Friday, 6 July 2007

Week 22 : Palo Alto To Belmont

I made a mistake the other week when I referred to San Francisco as being the largest city in California. It isn’t (that honour belongs to Los Angeles). It’s just that it feels like it. As you pound the streets of the Bay area, it is impossible to know where one city starts and another ends. During the last week, Amy – my wheaten terrier – and I have walked through the cities of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos and Belmont and we have hardly worked up a sweat. In total we have covered less than 12 miles which is the lowest mileage we have clocked up in a week since we started this journey. The problem is – and I am a bit ashamed to admit this – it is all a little bit tedious. It is not easy to convey what it is like to walk along such unchanging streets and highways, where variety is a different façade on a MacDonalds restaurant. Not easy, but it can be done.

Join Amy and I as we walk north-west up El Camino Real courtesy of Google’s
Street View. Laugh with us as we pass the hilarious “Ouse of Humor”. Thrill with us as we pass the new Honda dealership. Cry with us as we remember what it was like to feel the grass beneath our feet and hear the Pacific waves beating against the rocky coastline.

We did manage to feel some grass beneath our feet. To assuage the tedium we planned our daily walks so that they would always start and finish in a park. This wasn’t particularly difficult, the urban Bay area is dotted with neighbourhood parks. But with just a few exceptions these are less than inspiring – patches of green where you can throw a football around or jog a few laps of a track. They did little more than provide a series of punctuation marks for our week’s journey : Nealon Park, Holbrook Palmer Park, Fleishman’s Park, Hawes Park, Mezes Park, E R Burton Park, and finally Twin Pines Park. Amy and I discovered that if you repeat all of the names, like a mantra, it sends you to sleep. Just try it. Nealon Park, Fleishman’s Park, Hawes Park ……

We must have been asleep when we walked over the County Line on our first day out of Palo Alto. In blissful sleep we said goodbye to Santa Clara and hello to San Mateo. The County seal features a tree, some flowers, a few mountains, and a bit of sea. There is a bit of space left on the design so you can draw your own burger bar, freeway, and motel on it. If you look carefully you will see that someone has made a start by pencilling-in an aeroplane taking-off from the pine tree at an alarming angle.

Amy and I turned to the
San Mateo County website to see what the place had to offer. Turning to the section marked “Living Here” we found a series of pages, each devoted to a specific group of potential residents. You could look up the advantages of living in San Mateo from the perspective of young people, old people, the sick and the disabled. At Amy’s request – she has problems with the touch-pad mouse on the lap-top – I checked out the section marked “Pets and Animals”. All we found were links to Animal Control and Licensing, the Vector Control Program (whatever that might be), information on dealing with animal bites and rabies, and the rodent control site. Amy took a quick look at the picture postcard she has of the dog-friendly city of Carmel-by-the-Sea (she carries it with her everywhere, it is a bit of an embarrassment) and we walked on. That night we pitched our tent in Nealon Park and I found Amy reading the long and detailed rules which govern the use of the Off-Leash Area. No puppies, no dogs on heat (she almost spluttered with indignity at this one), owners (“owners!” she barked) must keep the leash in their hands at all times. She shook her head. San Mateo County was no place for a dog.

At some point during the week we passed through Redwood City. The only thing I can recall is a large sign which proclaims the name of the city and the its’ slogan : “Climate Best by Government Test”. Intrigued, I checked out the scientific basis of this claim. It would appear that in the early years of the twentieth century, a joint survey was undertaken by the American and German governments to identify the place with the best climate in the world. Why they should want to do this is anyone’s guess – perhaps they were working out where to invade next – but, it appears that Redwood City, California shared joint first place along with the Canary Islands and North Africa! As a USP (unique selling point) the claim seems somewhat tenuous and Amy intimated as much. “What else is there to say about the place?”, I replied.

The following day, either the Canary Islands or Tangiers must have pulled ahead in the tie-breaker for it started to rain. For the first time since the start of our trans-continental trek I was seriously tempted to catch a bus. It was Amy who pointed out the logical flaw in this illogical plan : neither of us had seen a bus for the last five or six weeks. And so we pressed on.

By the end of the week we had reached the City of Belmont. If you
Google-search for an interesting photograph of Belmont, you find a series of photographs of painted fire hydrants. At first you might think that the great Google has made a mistake. And then you realise that, no, this is an interesting photograph of Belmont. Perhaps it is the most interesting photograph of the city there is. Perhaps I am getting cynical. Perhaps I need a holiday. Perhaps, once we have reached San Francisco and its Golden Gate Bridge, Amy and I will take a couple of weeks off and go on holiday. Perhaps we will go to the Canary Islands. It will be a bit of a change.

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