In the 1990s, I was fortunate enough to make a number of business trips to the USA. Fortunate, of course, in that my tickets, accommodation and expenses were paid for. At this distance in time though, everything has compressed into a mental scrapbook of images, and I can scarcely separate one visit from another.
Thus, I present a sketchbook of impressions. I remember being bored in a meeting in San Jose, and looking out the window, found a hummingbird harvesting from the flowers right outside. I remember laughing out loud at the size and opulence of my “suite” in the hotel. (Basically, it was a complete apartment). I remember the fog in San Francisco. A stand-up man in a comedy club in Santa Clara made a nerdy computer joke, and everybody got it.
Reston, Virginia new town. Half-built. The hotel a short walk from the office. Ignoring the advice of the waiter that the Mexican mixed starter for four was enough, and ordering a main course which we couldn’t eat. Getting drunk in the hotel bar with the company directors, of whom Elizabeth H was stunningly beautiful, but quite dim. Her husband was a Secret Service agent. No big deal: we drank with CIA and NSA as well.
Atlanta, like an island of skyscrapers in the flat landscape. Capital of strip clubs, apparently, which was why the naive colleague from Ballymena didn’t get the curry he was hoping for when he followed the neon signs to the Taj Mahal. Waking up in the hotel to find a note from the management, apologising for the hurricane. First I knew of it, even though the city looked like a war zone, and I had to drive around fallen signs and sparking electricity poles. The person I’d flown down from Washington to see turned up late. A falling tree had hit her house.
Back in Reston, a half day off on an unusual hot sunny day in November. Two weeks later, there was four feet of snow. Big team dinner in a restaurant, and Penny, who happened to share my surname, joking “pass the bill to my ‘husband’ over there”. And I thought “If only…”
Being held up on the way to Dulles airport by a convoy of black limousines (presumably the President) and nearly missing my flight. In Silicon Valley, five of us driving home drunk in a two-seater sports car, in the warm, flower-scented night air. The surreal nature of an engineering conference in Walt Disney World, with dinner hosted by Mickey and Minnie.
Add to those trips a couple of vacations and the time I spent in the United States for flying training, and the total is, well, insignificant. It’s a big country. If you marked on a map the parts I’ve visited, there would be some dots on the left and right sides, and that’s it. Yet, I don’t know if I’ll ever go back. Don’t get me wrong. I like the place, and I like the people, but there’s a lot of world out there, and I’ve only seen a tiny proportion of it.