Day #2 & 3
My flight to LA was ok – watched a couple of great films – “Grandma” with Lily Tomlin, and the very bizarre “The Lobster” – crazy set-in-the-future art movie about single people being turned into animals.
I land in LA feeling fine – a bit dreamy but it’s great to be met by an old family friend Paul who takes me to hang out at Venice Beach! Bonus!
After a 6 hour stop over, it’s back on the plane and onward to my destination – the less than warm/sunny Portland Oregon. I land at 22.30 having not slept, thinking I can trick my body into sleeping through the night, I do wake up on the dot of 4am and am instantly wide awake. My body clock seems to have fallen out of the plane somewhere over the American east coast. I find myself getting off the lift on the wrong floor.
Most of my jobs involve me flying out eastwards from the UK and I’ve managed to get to know what to expect from that, but flying west completely throws me and I don’t get back to sleep. I catch up on email and watch some tv.
I haven’t been to USA since I was 7 but I remember it well – I guess I must have had jetlag back then too because I clearly remember me and my brothers waking up in our LA room and watching non-stop cartoons from what was probably 4am then too, amazed that non only did they have a channel devoted to cartoons, but it was on 24 hours a day! Our boring ol’ uk tv back then was limited to 3 channels and they all finished at around midnight with God Save the Queen before reverting to a static screen made up of shards of different colours and a central image of a girl with a doll. What the hell was that about? It was like a really boring children’s channel.
However, the distinction between USA and UK has narrowed somewhat as we’ve caught up with their tv on demand attitude. But there’s nothing on – not even cartoons.
My first day is supposed to be a day off to recover, but there has been a change of plans and I find myself in a meeting at 10am and leaving for a tech recce to our location – a small typical town of the region, about a half our drive from our hotel.
That’s cool, it’s not demanding, though by 2pm, I’m starting to glaze over and feel like my limbs might start dropping off any moment.
My cultural differences so far are limited mostly to my hotel which is dead cool.
My first thought is how my initial preconceptions stand up – turns out there’s a ton of anti-Trump feeling here, much more than I’d expected – Oregon is Democrat country.
The plates of food aren’t anywhere near as big as in my imagination. And whilst the pick-ups and trucks are 25% longer than in the UK, most people drive around in the same size cars as us.
I like their vehicles – they ‘do’ them pretty well... they’re big wheeled, raised suspensions and massive chunky grills at the front, like the muscular chiseled faces of all-time American heroes.
They look cool and make me wonder why UK cars are generally pretty dull. Oh, and their RV’s/camper vans are everywhere and really packed! Our campers our tiny miniature dolls house things that here would be like a fat person trying to squueze into a skinny pair of jeans. “You sleep in that?” (note American accent).
The Firetrucks are the best! They look like Superman got genetically mutated with an arctic. Meaty red and white chrome machines with massive wheels.
Everyone’s got American accents which is strange.. why does that come up in my mind? Of course they’ve got American accents… But for some reason, it strikes a massive chord with me.
There’s some things I really like – the staff at our hotel are allowed to wear their own clothes. It’s nice – friendly. I want to ask everyone’s names. The boundaries and boarders are relaxed and there’s a diminished sense of you work here – I’m going to relate to you as a someone providing me with a service in return for my money.
However, that night as we eat out at the Portland institution known as “Jacks” I get a flavour of the less positive side – our waitress must’ve come over to our table like 8 or 9 times to check that we’re ok and if we want to order something else. What starts off as a refreshingly un-shy approach ends up feeling very staged, like a sales pitch that she’s done a 1000 times before, every day for the most of her life.
And then at the end of the meal, it’s mandatory that I tip her somewhere between 15 and 20% I don’t even like her! To my English brain, compulsory tipping does not compute. Surely the point of tipping is to reward good service? What it would be like to not tip?
I think that the staff just basically don’t get paid or get paid some very tiny nominal rate. The food is no cheaper than in the UK, leaving me once again confused. Where does the extra money go? People don’t pay their staff? Wtf? I didn’t hire them, and they don’t work for me, so why am I paying their goddam wages?
It makes me wonder about the value of ‘good service’ here… ok, they’re not shy, they’re extremely welcoming, and most of the locals I’ve dealt with so far are really nice. But if it’s a set thing, doesn’t that discredit any genuine offer of a tip? Does that sit ok with people deep down? Do they ever get a sense of ‘ahhh, someone tipped me because I did my job well’?
Doesn’t it actually create disingenuousness?
Well, maybe, maybe not. Maybe it’s just my English brain in it’s English ways.