Note 4: Where I mostly speak of stuff I don’t know anything about

 July 29, 2018 – Driving to Beaver, Utah


 Arctic Monkeys – Do I Wanna Know

 We chose this song to accompany you in the reading as this has become for some odd coincidences our “start the road trip!” song. Everytime we begin a new roadtrip we play this (and all the other AM albums afterwards).

It has been 3 hours in the car so far. I just spoke with Arianna, a very sweet girl I’ve been dating in Fall and Winter 2017. She broke up with me for many reasons that I’ll maybe tell you about in the future and now we’re back in touch. Also I called Rocco, a dear friend of mine I met in Barcelona. He is now back to his hometown Parma and sounds very enthusiastic about life as always. In a while he will send, like me, some applications to various PhDs.

We’re now some 70 miles from Vegas. We’re not planning to stop there, just pass by. Rather we will stop in Zion Park and proceed to somewhere in Utah. Tomorrow we’ll be driving again all day. Well actually Andre will drive again all day, I don’t have a driving license. In the evening we plan to get to Yellowstone where we will meet my beloved and Auguste. We’re making a deviation in respect to Andre’s plan to meet her, but not a major one. He was planning to go that way anyway, just stopping in another park.

Thereafter I trust I will be able to negotiate a major deviation and proceed with Andre, Leïla and Auguste to Colorado rather than going north (I guess). It will depend on whether or not Leïla will be ok with the idea, I don’t think Andre will bother.

The USA are strange. Or at least what I’ve seen so far is strange. We have had to re-learn how to do pretty much everything. We didn’t know how to pay for parking, how to refill the tank, how to get a beer (or more exactly where) nor what kind of portions to expect (often an entree is enough for a person like me).

Also, we had an awful time trying to understand the tipping thing. As you probably know already, in Italy and in most places I know, you don’t usually tip. The only friend I have who used to tip quite often is Paul. He’s from Switzerland, perhaps there it’s a bit like here.

When we arrived, we knew that tipping is very usual. The very first place we went was China town. After all, we thought, what’s more American than Chinatown?

chinese temple

Chinese Temple in Chinatown, LA

We ate in a restaurant (I didn’t finish my portion) and then I had to pay by card. The bill was 18.something\$ so I told the waiter “I’m going to pay 20”.

He didn’t really understand what I was telling him so I specified my intention was to mean that the difference would have been the tip. He made me pay 18.something and gave me the receipt. On it, I had to sign and write the amount of tip I was willing to give.

I was confused, after all I had just paid. I thought he wanted me to give him the tip in cash so I repeated that I had no cash on me. He just said “it’s fine, just write 20 on the total and I will write the difference myself”. I obeyed and came back to Andre just saying, in Italian “I have no freaking idea of what just happened”.

As we stepped out I checked on my phone the amount I had just paid and it said 18.something\$ so we left assuming the waiter had no idea of what he was doing.

The next day I checked my bank account again and realized the amount paid had changed.

So now we know that, for tip purposes, they can change the payment you made after you give the confirmation. My only hypothesis on how they can be sure the waiter is not going to charge 500\$ is that this is the country of suing. Still, I have no clue on how I could prove that I, in fact, wrote 20\$ and not, say, 25\$.

Another thing we found very strange are the distances. Everywhere you may want to go is quite far away. There’s no pub at the corner or coffee place downstairs. You need to drive some 3 miles to do anything.

If you think about it it’s quite natural. European cities are compact. People live in 70-flat apartment buildings which are normally some 500m$^2$ large. So every 100m you walk in front of the house of some 500 people. It makes sense to have a bar every square because there’s plenty of people that might go to those bars.

On the other hand European suburban areas, like Mediglia or Cernusco, are less dense. Walking 50m there you may pass in front of the houses of some 16 people. Therefore it makes no sense, there, to have a bar every 500 meters. People from that area take a driving license very young because you need a car to do pretty much anything. Of course there are buses but they are crowded and work only during specific hours. Cars are more efficient.

Staying in the center of LA gave me pretty much the same impression as staying in European suburbs. Streets are large and shops are concentrated around big parking spots here and there. Those shops are normally big chains with no humanity, because little shops could not survive the expenses.

If you are in our hostel and want to go to a pub you need to drive or uber 3 miles to Koreatown. If you wanna have breakfast either you get a disgusting donut some 500 meters away or you walk half an hour to the closest cafe. I don’t know how far the cafe was in fairness but you see what I mean.

I know why European cities are like that. They have history, they have been built centuries before cars and have been expanded when still compactness was a value. Only recently suburbs have started growing as parts of the cities.

