It’s been pointed out to me that it’s not common terminology to talk about ‘youth hostels’ anymore, it’s ‘backpackers’ inns’ which is the lingo of today’s traveller, a term which quite rightly covers everyone regardless of age. The very fact that I didn’t know this, or had somehow forgotten says a lot, like I am an old fuddy-duddy who is not up to speed with what’s going down with the kidz these days. The person who enlightened me was probably wondering why he had to explain it to me as I am clearly no youth, maybe he thought I was one of those sad sorts of individuals who wants to hang out with young people in a hopeless attempt to hold onto their dwindling youth. Let me be clear, I am not!
I’ve now stayed in two ‘backpackers’, one in Victoria, BC and one in San Francisco. Victoria was a bit of a shock to the system, all this sharing bathroom business and passing people in their underwear on the way to the toilet, and having to heave my monstrously heavy backpack up three flights of stairs in a very ungainly fashion (shades of Hyacinth Bucket). However, I’ve hit the traveller ‘zone’ now; I’ve stopped wearing my belt with my trousers so they now hang on my hips in a more laid back way rather than sitting up high on my waist all neat and tidy, and I got used to having a slice of $4.50 pizza from the local take-out for dinner instead of sitting down in a restaurant and ordering a glass of wine and a plate of food costing more than $15 as you can’t get much for any less than that. San Francisco is the most expensive city in the USA so pizza parlours and cheap beer was definitely the best way forward.
I’ve met some fun, interesting people at the ‘backpackers’ in San Francisco. Over the past few days there’s been lots of happy chatting and it’s been intriguing learning about other people’s lives, people are pretty open about their ‘real’ lives when they’re miles away from it, not altogether surprising I suppose (unless you turn up on their doorstep and realise they’ve told you a pile of rubbish, which is always a possibility). Every now and again I had an accidental reminder that I’m a more mature traveller; the other night we were heading to a local bar when I realised I’d forgotten my passport (they I.D everyone, even if they’re 103, moribund and in a wheelchair) so Tom, a handsome German twenty-something year old student, piped up and offered to tell the bouncer that I was his Mum as it might help get me in. Pause. O.M.G. It is not flattering to be thought of as a Mother figure for a man-boy (unless his Mother had a teenage pregnancy and looks like Claudia Schiffer). Then there was lovely bearded Antoine from Paris, whom I shared a beer with; as I was pouring his out he looked up at me in surprise and said ‘Sarah (in a French accent), you have not checked zat I am over 21!’ and I thought Holy Smoke, I just assumed you were, it never even struck me to ask!
The crowning comment came from a young squaddie who was part of a team of British Army soldiers who’d been taking part in the Armed Forces Squash Championship in San Francisco, or something similar. They were all very buff and when they weren’t playing squash they were usually drinking. This particular soldier didn’t look a day over 19 and was as skinny as a beanpole. One evening I was put in his team to play ‘Beer Bingo’ (a silly game, but fun nevertheless). I’d just scored a point for the team, so he enveloped me in his arms and shouted loudly, ‘Well done Gillian McKeith!’. Shock and horror. It took me just one moment to realise he meant that wrinkly old fake Doctor who presented ‘You Are What You Eat’ about ten years ago. I felt quite numb for all of five seconds as I conjured up an image of Gillian McCrinkly McKeith with her beaky nose and tiny chin. I didn’t let on though, I laughed joyously and gave him a gentle slap and said ‘don’t ever call me Gillian McKeith again!’ (I may have added a swear word between Gillian and McKeith). My offender was too sozzled to even notice. Well, it’s all part and parcel of the travel experience, they say you learn a lot about yourself. I now know that I look like Gillian McKeith, to some people at any rate.
Moving on, I’ve now left San Francisco and am in Paso Robles today, en route to LA tomorrow. It’s very hot here, about 29 degrees. Yesterday we drove by Pebble Beach along the 17-Mile Drive. Lots of big, beautiful expensive houses and incredible seascape views.