Tuesday, December 04, 2007

San Francisco

My first trip to San Francisco for over two years afforded me the opportunity to sample Richard Branson's new Virgin America airline, which began operations this summer.

Flying domestically within the US is generally a horrendous experience, with patience tested to the limit by security queues, ageing planes, the 'hub and spoke' route network and volatile weather.

It wasn't a surprise therefore that an opportunist like Branson would find a way to give the legacy airlines something to think about, even if the regulators did their level best to stop him. Thus following in the footsteps of the highly successful Jet Blue, Virgin America has begun operations on four of the most competitive routes from JFK to the West Coast.

Their planes are all brand new Airbus 320s, and decked out in the sort of neon lighting and leather seating usually reserved for the types of nightclubs you can't get into. The entertainment system was fab too.

Unfortunately for me, the flight itself lasted almost seven hours due to the prevailing winds (London can often be reached from JFK in six), and the aforementioned winds led to the types of bumps that made me seriously wonder if this would be another Virgin that wouldn't go the whole way.

Anyhow, we made it in the end and as always it was worth it, because San Francisco is without doubt my other favourite US city (and increasingly the only other one I'd contemplate living in). It is absurdly beautiful, and no matter how many times I have been here, it still takes my breath away.

When I speak to people who live here and inform them they're the luckiest people in the world (second perhaps only to residents of Sydney), they tell me two things grind them down. Firstly, the weather never changes (in short, it's always 60 degrees and slightly chilly). Second, there is a disproportionately large, visible and occasionally aggressive homeless population, drawn one imagines to the liberal (and presumably generous) people that live and work there.

Interestingly no-one mentions the 'big one', the great earthquake that is surely due one day. To be honest, I'd also take the risk.

On Wednesday I'll drive to San Jose, a far less interesting place (albeit somewhat larger than San Francisco). Naturally I won't take any directions with me, offering me the opportunity to wind down my window and sing to a local, "Do you know the way to San Jose?"


At 6:32 PM, Blogger Steve Sax said...

I lived in SF for three years and went to school there as well. SF is a beautiful city and it also has incredible dining options. The bad news, besides the year-round chilly weather and ubiquitous homeless (the earthquakes aren't that big a deal, having lived through the '89 one), also involves inefficient transportation (BART is as good as the NY Subway, but MUNI sucks), high cost of living, corrupt previous mayors (though Newson has gotten it under control), and horrible rags for local papers (locals call it the "SF Comical").

I kid you not, when the Russian republic spintered, the lead story in the newspaper was "49ers Win". What a joke.


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