I love getting cabs in the USA. They always seem to be driven by characters and if you can connect it's very rewarding. This time after a long day travelling from the Lakes via Heathrow to Atlanta on a very good new plane, a 777 operated by BA, the radio was tuned to an AM station and I couldn't believe my ears. He was listening to My Word, an old BBC radio 4 show with Dennis Norden, Frank Muir, Lady Antonia Fraser, and Dilys Powell. Only two of them I think are still alive and it must have been made in the 70's. The driver, originally from Nigeria, was obviously well educated, not because he was listening to the programme, but because he was giving out answers to questions like 'what's the difference between convince and persuade'. Go on, look it up. I didn't know. Maybe he had been an English teacher. But we had a laugh, and from his initial grumpy welcome to his cab world, we ended our relationship with good chuckles and a bond brought to us by the BBC!
I've been visiting the States since 1980 and of course things have changed. The last time I was in Atlanta was just before the Olympic games, and the horrendous terrorist bombing on July 27, 1996. Atlanta has developed phenomenally since then. I was given a tour round town by an old friend, and it's very impressive. Passing the Coca Cola headquarters and the their visitor centre, I remembered how we'd visited it ourselves. Would we now? Sweet drinks, sodas, are getting a hammering because of the diet problems, not just in the NHS at home but here too. Another change has been the size of portions. OK, I've only eaten three meals so far but the portions are noticeably smaller. I was taken to the best burger restaurant in town - the same thing is happening in the UK - gourmet burgers are in. But here they were seriously good. One even came with foie gras, the Lux Burger. Controversial, and a long way from a BigMac.
Another change is the price of stuff. The exchange rate isn't great it's true, which is why we are trying to encourage them to come to the UK and get the Brits to stay domestic this year! I've always had a penchant for American shirts and chinos, for one thing I could always get a bigger choice that fitted my large frame and they would cheaper. But now it seems like there are no bargains here anymore.
I'm staying at the Ritz Carlton, for $239 a night, which is roughly £145, plus tax of course. Not much for a hotel of this quality. Plus tips. Which will take it to about £190. Oh, and the wifi is $11 a day. I'm visiting agents of course and one of the points I have to get across is that all these things are included in our rates. 20% vat is a lot to absorb in a comparable headline price.
Next stop Florida, hopefully warmer than here. We even had unseasonable snow flurries yesterday.