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Used to work for AVIVA offshoring IT to India.  Now retired through ill health, writing my life story as a series of blogs chronologically from birth to current time.  At www.jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com

Monday, 10 October 2011

BA, No Beach, Buds and Babes - 1987

An uneventful trip back to Norwich after the events getting our visa’s in London, was followed by a hasty period of gathering up enough money to travel.  I was working again for Adrian and on £40 a day - £200 a week.  I make a point of stating my income as I will note how much I earned a week in America, once we get there.  The months sped by, more drinking, saving, partying and clubbing, the nights and days merging into each other.

My mum was working at the dry cleaners at the shopping centre where she’d caught me shoplifting sweets in my teens (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2010/07/road-to-redemption-is-made-of-chocolate.html), Mark was working as a salesman, starting a career in sales selling sweets and mints, moving onto cleaning products and developing a career that would eventually end up with Mark as a leader in sales recognised across the drinks industry (where he ended up) working for Guinness, then Diageo and finally Magners Cider, (more to come on that in later blogs).  Helen and David had moved from the council house into their own home and the girls were doing well at school, Richard was now a Police Sergeant in the met Police and Julian was drumming for bands having become very accomplished as a self-taught drummer. 
At home then it was a period of stability, is what I am trying to say.  My going to America was not going to cause too many ripples as everyone was getting on with their own lives.  I set about bidding my friends and family farewell.  For my male friends, this meant drinking and clubbing, for my female friends, this meant finding any of them willing for a farewell session of bedspring testing at my mum’s and for my family, a series of phone calls and visits.  I sold the car £150, my stereo £30, some clothes and had about £200 in savings.  Mark and I purchased one way stand-by tickets on BA (£169) to San Francisco for the end of May 1987 and I bought a bottle of Moet, packed my case and set off to Marks house in Portsmouth where I stayed for a week before we left for Heathrow.  We were about to set off on another adventure and I left Norwich behind, heading for the American dream.  I was going to be a star, singer songwriter, famous goddamit!

Terminal 4 at Heathrow airport was at that time dedicated to British Airways.  We turned up, one suitcase each and went to the check-in desk, where we were told that the day’s flight was full but that we’d be able to travel the following day.  Our only option was to bed down in the terminal for the night and await our flight.  I remember wandering around the terminal trying to find a place to sleep and we ended up on an upper floor, lying on some chairs we’d pulled together.  After a crap sleep, we ate breakfast and went back to the check-in desk, where we were told we could fly and our bags went off to the plane.

We boarded the plane midmorning and sat in our economy seats, the first time on a 747, the first time crossing the Atlantic, (I’d flown half way across on the way to the Falklands (see http://jw-alifeofsurprises.blogspot.com/2011/04/sailors-life-for-me-not-bloody-likely.html).  Once airborne the stewardess’s came round with drinks (free!!) and lunch.  Our area at the back was fairly empty and Mark and I stretched out across the middle row seats and slept for a while.  When I woke up I asked the Stewardess if I could open our Champagne.  She told me we could not consume our own drinks on the flight, but after I told her what we were doing, she gave us a half bottle, (I had started to blag!).

We landed at SFO mid-afternoon and went to the immigration desks.  During the flight we had been given the green Visa Waiver forms and in the section asking how long we intended to stay we’d had both written 6 months.  I told Mark that we may as well put that as anything else, at least we would get a pass for 6 months if approved, whereas putting two weeks would end up with us overstaying should we find work (knowing that working would be illegal anyway).

The queue for Immigration was short and we split to go to individual immigration officers.  I had £150 on me.  I had to find work to afford the ticket home.  If the guy decided to check me out I was in trouble.  Mark meanwhile had a Lloyds Credit Card.  Only problem was it was maxed out!  The guy at the desk looked at my passport and up at me.  “Six months, what do you plan to do for six months?” he asked.  No word of a lie, I said we were going to see Marks Aunt Shirley, and then we’d “probably bum around for a bit!” What a twat, the guy could really go for me now, as I had admitted I had no plans at all!  He looked at me and said “great, have a nice time” and stamped my passport.

I walked away amazed and still nervous and looked across to see Mark getting the third degree from his immigration officer.  I had passed and was allowed in, he looked like it was going badly and I thought about what I would do if he was refused entry. Fortunately, he got past the guy by showing he had funds by waving his credit card about!  We grabbed our cases and walked out of the airport and into America as fast as we could.

“Right mate, where to now” I said.  “A cab” he said, once he’d called Shirley on a pay phone, she answered the phone and he spoke for a few moments.  “Paul, “she called to her son, “they’re here”.  His aunt lived in a town called Burlingame, we had no idea where that was, just an address on Old Oak Drive, Burlingame.  This turned out to be $20 away.  After some weeks of acclimatisation, we figured we’d been ripped off by the cab driver, seeing two English guys with no idea where to go.

The apartment was a two storey, gated complex, with room for parking below the apartments.  Shirley, Mark’s aunt, lived with her son Paul, in a three bedroom apartment.  We buzzed and she let us in through the gate.  At the door, Shirley waited for us to climb the stairs with our cases.  I was shattered from the jetlag, but she welcomed us in, hugging Mark and Paul came through to see us.  Paul was tall gangley and had tousled blond hair and a moustache.  He was also an alcoholic in denial.  Shirley was welcoming, warm, and friendly and offered a home from home.

Paul drank Budweiser as if he owned shares in the company and after offering us a bottle, sat in his chair in front of the TV, which was where he could be found every night and weekend.  Mark brought them up to date and I was dropping off to sleep in my chair. I asked if I could get my head down and was shown to the spare room, a mattress on the floor and some blankets.  I hit the bed and slept for the remainder of the day and into the next morning. 

