Great observations BNE. Very similar to mine from our visits.
Especially "the" tax - got caught many times, got out the amount on the price tag then saw the actual price was more. Interestingly, Lousianna is the only state that will refund state paid taxes on non-consumable items when foreigners leave.
One thing that did strike me was how low tech somethings appeared - especially the use of ice instead of refrigerators to keep drinks cold in many shops.
In San Franciso at the Cuppa Joes (coffee & internet cafe) near our hotel if you asked for a Coke they took a warm can of the shelf and poured it into a glass filled with ice (customers would go beserk if you did that here in Perth). Similarly the small shops along Royal St, New Orleans sold soft drinks and beer from big tubs of ice which they emptied onto the sidewalks every morning, which was one way of cleaning the pavement I guess.
Another interesting thing was all the old (60+) folk working in the hospitality industry, especially places like Ryans, K&W, Crackerbarrel, Western Sizzlin', etc - here in Oz 90% of fastfood employees are no more than 18yo, after that they have to be paid adult wages so they're dumped.
And something else that I noticed - the recycling of place names! Like, just how many Jacksonvilles and Springfields are there? Every city seems to have a suburb called Arlington. When I told a friend that I had been to Oshkosh she wanted to know why I hadn't visited her. So I had to explain I had been to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, not Oshkosh, Nebraska about 80 miles from where she lives in Scotts Bluff!
Also "cities" that aren't! Spent many a laid back summer day checking out the airparks and airfields around Lake City, Columbia County Florida; quaint little town maybe, but shure ain't no city!
That being said there are some great placenames too - how evocative is "Golden Gate Bridge", or "Phoenix Sky Harbor" or "Avenue of the Americas" in Manhattan? All just full of wonderful imagery.
A great thing though about the US is their preservation of history - here in Perth, West Aust if something is more than 25 years old it usually is bulldozed and maybe a small plaque is attached to the new thing put in its place.
My wife spent about 3 weeks during Sept/Oct last year in Nebraska, Wyoming and South Dakota (Rushmore, Crazy Horse, Badlands, etc) and was blown away by the sense of history that even the smallest roadstop had.
I think this is a reflection of having so many decentralised states that have bred all the variations and unique local cultures across a vast country, whereas here downunder we have the vastness, but only a few isolated parts of Queensland and Tasmania really have their own character. It is this great variation that makes North Carolina my favourite state (well of the few I've visited so far) - the Smokys, the historic Heartland and the Coast; and my favourite place in th USA? Atlanta-Hartsfield of course, that is sure some airport!