I’m surprised I’ve been to Sacramento often enough to start to dislike it. I can barely remember being here before, but I have, several times. Somebody put the State government here, which I would say was an error, but who knew? And at least it’s out of the way. Where that all falls down is, I have to go see the government sometimes.
I realized I was in the right, or more exactly, wrong, airport after I got downstairs from the international airport-glitz of the terminal into the ground transport area which features, as I’m sure you all know, giant sculptures made out of thousands of pieces of luggage stuck together. The overall effect – abandoned baggage in a windswept dry cold hangar in a plain in the middle of nowhere – adds up to a certain hick-horror-story ambience that is right out of a teaser for an X-Files episode. Who’s to say the long-vanished owners didn’t make the right decision?
Checking into the hotel was a study in the art of marketing the Sacramento way. The receptionist, who appeared bonded to the hotel like a House Elf (“I was here when it was an apartment building,” she said), offered me the choice between “a small room with a queen bed or a really, really large room with two twin beds”. Since I’m an honorary American, I chose the one that was too big for my needs and which had a whole extra bed I’d not be using. “Since you put it that way, I’ll have the really, really large room,” were my exact words, in fact. Dobby seemed to think this was hilarious. Tired, I managed by some equally witty sleight of verbiage to avoid being dragooned into the program of classical music which was underway in a downstairs cavern. Instead I paced around in the enormous room and tried to work out whether it would be worthwhile to switch on the almost invisibly distant TV.
In the event, I decided to go out for a meal. There wasn’t a lot going on; at first I thought that it was because I’d been banished to the boonies of the capitol because this was a cheapo state government trip, but it turned out I was only a few hundred yards from Sacramento Convention Center (motto: We’re Closed!) and the fine array of remora-like foodstuff-vendors in attendance. Unfortunately, they were closed too. I settled on the Something Or Other (probably Capitol, they all are) Grill. As I walked in, an over eager waitress knocked a stand of leaflets over on me. “The scary thing is, Shell’s *your* waitress”, said a cheerful maitre d’. “I’ll keep my legs tucked well under the table,” I allowed, which produced more gales of laughter. Apparently I’m a born comedienne.
I did get some evening entertainment to replace the classical music. I began to listen to the two diners next to me. They had an interesting conversation about job-lot bomber jackets before the waitress came over to spill things on them.
“I want a steak pink, what is that called?”
“Rare? Medium rare?”
“Is medium rare cold?”
“Medium rare is warm.”
“Pink and warm?”
“Yes, sir,” said Shell.
“Are you sure you’re talking about steak?” said number two.
Their dinner conversation, with occasional detours into mass-bomber jacket purchase and other pyramid schemes, went like this:
“Why do you want raw steak?”
“It’s not raw, it’s rare.”
“It’s not cooked.”
“It is cooked. It’s just not cooked hot. If you cook it hot, it destroys the structure of the meat.”
“This is sourdough. You know what it is with sourdough? You don’t want to know why they call it sourdough.”
“I *don’t* want to know why they call it sourdough.”
“I’m going to tell you why they call it sourdough. They call it sourdough because, when they get the dough, they leave it to rise, and rise and rise, and rise until it . . . “
“Until it don’t rise no more?”
“No, until it’s sour. Because it’s gone off, see. They leave it to go sour, which is like rotten. Sourdough is like rotten dough.”
“It’s like cabbage.”
“In what way?”
“Cabbage is just rotten lettuce.”
“Rotten lettuce, huh.”
“Yes. No, I mean. Sauerkraut is rotten cabbage. That’s it. They leave the cabbage to go rotten.”
“Here’s the Merlot.”
“You know why wine is good for you?”
“Why is wine good for me?”
“It’s the grapes. In the skin, it’s good for you. They have Tantric Acid in the skin.”
“Tantric Acid, huh?”
“S’good for you.”
The next day, back at Sac International, (even the name seems rather wrinkled and baggy), I found I had made airline booking mistake category one. All business airline bookings are errors in either category number one or number two. Number two, of course, is arriving with only twenty minutes to spare and not having enough time to put your shoes back on and rush for the gate before the plane pulls away. Category number two, my most frequent error because I’m such a wet weed, is ending up with three hours to kill at the damn airport. Today we had the delight that our meeting had finished an hour early, so I had four hours to kill at Sacramento International.
Once through the several checks, I found myself in the Sac paradise I remembered so well. Only four hours to kill, and the usual generous spread of restaurants to eat at. Trouble is, I’d eaten at most of them over the years, and already knew what was available. I’d eaten a pizza at the Capitol Grill, and already knew they came frozen from the pizza parlor next door, so that killed two birds with one stone. Manchu’s Wok didn’t sound like food. Eventually I settled on the First Down, or some other sports bar name. I’d eaten there before too, and while it had been vile, it had been edible. I plumped for 50 Yard Line Chili, or somesuch, which was ‘served’ in a bowl made by hollowing out a sourdough loaf and throwing away the inside. So that’s what they do with the sourdough after it’s risen and risen until it don’t rise no more! It’s a disposable plate for chili!
Of course the plane was delayed, so I had plenty of time to watch CNN on the airport monitors. I did get out my laptop to play a DVD, but as I unfolded it, a little old lady opposite me said, “With you people it’s all work, work, work!” so I felt like some sort of cheat and typed this instead.