Paul smoked Marlboro Red, just like me so we had that in common!  He also had his own decorating company, residential painting mostly, so we had that in common too!  He offered Mark and I jobs straight away, Mark on slightly less than me as he was not a trained painter, but Paul said he could get Mark work putting up plasterboard walls in the homes we would paint, many of which were new build.

So, come the following Monday we would be working in California, “living the American dream baby!”  We had a few days beforehand to acclimatise and explore Burlingame and the nearby area.  Main Street was a pretty street, small shops and a small mall, called Crosby Commons, dedicated to Bing Crosby and his wife Kathryn.  They lived in the nearby neighbourhood of Hillsborough, which was at that time, I was told, the second most expensive piece of real estate after Beverly Hills in LA. 

We also wandered in the other direction into San Mateo, where we found an Irish Bar, full of ex-pats and called O’Neill’s and it is still there!  A got a warm welcome and we drank our fill of Guinness and true to form having been in the states for 24 hours, I started chatting up a couple of American girls, who did not know what they were letting themselves in for.  Come home time, I had been kissing one of them, Mark was well into the other and we walked them home.  We bid them farewell and wandered back to Shirley and Paul’s, content with a good days work. 

On the Saturday, I convinced Mark that we had to explore San Jose’.  I told him about the Burt Bacharach song, “Do you know the way to San Jose” and the lyrics and said we could go to the beach there and hang out.  Armed with a carrier bag, containing our trunks and towels we boarded the Caltrans Train at Burlingame, a two storey train, and headed south.  We got off at San Jose and headed into the city centre.  After wandering about for an hour or so aimlessly searching for signs saying “beach this way”, we eventually stopped someone and asked where the beach was?  The guy looked at us and laughingly said “you can go north until you hit the salt flats at the end of San Francisco bay, or, you can go west towards Santa Cruz.  Only Santa Cruz is 20km away and the salt flats aren’t much to look at”. 

Mark looked at me and I said “but the song makes San Jose sound really cool”, at this the guy laughed again and said “sorry buddy, but it may sound cool but there ain’t no beach here”.  We walked back to the train station and headed home, somewhat pissed off.  We spent the rest of the weekend wandering about and found a neat bar/pizza joint and a cracking Mexican place in Burlingame called La Piñata’.  The place is still open and I recommend it!

Monday morning, our first day at work, Paul took us to the paint store and we collected some overalls, paint and headed off to the Deli to pick up some breakfast and a sandwich for lunch.  Our works van was a coupe, a massive American two door car.  The trunk (boot) was full of paint and tools; the back seat was covered in drop cloths and odds and ends, with room for one person to squeeze in.  Yep, we were living the dream baby!!!

At the Deli Mark and I got Coffee’s and Bear Claw pastries and a Pastrami (love it) sandwich.  Paul got a six pack of Bud!  We got to the site and Paul had already drunk one bottle and he left the rest in the car.  Paul's day went like this, get up, have a bud and a smoke.  Go to Deli, buy more Buds, and drink one on the way to work.  Work until 10am, have a Bud, work until noon, have 3 buds, go to Deli, get more Buds.  Work until 3pm, have a Bud, work until 5pm, go home, drinking a Bud.  Once home, celebrate, by having a Bud.  Cook (he was a fantastic cook) some food, drink a Bud with it.  Settle into easy chair, crack a Bud and watch sports and Miami Vice.

To put the Bud fixation into further context, at one point, Paul went to the Liquor Store with me and bought a fridge with a beer tap on it.  A small barrel was put inside the fridge, the keg was tapped and the user simply poured a beer whenever they needed one.  Paul placed this fridge next to his easy chair.

Paul was pretty impressed with my painting, so much so that he decided he would pay me $300 a week, Mark $250.  Back then you got 57 cents to the pound.  So my $300 was worth £157.  I wasn’t paying any taxes, health care, just kicking back to Shirley $30 a week for food.  Paul said my wages would go up as time went by and I intended to make sure they did as well so I worked my arse off!  Paul sub-contracted off a couple of Builders, and we were never short of work. 

We started to go to clubs and bars a little further afield with Hoolahans being one.  We met two sisters, one of whom was absolutely knock out, the other err, you know, plain looking would be polite.  The reader has to understand something about me at this time.  I was pretty much an insensitive bastard.  I did not “deep think” about my behaviour and its affect on others (mainly women), but I was not a chauvinistic pig either.  I just fancied women and my head would be turned almost every time I had known someone for over a week.  I was always looking for the next one.  Mark therefore knew his place and would sacrifice himself in order to further my cause.  He “would get the goppa!”  And get the goppa he did, on countless occasions, in countless clubs and bars.

And so our American dream commenced. I found that the English accent was a device of unrivalled power, and attracted girls like a moth to a flame when confronted by it. I therefore made full use of the tools at my disposal and moved swiftly through a series of one night stands and long term (one week) relationships. Mark has also developed an additional but powerful and very handy 6th sense, whereby he knew when my luck was in long before i did and would predict "you're getting laid tonight", with a certain amount of disappointment, if the girl in question was accompanied by a "Goppa"

On days off, Paul took us in his car to Half Moon Bay (we got to the beach eventually) and we started to develop a network of friends, relying on Paul for transport and work (for money) and Shirley for a roof over our heads.  Paul was good to his word and within a month my salary had gone up to $550 a week, which equated to around £315.  Why?  Because we were fast, good and reliable.  We started looking for a place of our own as we were saving up dollars fast.  We were to find a place and I was suddenly to find I was alone but in “Love!!”

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