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Friday, September 16, 2011

Middlerun Does America, Day 5

On Tuesday I decided it would be nice to make a trip somewhere outside of San Francisco so I caught the BART up to Berkeley. The BART line that goes to Berkeley also goes through West Oakland, which seems to consist mainly of shipping containers as far as the eye can see.

The trip also served to use up some of the value on my BART card. To use the BART trains you buy a prepaid card which you can load as much value onto as you like. I'd assumed I'd be using the BART quite a bit so I got a $20 card, but as I write this, the night before I leave San Francisco, the card still has $9.15 on it.

After reaching downtown Berkeley I grabbed a map from the visitor's centre and wandered around a bit looking for a good place to have lunch. I found a place that looked a bit interesting and had a burger and some chips and a Budweiser.

(Contrary to popular belief, Budweiser isn't really that bad. Admittedly it's not entirely dissimilar to having sex in a canoe*, but it's cheap and drinkable and sure beats the hell out of VB.)

After lunch I decided it might be interesting to have a look around the campus of UC Berkeley, but after walking some of the way into the campus and seeing mostly grass and trees and a few far off buildings I figured it was too big to see on foot without hours to spend walking around looking at a map, and headed back to the main shops area.

Looking around the shops for a while, I came across a place called Halloween City, which from the looks of things springs into existence every September (or perhaps August...) to sell costumes, masks, fake gravestones, giant spiders and the like. The place was huge and full of awesome stuff. It's a shame I'm leaving America before Halloween because it looks like a lot of fun, and Halloween is all but non-existent in Australia except for a few half-hearted parties and kids in shitty homemade costumes trick-or-treating with their parents. Australia kind of sucks in some ways.

I couldn't find many other interesting looking shops or anything and I was pretty exhausted from the last few days so I decided to unwind by stopping into a nearby cinema and seeing Rise of the Planet of the Apes. The theatre was pretty empty; I think there was only one other person in there besides me. It turned out that I'd chosen the right movie to see, since it was set in San Francisco and had a lot of nice shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Redwood trees at Muir Woods.

After the movie I went up to North Berkeley where there's some more shops. I stopped into a local supermarket to grab a few supplies, and spent a bit of time marvelling at how American supermarkets have beer and liquor just sitting on the shelves like any other product. Such enlightenment! I reflected again on the nanny state I call home, where alcohol is relegated to a separate shop and costs three times as much.

While at the supermarket I picked up a few lollies you can't really get in Australia, like Reese's Pieces and Altoids. (Altoids are technically available in Sydney, but only from one shop that I know of and they cost about three times as much as they do in America.) After buying most of what I needed I made my way to the North Berkeley BART station and went back to San Francisco.

Before going back to my hostel I stopped into the Cartoon Art Museum on Mission St. They had lots of original inks of classic comic strips illustrating the history of the medium, an exhibition of Archie and Green Lantern pages, a selection of 9/11-anniversary cartoons plus a TV showing some classic animations. They showed some old Bugs Bunny cartoons which are as funny now as they always were.

That evening some new people moved into the hostel room I was in. A couple of English guys called Simon and Chris. We got talking and decided to have some beers. We hung out in the hostel basement for a while, where there was a game of Pictionary going on, drinking enormous 24 fl.oz. (710 mL) cans of Budweiser. Once that was over we headed out to find a good bar and ended up at a small place with a pool table and one great song after another coming out of the jukebox.

Having someone cool to hang out with did wonders for my morale. The first few days I'd been feeling a bit crap, partly due to culture shock and the strangeness of suddenly being out in the world on my own, and partly because I didn't really have anyone to talk to. My roommates for the first three nights were three annoying Spanish girls who didn't seem to know how to stop talking. Just squawking away constantly like demented birds. When they told me they were checking out I was overjoyed, though I tried not to make it too obvious.

* Fucking close to water.

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