The flight to San Francisco only took 14 hours (I guess prevailing winds are a wonderful thing) and I was through Customs and picking up my bag before 9am. It was touch and go for a bit; they have automated machines at SFO to collect your information before you hand your passport to a person in a bulletproof vest, but for some reason the camera and the flash on the machine weren’t playing nice. It kept taking a picture of me so over-exposed you could almost make out my pupils and jawline, and nothing else, and then complained that the picture wasn’t clear and would have to be taken again. Technology, I love you.
I got a car down to the hotel, checked in at 9:30 in the morning, took a shower, lay on the bed for an hour fiddling with computers, then went out for a walk to get supplies like toothpaste and a pocketcomb. (You know, for combing my pockets with.) It was hot today in Palo Alto – 28 degrees – and foolishly I thought Singapore had made me immune to the heat. Yes, it’s not 900% humidity here in California, but there’s no shade on the street and no air-conditioned malls to duck into. Just the dusty, slightly down at heel EL Camino Real, a mile or two from Sand Hill Road where the VCs are, but here populated by people living out of mobile homes and asking me for spare change (which, fresh off the plane, I had none of).
I walked all the way to a farmer’s market, bought some posh chocolate, had a conversation with an elderly woman who told me again and again that she wasn’t on Facebook, ate a burger, walked back to the hotel again, listened to Original Pirate Material by The Streets, and called up my wife to see if she’d survived the night.
Although my hotel is, like most of El Camino Real, not in the most salubrious of situations, there’s a totally hilarious McClaren car showroom on the next corner. The carpark is full of Ferraris and posh Land Rovers and other exotica, and then there’s a secondhand McClaren 675LT in moody gray, with no warranty, parked up for sale outside. Would you buy a car that costs at least six figures without a warranty? Or would you be too rich to care? There’s also a McClaren inside with the bodywork taken off, displaying just the chassis and the engine. The chassis looks quite crude – two huge steel spars at the front, making it look like a massive battering ram. I kind of expected the innards to be more swoopy and minimalist, not something for hammering things into things very, VERY hard. But it’s not like I’m in the market anyway, eh?
I had dinner in the hotel and then the fire alarm went off, and some very tall firemen came to sort it out. And then I realised that the meal I thought I was having with ex-workmates tomorrow was actually tonight, and I had to hare off to the other end of Palo Alto (or rather, Palo Alto, because my hotel is so far down El Camino Real as to hardly count as being in Palo Alto at all) to eat tacos. Lucky I didn’t eat tacos for lunch, I guess.
It was lovely to see my friends but I was beginning to fade. They bought me a nectarine and dropped me off back at the hotel, where I tried out the swimming pool. Which is absolutely baltic and highly chlorinated, so my new found skill of being able to stick my head under water seemed to desert me. I’ll be back tomorrow with goggles.