California Trippin' and Tippin'

Sacha Outside Food 4 Less in Anaheim
As luck would have it, my significant other had another conference in California. This year, we visited Southern California, or SoCal, as it's called. Our first stop and location of the conference was Anaheim, the city best known for Disneyland.

Although we usually associate vacations with taking a break from things like cooking, I find the whole idea of eating daily in restaurants stressful. Going out for every meal can be unhealthy because of all the calorie-rich fried foods and, of course, it's expensive. For our family of four, each meal costs on average about $50, plus a tip.

While I'm on the topic of tips, I spoke to a waitress at the very beginning of our holiday about gratuities. In California, servers have to report all tips with 10% of your bill being automatically  deducted from the server's minimum wage salary. As a result, if you don't leave a tip, they are paying for you to eat. A good tip is twice the state sales tax or 16%. It's best to ask someone at your hotel about tipping before you go out for dinner. In the U.S., minimum wage for servers varies from $2.13 to $7.75 an hour and how gratuities are factored into this wage also varies from state to state.  

After our first breakfast at an Anaheim IHOP, which cost $42, I made my way to a local grocery store to buy enough food to have breakfasts and lunches in our room equipped with a fridge and microwave. I bought the necessities, which included a paring knife, vegetable peeler, cutting board, two bowls, two plates, some plastic cutlery and a few plastic storage containers. These are all inexpensive items that I could leave behind at our last hotel when we left. I did this last summer and it cut down substantially on how much we spent at restaurants (not to mention the weight I could have gained), and it also meant that my kids got plenty of fresh California fruit and vegetables.

A helpful shopkeeper close to my hotel directed me to the cheapest grocery store chain. It was about a mile on foot off the beaten Disney path. The immaculately pruned palm trees lining the sidewalks quickly gave way to cracked pavement and strip malls with liquor stores, fast food restaurants and tattoo shops. There was also a new sight I wasn't expecting--homeless people, very young homeless people. It was strange because Anaheim and most of what we saw of Orange County looked like an affluent suburb, not a densely populated urban centre, but in bus shelters and at intersections, there always seemed to be tiny groups of mainly white homeless people.

My children were shocked by the first young man we encountered sleeping in a relatively clean red sleeping bag in the grass next to the sidewalk. My daughter asked me in French what he was doing there, and I told her to smile and that we'd discuss it later. I smiled at the man as we passed and said "Good morning," to which he returned my greeting and smiled back. I later told my daughter that people become homeless when they lose their jobs and can't pay their rent, but I emphasized that it doesn't mean that they aren't nice people.

This young man was one of many homeless people we would see on our holiday. Of course, I would see most of them on my trips to other grocery stores. I always walk, just for some much needed exercise. But a car is the means that most Californians still use to run errands like going to the grocery store. In spite of the commuter trains, bike paths and buses we saw, California is still overwhelmingly car-centric, and if you want to visit tourist destinations you have to leave early in the morning to find a parking space. We unfortunately discovered this one lazy Saturday morning when we arrived at noon at the beach only to drive endlessly unable to find parking.

Other posts about California:
LA's Million Dollar Theater
Disney Theatre W/ the Kids
Unexpected Beauty of Historic Los Angeles


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