293. California Road Trip (Part 6) San Francisco / AJ Hoge Interview / UK & US English

Welcome to episode 293, which is in fact part 6 in this mini series based around my recent trip to California. There’s still a lot to talk about, and in this episode I’ll tell you about our time spent in San Francisco and that’s going to include these things – my interview with AJ Hoge the well-known online English teacher, more British and American English, earthquakes, a short biography of Robin Williams, a history of the peace & love movement in San Francisco, more descriptions of our trip down the west coast of California, and some more tips about how to talk to waiters and customer service staff.

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It seems pretty obvious to me that this is too much for one episode, so I think there will probably be a part 7 to this series, and after that we’ll return to normal podcasting and English teaching, with perhaps some more UK oriented topics in future episodes, and more episodes featuring authentic unscripted conversations with my friends Amber and Paul.

Here’s a video of the Periscope live feed I did while recording this episode. Watch the video for about 20 minutes of extra video content, and to watch me recording this episode.

AJ Hoge Interview

I think I should start this episode with my interview with AJ Hoge. This took place in San Francisco in the lobby of the hotel where we were staying.

Who is AJ? http://ajhoge.com and http://effortlessenglishclub.com
AJ is an American-born English teacher who started his career as a social worker (what’s a social worker?) before going into English language teaching. He taught English abroad in Thailand, Japan, Korea and other places, and at home in San Francisco before becoming an independent self-employed teacher on the internet. He has created his own online English teaching courses and has written a book about learning English, and he sells all those things on his websites (see links above). He’s also a public speaker who has been booked to do conferences, speeches and presentations about learning English, sometimes to thousands of people at a time. He’s probably the most well-known English teacher on the internet (yes – more well-known than me – he’s good at marketing himself!) and I’m sure that you’ve come across him. I’m very impressed by what he’s achieved as an independent teacher and it was really interesting to meet him and find out about his work. I recorded our conversation and I’m going to play it to you right now.

Unfortunately I had a bit of a technical problem during my meeting with AJ. I was using a new portable audio recorder and for some unknown reason it kept turning itself off during our conversation, which was very frustrating indeed. So unfortunately some parts of our conversation are lost. That explains why the conversation cuts out a couple of times, particularly at the end. Fortunately, the main part of our conversation was recorded, so let’s listen to it now!

Part 1 – You’ll hear an introduction, but then the recorder switched itself off after a couple of minutes, which is why the conversation stops abruptly.

Part 2 – I started again after discovering that the recorder in my hand had in fact switched itself off again. We spoke for another 20 minutes or so and then the recorder switched itself off again! This is why the conversation stops abruptly before I had the chance to say thanks and goodbye to AJ. We plan to stay in touch though, and we might talk again via Skype in a future episode of the podcast.

More British and American English Vocabulary (Part 3) – Clothing
Trousers – Pants Clothing
Nappy – Diaper Babycare
Jumper – Sweater Clothing
Tights – Pantyhose Clothing
Waistcoat – Vest Clothing
Trainers – Sneakers Footwear
Braces – Suspenders Clothing
Dinner Jacket – Tuxedo Clothing
Polo neck (sweater) – Turtleneck Clothing
Wellington Boots (Wellies) – Galoshes Footwear

August 14
Let’s go back to the day we left Yosemite, before I met AJ in San Fransisco. Remember that this is after we had our long hike in the mountains and my wife sprained her ankle and had to use crutches to walk down.

In the morning my wife tentatively tries walking a bit on her ankle and thankfully seems ok after all that rest, and because she managed to keep her weight off it during the rest of trek with the help of the crutches. She’ll be able to rest it even more in the car, and take it easy for the whole day as we won’t do much walking.

We drive out of Yosemite. It’s a bit of a pity to be leaving all these huge rock formations like El Capitan and the Half Dome. We’ve got to know them quite well, and it’s always an exciting surprise to see them through the gaps in the trees. They’re like the big celebrities in this park and whenever you see them they dazzle you with their charisma and charm. As we’re driving out of the valley we stop a few times to just stare up at them for a while, particularly El Capitan, which I think is one of the biggest vertical rock faces in the world. Rock climbers enjoy climbing it, but it can take 4-5 days to go up the whole thing. The climbers actually sleep on ledges on the rock face, or they set up beds which hang from hooks in the rock face. Imagine sleeping on a tiny camping bed, hanging from the cliff, with thousands of feet of air below you. I’d never be able to sleep in those conditions! But it must be an incredibly thrilling way to enjoy the place.

We’re going to miss these mountains and rock formations, but it’s time to drive to our next stop – a place we’re looking forward to very much. San Francisco.

As I outlined in the second part of this series when I talked about California’s history, SF was originally a Spanish settlement for missionaries, but then when gold was discovered at almost exactly the same time that California became part of the United States, the city grew really fast to be a gold rush town, with thousands and thousands of people moving into the area, including many Americans, but also Europeans and Asians. That multicultural mix is still evident today.

