CALIFORNIA – Home of start-up tech companies such as Google and Amazon and the renowned silicon valley the global center for technological innovations. South San Francisco located in the Bay area of Cali is also the world home to several biotech companies such as Genentech and DNA profiling company 23&Me, this is where the future of personalized medicines and medical research is being shaped. It’s a special place to be.
Arriving at San Fransisco International airport (SFO) there were long queues waiting for TSA to do their thing, as we lined to input our ESTA information into automated machines, take a quick photo and give our biometrics info (fingerprints). You have to declare where you are staying when entering the USA. Then onto an actual homeland security agent to answer a few quick questions – how long you here for and the reasons why etc.. I found the experience actually quite quick and friendly, much friendly than when I return home to the UK in most cases.
I made my way downtown, from the airport not far at all a 20-minute taxi ride through Union Square and I was amongst the shopping malls, Westfield and Nordstrom near Market Street. It was bustling! Cars tooting, people walking with ghetto blasters on their backs, a variety of cuisine served in the local restaurants to choose from, it was a very vibrant city.
The first thing I noticed as do many visitors to SSF was the vast amounts of homeless people on the streets, it’s actually really distressing to see as many of them also face severe mental health issues. Walking into Union square there is a strange paradox of designer stores such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci juxtaposed against homeless on the streets, it just doesn’t feel right. I see a man holding a sign, ‘money for ex-veteran’ many of the homeless here have served in the military for their country and have now been reduced to begging for money on the streets. I ask if there is any support of them, I’m told that a few of them work for the ‘Veterans Cab Association’, but I can’t help but feel this is not enough. the preferred can service here is either Uber or yellow cabs. In contrast, when I spoke to Californians I was told that the government provides them with $600 a month to live on and for many, this is actually a lifestyle choice. Either way, there is a huge divide in the class system.
The Bay area is stunningly beautiful and picturesque, there were several running trails outside the foot of Genentech offices, you could squeeze in run a lunch. I chuckled at passing a ‘Trump is a Traitor’ banner someone had put up on the road on my way to Genentech. One touch I loved was this DNA double helix marking in the car park.
Back in the city, one evening I had booked a table for dinner for a group of colleagues at a quaint little Italian restaurant but as we arrived there was a crime scene just outside. The police ‘do not cross line’ ended just before the restaurant doorway. Life went on, I noticed no one else really batted an eyelid, these types of scenes must be commonplace. As the coroner stood by the body bag, I actually lost my appetite. There was an empty wheelchair and I suspect the deceased was a homeless man. Really sad but this was a different reality.
I was in the home of Uber! I did take one where the driver told me about the really long hours he worked as we drove up and down the steepest hills another characteristic of SSF.
I had not realized this was in an Earthquake zone at around 6am I experienced an aftershock of an Earthquake in the Bay area 3.4 followed by one at 3.5 magnitudes the next day, I only felt a slight tremor but it was unexpected. Also unexpected was the weather! Known for being sunny, there was a thunderstorm with heavy rain and strong winds, causes trees to fall and mudslides reported across the news.
My first time in the United States, I noticed food labeled with ‘Genetically Modified’ ingredients and pharmaceutical adverts on the TV listing adverse side effects including depression and death.
California became the first state in North America to legalize marijuana and it’s big business. There were several dispensaries near me. I couldn’t help but wonder if this helped or aggravated the mental health issues of the local area.