SIMON CALDER

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The Independent Travel
The first surprise upon arriving at San Francisco airport was that the bus spoke to me. The second was what it said.

Buses in the California city are equipped with loudspeakers so that the driver can announce the destination of his or her bus - an excellent idea to help the visually handicapped. But the driver of the express bus into the city did more than announce his destination - in the public-transport equivalent of the film Duel, the loudspeakers screeched "No luggage!" as the bus jerked to a halt. I was carrying a small cabin-baggage-sized bag, but this was decreed too large. My promise to keep it on my lap was declined, too, and the bus roared off, still talking to itself. Two subsequent discoveries: a taxi costs pounds 18 to the centre, and the driver will most likely tell you his life story on the way - but will probably not use a loudspeaker to do so. The idea of an airport bus that does not accept luggage is a new one on me. Can a Californian explain?

The suggestion that everyone in California is completely mad is outrageous, of course, but sometimes you get the impression they might be. In a state where 10,000 people died from firearms last year, concern for the traveller is reaching lunatic precautions. Airport departure gates carry a health warning: "Drinking Distilled Spirits, Beers, Coolers, Wine and Other Alcoholic Beverages May Increase Cancer Risk". Suppose you ignore the advice and carry a bottle of Californian sparkling on board, this has another two warnings, one about the menace of drinking and the other urging extreme caution when opening the bottle.

Given such intense concern, it is surprising that visitors are not warned before heading for San Francisco that the city lies astride the San Andreas Fault. But individual buildings do now carry warnings. Along Jack Kerouac Street, the City Lights bookshop where the Beat generation began has a sign reading "This is an Unreinforced Masonry Building. Unreinforced Masonry Buildings may be unsafe in the event of a major earthquake."

"The world's most beautiful freeway" - that is the claim made on road signs on the Junipero Cerro, better known as Interstate 280 south from San Francisco to San Jose. The planners had presumably done some mind expansion when they made the claim, because the highway is far from special: the M1 has better moments than these suburban panoramas. But if I-280 is not the most beautiful freeway in the world, what is? Answers on a postcard please; the prize for the winning suggestion is a Rand McNally road atlas to the United States. Remember: this does not apply to any old road, only to motorway-standard thoroughfares.

Last week we mentioned the new United Airlines round-the-world service. This week we got the schedule and the fare, and began to backpedal rapidly about recommending the new service.

The economy-class fare is set at pounds 1,608; any discount agent worth his or her salt will save you a minimum of pounds 500 on the same route from London via New York, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Delhi. Supposing you decide to take up the United deal anyway, and take your last stopover in Hong Kong. The homebound flight stops to refuel in Delhi shortly after midnight - and does not leave until just before 8am.

So what the airline must be planning, I surmised, was to bring back the glamorous old days, when passengers and crew were put up for the night at a luxurious colonial hotel. A fine idea. Just to check, I talked to United. No, it said, no arrangements are made for passengers at all. Delhi transit lounge, like that of any other airport, is not a place in which I would wish to spend the night - especially if I had paid over the odds for my ticket.

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