Saturday, October 07, 2000

The Continuing Saga


As I am writing this note, I am nearing the end of my third week in sunny California. The highs have been no less than 78F/25.5C every day,

with only 10 minutes of rain in total. There is very little humidity here, so it is comfortably warm.

I have noticed a vast range of temperatures depending on one's geographical location. A weather forecast usually consists of a statement similar to "60s on the coast, 70s at the Bay, low 80s inland". How strange is it to have a 20F difference in temperature depending on which town you happen to be driving through ?

I have noticed a few strange and interesting quirks about this area now that I've been here a little while. During my second week in this lovely state I attempted to change my last $120 of Canadian money at two banks - both of which refused my request. One of them, Bank of America, instructed me to call their customer service line, and MAIL THEM THE MONEY. Actually put it in an envelope and mail it. They must think I am a raving lunatic or something. Mailing money is right up there with running with scissors - you just don't do it !!!! I ended up driving back to the airport to do the deed.

Some more quirks I have noticed:

- It is illegal to write post-dated checks.

- Peek Freans cookies are imported, and a small container of them is roughly double the price of a bag you can get at Loblaws.

- Danone yogourt is spelled "Dannon" here. I guess the Americans couldn't get their heads around the pronunciation.

- Because we are from out of country, we must take a road test to obtain California drivers' licences.

In my last email, I mentioned that people here were said to be very laid-back, and that it is a difficult feat to get anything done. After dealing with numerous situations with my relocation officer, I have found this to be so, SO true. In addition to my relocation woes, I have received run-arounds from the Social Security office, the cellular phone company, the grocery store and the hotel I was previously staying at. You literally have to sit on someone's head in order for anything to get done, and yes, you should ask at least twice. The first person who told you something was probably just trying to get rid of you.

These past two weeks have been both busy and challenging. I have already found one previously-unnoticed bug in the software my group is testing, and have found an extention to an existing one. My coworkers are all great - very laid-back, yet very hard-working at the same time.

Thursday (the 28th) was a get-together for all the software testers in our functional unit. Approximately 25 of us headed off to Dave & Busters for an evening of food and gaming. [My company] was generous enough to give us all $5 worth of games as well as a satisfying meal.

The gaming experience was fiercely competitive. On several occasions, I found myself pitted against 3 or 4 other guys in Daytona USA, in a no-holds-barred match of speed and brute force. It was a common occurrence to be run off the road at least once every game. Every single one of our cars were battered all to pieces as we crossed the finish line.

Saturday (the 30th) I hung out with Torea and her boyfriend for a day of dog talk and seeing the sights. They have two rambunctious but well-trained Jack Russell Terriers. For those who have ever owned or met a JRT, you know full well that these dogs are incessantly hyper and demanding of attention. I swear these dogs were on nitrous. They would play fetch for an hour straight and beg for more. I'm not kidding.

We had a nice lunch in Palo Alto, a ritzy, high-class area with hip overtones. Not far away was the Stanford Shopping Center, a mall with no ceiling. The main mall walkway was paved, and trees and flowers were abound. The stores were high-class and very expensive. I saw numerous BMWs, Mercedes and even a Ferrari in the parking lot. Parking at this place was almost non-existent, and do you think anyone would stop for you when you're trying to back out of your space ? Hah ! I have learned a new skill in dealing with the driving down here: pushing my way into traffic. It's the only way to change lanes, exit a freeway or get out of your parking spot.

Scott arrived here on Sunday, after taking a two-day layover to visit his friend in Dallas. I forgot where I'd parked the car (actually, I remembered the section number wrong), so there was about a 20-minute delay while I walked all around the place looking for it.

Tiger is adjusting to her new home well. She's adopted the spare room as "her room", and often sleeps under or on the bed in there. I often let her out on the balcony to birdwatch and hang around. She meows at the birds when they get too close.

Thursday was the arrival of our designated apartment belongings. We tried to keep the apartment stuff to a minimum, and the storage stuff to a maximum, however this was not too successful. There are about 10 boxes here waiting to be unpacked, mostly clothes, food and CDs.

There were a few things that didn't make it (paper towels, etc.), however the most upsetting and heart-wrenching no-show was the Canadian chocolate. Mom had given us a box of Halloween chocolates from Costco which included 90 small pieces. Before I left, I had eaten two of them. Before Scott left, THEY WERE ALL GONE, in the mouths of family and friends. 90 PIECES !!! And the big king-sized Crispy Crunch and Hazelnut bars I'd bought at Wal-Mart ? GONE !! EATEN !! You can't get Cadbury chocolate here. I was heartbroken. (Hint: Send us Cadbury chocolate !)