SF is also known for its earthquakes. There was a big one in 1906 that destroyed large parts of the city, but it rose again, like a phoenix from the ashes. In fact, the flag for San Francisco shows a picture of a rising phoenix to commemorate the city’s recovery. There have been a few big earthquakes here over the years, including another one in 1989. The city is still expecting another really big earthquake to hit at any time, which is a bit of a worrying thought, and one that I suppose the residents of the city don’t think about too much. Does that idea give San Francisco a kind of laid back and open-minded atmosphere? Possibly. I suppose if you know in the back of your mind that everything could be destroyed any minute by a big earthquake, it makes you a bit more philosophical, or it makes you enjoy every moment while it lasts. That feeling does pervade the place a bit. It’s got a peaceful, meditative and bohemian atmosphere which is really refreshing.

San Francisco is also known for being the focal point of the beatnik and hippie movements of the 1960s. Haight Ashbury in particular is the district that was associated with those movements. More on that later.

Long drive to SF.
First views, Bay Bridge.
Obligatory Wholefoods stop.
Our hotel and the area. Polk Street. Home for the next few days.
We’re staying near a place called “Nob Hill”. In fact our area is known as “tender nob”, which I found particularly funny, because ‘tender’ means soft, and a ‘nob’, well, it’s a bit rude – it’s a willy, a penis… So…

Being in SF was like being back to civilisation, and a really great kind of civilisation. A really bohemian and cool atmosphere, with interesting places, loads of originality, lots of good little shops, cafes and bars with long lists of local beers, coffees, wines and ciders. We pretty instantly fall in love with the whole Russian Hill/Polk Street area. We walk up the street looking for places to have dinner and breakfast the next day.

Bookshops, bars, cafes, the boardgames shop (Sherlock Holmes boardgame) and pizza & beer. Settle in nicely.

August 15
Next day, explore. Russian Hill, Pacific Heights. Those hilly streets and amazing views!

Have breakfast in a place called “Toast” which seems to me like the most American breakfast place ever, and I order a big American breakfast plate loaded with pancakes and fruit, with butter and maple syrup. It’s absolutely delicious, but later that day I feel like my blood-sugar levels are such a mess that I really shouldn’t eat more food like that and decide to try to be more healthy.
Again, I’m reminded of films which are set here, including Dirty Harry and Bullitt.
Beautiful multicolour houses and quirky doorways. Very expensive neighbourhood.
We come across a tribute to Robin Williams outside a house where they filmed Mrs Doubtfire. It’s exactly one year since he died. We hang around there, thinking about Robin Williams.

Who Was Robin Williams, and What Happened to Him?
Let me give you a brief history of the life and death of this great comedian.
Trained at Juilliard School.
Had a particular gift for improvisational comedy.
Became famous in Mork & Mindy.
Also did stand-up.
Had big problems with alcohol and substance addictions, particularly cocaine.
He managed to quit when his first child was born. Lived as a recovering alcoholic.
Went on to do some very popular movies, in both comic and straight roles.
Won an oscar for his role as a psychiatrist in Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s film Good Will Hunting.
Apparently he was a very sweet, very generous and warm guy, but he was affected by bouts of depression.
As a performer I find him incredibly versatile and animated. His comedy seems almost to be compulsive in its nature. He’s a whirlwind when in front of an audience, full of impressions, different voices and many bizarre tangents which are often dialogues between different characters, all played by him at break-neck speed.
In interviews he seemed to occupy two modes – the first was the extrovert comedian, the other was the sweet and sincere actor. He seemed a bit bipolar. I guess part of his talent was that wildly free sense of instant creativity, but it might have been quite difficult for him to deal with on his own.
He fell off the wagon (began drinking again) in 2006 while filming in Alaska. It’s kind of understandable that he turned to alcohol again considering the circumstances – I mean, he was in Alaska. (just kidding)
He went into Rehab but I think the return to alcohol was a symptom of a difficult time in his life.
He later had heart surgery which involved part of his heart being replaced, and apparently this affected him quite badly as his physical and mental condition seemed to get worse and apparently from that time forwards he suffered from depression, anxiety and paranoia. He was wrongly diagnosed with Parkinson’s too, and given medication and treatment that didn’t help the real condition that he was experiencing, which is called Lewy Body Dementia, a degenerative condition in which nerves cells in the brain are blocked by protein clumps (bodies) that interfere with function. Apparently the Parkinson’s medication made the Lewy Body Dementia worse and may have exacerbated his low state of mind, pushing him to suicide.
He killed himself almost exactly a year ago to the day that we found ourselves at the shrine to his memory on this San Francisco street.

I couldn’t help feeling a bit sad about this because I really enjoyed Robin William’s comedy, but also it’s just such a pity that he had to go through such misery, and that anyone has to go through any kind of misery caused by physical and mental conditions. I hope with more research and the right kinds of treatment, this sort of thing can be prevented in the future.

Anyway, I just wanted to mention Robin Williams there, as a sort of tribute.

SF continued…
Korean Barbecue

End of Part 6 (Oh my goodness, will I ever finish this series!?) Part 7 coming soon…