about walking down to the mall behind the hotel but in the end I stayed by the pool and wrote my copy for MacFormat and PC Advisor and Mac Unlimited on my PDA until we all gathered for the second pilgrimage. First to Fry’s and then to the Apple Store in Palo Alto. I’m told the Western-themed Fry’s isn’t the best and I was impressed and underwhelmed at the same time; it was like the whole of Tottenham Court Road in one shop. I bought some nifty tine headphones, a PDA charge/sync USB cable and overheard the following charming exchange.
She: do you know if you have anything that does X. And if it does X will it work with Y? And if it does X and works with Y where would I find it?
He: Oh, they’re over in aisle Z, I’ll show you
She: Finally! A knowledgeable employee!
He: Oh, I don’t *work* here!
The Apple Store in Palo Alto was fresh and cool and clean and I saw a Tapioca bar on the way there, which is obviously a perversion. I looked at the range of Apple kit and though: 'seen that, reviewed that, seen that, reviewed that, *this* one has Internet access' and settled down to do my email. PR guy wasn’t impressed ("that’s not what you’re here for") until I told him I was filing copy and sorting out coverage!
And after all that we went to Macarthur Park for dinner; salad, barbecue ribs (yum) and pie... Californian wine is nice but I had Anchor Steam beer which is v v v nice and when they dropped us back at the hotel Rowan was waiting to pick me up, whisk me away and stay up talking when we really should have been going to sleep ;-)
Which meant that we didn’t get a hugely early start on Wednesday, but it was lovely sitting and chatting with iced tea and strawberries and thick scones... the drive into San Francisco was lovely as well, with the reservoir, the way the road goes *right* *over* the Stanford Linear Accelerator and the great view coming in through Market and Castro. We were meeting Rick at work (he was organising the whole company stand for the big E3 show and pretty stressed) so we headed into Chinatown to find a garage which had non-valet not-extra-expensive parking.
Rick works on the 16th floor of one of those furnished offices so it’s all dark wood and nice offices and then huge piles of gaming stuff and a view up to the Trans America pyramid and down to the formal gardens on some buildings and out to the bridge. I don’t think I’d do a scrap of work with a view like that! We had lunch in what looked like Restaurant Alley, with umpteen places to eat tucked on the same back street with tables on the street. Mediterranean in America means the whole of the Mediterranean, not just Italy and we had nice Lebanese-style dips and salad and chicken and wine... Walking that off took us through Chinatown a few times; I was determined not to buy souvenirs to make sure I’d be back with Simon so I just tempted Rowan to buy the owl coat hanger!
We drove up to Russian Hill, looking for Barbary Lane; it seems like everywhere you look in San Francisco there’s a great view including Russell’s favourite down to the harbour, and the crooked lane winds like ornate calligraphy. We went down to the Golden Gate Bridge (cables thicker around than me!) and I finally succumbed to a charm for my always breaking charm bracelet; down to the underneath of the bridge; through the Presidio to see the Inter Faith chapel (when they finish doing up the houses that will be such a fabulous place to live); up to Twin Peaks for the view; out to the Pacific so I could paddle in the sea that’s so far west it starts being east (and find pretty driftwood); along Haight and onto Ashbury. And then back down towards San Jose for an evening at Grand Central Starport with Mandelbear: another place I’ve been reading about for years! ocean_song turned up looking fabulous and there were callahanians and cookies and songs and yummy looking food but I still wasn’t over lunch!
So we went back to the amazing deco decoration of Rowan and Russell’s place and talked some more and some more and some more and I measured Rowan’s bra size (underwear that fits - the revolution for the 21st century!). And in the morning I called ocean_song who braved horrendous traffic to drive me into San Francisco (the ‘see lots of other places on the way to stay out of horrendous traffic’ route) where we had brunch in a diner. Leather seats, malted chocolate milk and iced tea, chicken apple sausages, potato pancakes with apple sauce and sour cream, omelette and home fries: yum, I’m hungry again. I really shouldn’t have eaten quite so much before going to try on fabulous leather corsets on Folsom Street; Stormy Leather, I’ll be back.
I still felt an inch taller when she dropped me off at the airport; the delights of business class got me a fast check in. a fast security check, free if weird Internet access in the club lounge and more drinks and nibbles before I got on the plane for dinner and movies and sort of almost kind of sleep. I like to be flat to sleep and Virgin Upper Class seats are only mostly flat, as Miracle Max would say. Thank heavens for arrival lounges and Simon for picking me up, pouring me into the car and taking me home to burble all day long... sadly we didn’t make the wedding in Jersey that night because air traffic control couldn’t and there were no Jersey flights till two hours after we were due to fly home on Sunday, or I’d have gone London/Paris/London/San Francisco/London/Jersey in under 10 days!