On the other hand, I have no clue why LA is like that. Of course it has no history but that’s not enough for an explanation. Why did people decide to organize themselves in such an un-dense scattered way? I’m convinced that the original reason has to be found in the fact that land was empty and people started building stuff out of nothing. Also, they probably had relatively little need for compactness, thanks to the advent of cars. Still, this is not an explanation by itself, only a place to look for one. I’d very much like to know the social development that brought to this, I like to understand things. I’ll maybe read something about it.

LA is indeed older than cars but I doubt its growth to the contemporary size started much before. I can’t imagine how one could live in there before. Every hour, day and night, the two lanes are crowded. Cars are always moving and most of them contain only one human. The city seems to be built for them.

Of course there are also areas with a bit more shops, pubs and restaurants. For instance, in Hollywood Blvd there are quite a lot of people going around by foot, drinking and taking pictures and having fun.

As I said most of LA looks pretty much like the suburbs of Milan. So I wasn’t surprised by the fact that the place where people go having fun looks pretty much like the places where people from the suburbs of Milan go having fun.

Usually, on Saturday people from the suburbs of Milan come (by car) to the city center and go to overcrowded places, full of tourists and shops and bars with no humanity, like malls, but en-plain air and with tourists.

A typical weekend night at Navigli, Milano

A typical weekend night at Navigli, Milano

Hollywood Blvd looked pretty much like those places. There were big bars full of screaming people with loud music and big televisions. There were many shops selling tourist stuff like sex shops, vapes shops and souvenir shops. Everything looked like it was made yesterday for us to find it cool, or to sell us something. The only feeling of humanity it gave me was the will to impress and satisfy a buyer.

Unsurprisingly, given this lack of humanity, we had very little human contacts in these days. Which is actually good news for you: the less people I meet the less existential pondering I tend to make.

The only person we actually chatted a bit with was a dude sitting with us on the plane. He asked us what language we were speaking and said he studied Italian at college. I didn’t ask the name so I will call him Pino. Pino is originally from Palestina, he’s been living here for 18 years now. He makes the cross sign before taking off and landing and knows the busses to the city because he used to work there. He’s got two daughters and answers questions before understanding them.

As you can see I don’t know much about Pino and I didn’t meet enough people to draw general conclusions from what I know about him. I mean: those general conclusions would be bullshit even if I had met 1000 Californians but at least you might be tempted to believe me, just like you perhaps did when I spoke of Cubans. Still, even if I know very little about him, I liked him. Which is weird because I deeply hated all other persons answering my questions before understanding them (and there were quite a few in LA). Maybe it is because he was the first or maybe because he spoke of his daughters making me feel him human but in Pino this non-listening attitude didn’t bother me much.

Andre, like Misery, wants some company. So I think I will have to stop writing soon. Perhaps I will continue tomorrow morning. And even if I won’t I think I told you most things I cared about telling you: I said that the city seems to be designed for cars, as opposed to being designed for humans. I said that I explain that with the fact that the city is not dense at all and people, although there are very many, are distributed over a huge territory. I said there is a huge contrast between the “fun” areas and the “living” areas and that both lack any humanity.

I think I could call it a day but I still feel like mentioning a couple more things. On the 27th (i.e. the first actual day in LA) we had Andre’s perfect day. After all it was his birthday. In the morning we went to that café half an hour away and we spent quite a few hours working. He created the basic infrastructure for the blog. Then we walked to Koreatown and realized how far away it actually was. On the way, we entered some mobile provider shops to check for contracts we could make. We had lunch (I just ate an entree, again). In the restaurant, Andre checked online few more things about contracts and me I texted Leïla. She was hungover, which surprised me, as she told me she never ever had a hangover. I suppose that was the very first. Then, we finally made the contract and took an uber to Hollywood.

There Andre filmed the ground for a bit while I was taking notes on how strange everything was and similar to via Torino (Milan). We entered a pub, I exchanged a few more messages with Leïla, trying to make her feel loved and that I was present for her. I think I failed but I did my best. She told me she’s not really into web chatting or video calls, that she rather prefers emails. That surprised me a bit because back in the days it was her proposing me to start using a program for calls instead of emails. I guess she, just like me, is a complexity that contains multitudes, no surprise she contradicts herself.

The next day we had an award-winning hangover. Leïla said it was a fair revenge and then closed any communication. She probably left for the mountains and so is away from keyboard (She doesn’t own a phone). We picked up our car (Sakura) and had a touristic day going around and trying, unsuccessfully, to make me feel better.

We have a car!

We have a car!

The next day Andre, by the time I woke up, had already planned an itinerary and decided a place to sleep. I made fun of him and said I would have destroyed his nice plan. Now we’re going to stop in a tavern near Vegas. We googled for half an hour trying to find one not looking too much like a fast food chain but I’m not very optimistic.

PS:
Andre says she loves Sakura. She’s got so many optionals and cool stuff: She’s got adaptive cruise control and semi self-driving (?) and she drinks so little and is so pretty and all this kind of things.
Still, he complains she doesn’t have rain sensors.