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November 27, 2005

The Bay Area

There is so much I love about the Bay Area. I'm back here on business. I'm sitting in a cafe in Palo Alto using the free wireless internet and drinking a Berry Rush smoothie.

It's nearly December, the sky is blue and the temperature is cool but comfortable. My skin isn't used to the sun, I even got a little sunburn yesterday.

On the run-up to my flight here, I kept wanting to upgrade from coach class but I had a feeling that I shouldn't and I stuck with it. Once on the plane, I found that I had three coach seats in a row to myself. I lifted up the armrests and slept the whole way. It was almost as good as going first class and one twentieth of the price. Except for arriving tired, I usually look forward to the flight. It's a time when I can get away with doing nothing except watching movies and reading.

I had the most amazing experience coming through immigration. It was a world away from the previous time (see my account here). The guy was jovial with me, he cracked little jokes and I felt like his own son returning home. He even welcomed me to the USA. I expect that my experience was mainly produced by myself. Having slept on the plane was probably a big part of it. I've also been practicing a lot of what John Gray writes about in How to Get What You Want and Want What You Have as well as Byron Katie's Loving What Is.

There is so much positive energy here. It feels like anything is possible. I thought it was just me but I've talked with people from other parts of the world and they feel it to. When the Spanish discoverded the Bay Area, they returned home with stories about the amazon women and griffins that inhabited it. They must have found some psychadelic drugs here as well.

I went for a stroll around the Stanford campus with a friend. We went to look at the sports fascilities. Just for swimming, they have four ourdoors heated swimming pools; two olympic size pools, a display pool (for synchronized swimming I guess) and a diving pool. Dozens of people were doing laps of the olympic pools. There was just way more space than in the upmarket health club I used to pay a tidy sum for each month in nearby Santa Clara. The amazing thing is that as a part time student at Stanford for the past 8 years, I could have been using these fascilities for free. And I still can use them, as an alumnus.

My friend and I went to Stanford Shopping Center. I had forgotten how you can get anything you want here. I love it. There's a Palm shop with every accessory available for my Palm Treo 650 PDA/phone. There's Pottery Barn, still selling the classic sofa that we bought eight years ago and there's a Sony store where you can buy your own high definition video camera (good enough to make a movie with), or any other piece of technology you might like. I love knowing that all this great stuff is available to me. I also love knowing that I have a choice about what I buy. I could have spent hundreds of dollars in the Palm store but I felt what I really wanted was a little dongle that enables me to use my iPod headphones with my Palm phone, to listen to music and audiobooks on it. This little dongle cost me $9.95. I walked out feeling so good. I knew that I wanted all that stuff and that I could have it, but that I didn't need it. It'll still be there tomorrow, or something even better will be there tomorrow.

While walking around in the Stanford Shopping Center, I noticed how no one looks you up-and-down in the Bay Area. It seems like in the UK, if you go into a shop or walk down the street, people look you up and-down. I guess it's to figure out where you fit in the social structure or whether you can afford the things they're selling in the shop. In the Stanford Shopping Center, you could look like a tramp but be a world renowned professor or you might be wearing shorts and flip-flops and be a billionaire.

I look like a world renowned billionaire but I'm not, yet. I love it.

"I really enjoyed the Bay Area entry — you described the wonder that is the American consumer's over-the-top wealth so accurately. Palo Alto is really surreal in that way — I remember going to the Whole Foods for the first time there. It's like a kind of dream. Plus, your entry came at a time when we (or maybe just me) are feeling slightly homesick — perhaps just homesick for the first world. This country just seems so completely screwed up and depressing — I'm not even looking forward to the weekend travels we have planned because the hassle is so great to get there and to deal with the experience of being a traveler in India." — Shoshanna


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