Thursday also marked the arrival of our cars. The transport truck used to bring the cars here was unbelievably huge - SIX cars fit in this thing, three on the top, and three on the bottom. The other cars in attendance were a 1944 Willy's, a 1970 Charger, a Mustang and a Mercedes. The Willy's and Charger had both been ordered over the Internet and were being shipped to their new homes. The Mercedes belonged to a 70-year-old lady and her 50-year-old daughter who travel all over, and habitually spend a month or two in places like the Beverly Hills Hilton. ($2,000/night).

Our modest GM economy-class cars were driven onto a hydraulic ramp and lowered gently to the ground.

Since our apartment is less than a 10-minute walk from a light rail station, the same light rail that transports to the company campus, I decided to try public transit on Friday instead of fighting traffic for 45 minutes each way.

This particular transit system works on the honor system, and expects that people pay their fare before boarding. The greatest perk for me was that [my company] pays for unlimited passes on this light rail for its employees. Apparently this is in exchange for [my company] funding the extension along [company's street], which is populated almost exclusively by [my company] buildings. Instructions in these trolleys were written in English, Spanish and Vietnamese.

Friday night, we joined Torea, Jerry, Mark and a few others at the Planet Granite, an indoor rock/wall-climbing warehouse. Now if you had told me a month ago that I'd be wall climbing, I would have said you've completely gone bonkers. I'm so afraid of heights it's not even funny - Diana will remember that I wouldn't go up the Eiffel Tower in Paris because I was too afraid.

We started off with lessons. I donned a helmet, even though I was the only person in the place to do so. On my first climb, I got about halfway up, then looked down. Big mistake - I started getting short of breath and had to be lowered. On my second climb, I simply shimmied all the way to the top without looking down. That made it a bit easier. :) Scott's feet were too big for even the largest climbing shoes they had for rent, so he had to climb in his running shoes. Regardless, he did remarkably well. We both had a fun time, but after a couple of hours, the muscle fatigue was hampering our progress.

Yesterday was our fabled trip across the mountains, and then down Highway 1, along the California coast. The scenery was unparalleled to anything I'd ever seen. Scott and I made our way to Monterey, which houses the expansive aquarium.

In the aquarium, we saw playful sea otters, the biggest seagulls you could possibly imagine, beautiful birds (most of which found their homes at the aquarium after being injured) and all sorts of marine life. There were some bins where you could actually touch the sea creatures. I felt the slimy, rubbery fin of a sea ray. There were also starfish petting tanks. We saw jellyfish that were 1-2 feet long, and some that were no bigger than a pea. In the kids' area, there was a huge exhibit of penguins, some of which bobbed in the water facing the crowd, as if smiling at it and enjoying the attention.

On our drive back, we observed some surfers at one of the beaches. They all paddled out and waited for a wave, and when a large one came, they caught up with it and rode it till it died away. There was one guy there in a Volkswagen bus from Washington, hanging out in his underwear while his wetsuit dried. He was probably living in the bus for the surfing season.

Today we headed off to San Francisco to the tourist trap of the west coast, Fisherman's Wharf. We picked a great day to visit; it was Navy Fleet Week, complete with large vessels opened for touring. We waited in line for one hour, and then boarded the largest, most expansive naval vessel you could imagine - an aircraft carrier !

This boat was long enough to allow planes to take off, and expansive enough to house 5,000 people at one time. To load the planes (and the tourists !) onto the main deck, a huge moving floor moved up and down. The main deck was peppered with aircraft of all kinds, from propellor-based to jet fighters. It was purely fascinating.

There were plenty of naval officers around answering questions, some who did not look a day over 18. The enlisting booths were strategically placed on the way back to the Embarcadero from the vessel.

From the pier, we walked to Fisherman's Wharf. We had seen the Naval air force flying around, however we were in for a treat - it was an air show ! The blue-and-yellow F-18 Hornets were out to strut their stuff. These planes were in formations so tight you would swear they were touching. They pulled off manoevers hitherto thought impossible, all the while coming dangerously close to one another. The final move was all five planes doing a close fly-by to the crowd.

We continued our touring of Fisherman's Wharf by walking around and visiting the touristy shops. We bought little and walked a lot. We really only sat down for a few minutes the entire day, and by the time we returned to our cars, we could barely feel our feet. I'm sure we'll be paying for this tomorrow, but we'll worry about that when it arrives.

Next week will be my second trip to the Social Security office and my first game of the fall/winter season. Wish me luck on both parts !!!!



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