Marin County is only 20 minutes from San Francisco, with pretty outlooks over the Bay, populated by prius-driving, organic food-buying Democrats who are currently mounting a campaign against Target's plans to open a store in the neighbourhood. Dan and I immersed ourselves in the local culture by hiring a little 'economy' car (corolla's are about the smallest car you can hire in the US), staying in a bayside apartment stocked with organic products and shopped solely at Whole Foods. I bought myself a reusable shopping bag made from recycled post-consumer waste that says 'I heart veggies' just to make doubly sure that we fitted in when browsing the aisles for quinoa and goji berries.
Northern California is blessed with some beautiful natural scenery, much of which is only a few hours drive from San Francisco. Dan is always on the hunt for more video footage of signs, so we spent our days driving and site-seeing. I'm always baffled when I see people videoing exhibits in museums or walking around parks with video camera in hand and I pity their friends when they're invited to dinner to catch up after their travels. But now I think Dan and I could give them a run for their money with our hours and hours of driving footage...
We worked our way up highway 1 to the north, with its beautifully rocky coastline, little lighthouses and redwood forests. It was at this point that Dan and I realised that we needed to find a children's book or something that has really simple pictures of the animals of North America - we really don't know our racoons from our chipmunks, let alone our deer from our elk. I wanted to take photos of things so that I could corner an American at some stage and ask for a basic education in common animals, but often the only time that I saw the animals long enough to take a photograph they were road kill and that seemed a little distasteful. So we live on in our ignorance and I can never laugh at tourists taking photos of possums or cockatoos again.
Next we daytripped out to the Napa Valley and spent the day wine tasting. We went to a few smaller 'boutique' wineries, but they were still sizeable operations that made the Hunter Valley look like a sleepy backwater. We then headed down the coast south on highway 1, seeing more beautiful coastline and forests.
By the time I was starting to wonder about whether we have access to organic dog food back home and what artificial additives we had been feeding our dogs all those years, I knew it was time to move on. So we did one final shop at Whole Foods, picking up some organic camping essentials before exchanging our little car for a campervan and heading for the hills for a genuine American road trip.
When we were in New York, there was an ad for a storage company that warned New Yorkers that if they left the island, they would have to live in America. At the time it seemed like a fair warning, but then we came to San Francisco and rented an apartment in Marin County. I can't work out whether Marin County is the antithesis of all things America or actually extremely American.