Winter in America

Impressions of my first trip to America

I found a printed copy of this essay and decided to scan and share here on my blog. I also found the photos I took on my trip.

On the 19th of February 1990 I started a new job as the technical support specialist for a company called Unidata Australasia, which was formed as a joint venture between Unidata Inc in Denver, Colorado and a Sydney based software company, Apscore International. The office is very close to my former employer, Prime Computer, on Military Road, Neutral Bay.

The proximity has some advantages and some disadvantages. The advantages are that I know the area and the shops, but the disadvantages are that I keep meeting people who I used to work with and the Unidata product is actually competition! Inevitably, I get the usual sequence of questions such as “Where are you working now?” and “Do you like your new job?”

The major attraction of this job was the promise of a trip to America for product training and the training would occur a few weeks after I started. After six years at Prime Computer, all I ever managed was a week in wet Fiji, so this offer was irrestible!

Sunday, the 4th of March saw me at the airport queueing at the Qantas counter, the destination being Los Angeles. The Sydney to LA flight is the longest haul I have ever experienced, being fourteen hours and an incredibly boring one!

I arrived in LA on their Sunday morning after leaving Sydney on Sunday afternoon, knowing I would lose two days when I flew home. LA was cold and wet and I spent three hours waiting for the Denver flight with United Airlines. I observed the environs from an observation deck, browsed in the airport shops and had my first cup of American coffee. Someone told me that Europe and Japan buy the world’s best coffee, and America buys the rejects. Coffee is certainly not expensive (like Japan) and is usually about 80 cents a cup.

The flight to Denver left at two thirty and I was fortunate to get a window seat. We flew across the Sierra Nevada mountains which had peaks of snow, across Nevada and probably the Mojave desert and finally across the Rocky Mountains landing at Denver. The mountains had a lot of snow cover and I was eagerly waiting settling in to Denver and getting in as much sight-seeing as possible – business depending.

I was met at the airport by Unidata’s technical services manager named Bob which saved me battling the taxis and finding the hotel. Bob drives a Lincoln car which is a typical “yank-tank”. By habit I waited at the left hand side of the car, thinking it was the passenger side. “I’m driving”, said Bob as I realised that the driver’s side is on the left hand side.

I was driven to the Ramada In hotel which is like a Travelodge hotel – comfortable and not too expensive. Bob suggested we have some dinner, and he suggested some Mexican food. Why not?! New Mexico is south of Colorado and a short distance from Mexico.

After a hot shower (most welcome as Denver was very cold) Bob met me an hour later and we ate at Gringo’s restaurant on South Colorado Boulevard. It was there that I rediscovered Mexican food after eating a lot of mediocre Mexican food in Sydney.

I also discovered the superb flavour of a Margarita cocktail – an acidic blend of lime juice, tequila and triple-sec which is the perfect accompaniment to the cheese, and other ingredients of Mexican food. [I bought a bottle of Cuervo Gold Tequila at the airport on the return trip and made margaritas at home.]

Back at the hotel, I rang my wife to let her know of my safe arrival and observed an illuminated cross on the foothills of the Rockies. Later, I was to discover that the energy is generated from solar power and stored to later illuminate the cross.

I also discovered that just about every denomination of church is represented in Denver and Sunday morning television is saturated with tele-evangelists.

Monday morning was my first day of work in America and I started the day with a good American breakfast in the hotel. A large pot of coffee, scrambled eggs, hash browns and toast – enough food for two or three people.

I donned my overcoat and walked to the office next door, through the brisk morning air. The building was heated very well, so off came the overcoat and I met the Marketing Vice-president of the company, David B.

David is a very typical American with a broad accent, however the president and founder of the company is from Beijing and his name is Ming. In fact, all twenty five of the development staff (software engineers) are from Beijing, so the amount of English spoken in the office is minimal. This explained some of the strange messages I encountered whilst using the product before I went to America. For example, “End of tape has occurred, please rewind handly”.

There were a few other Americans in the office and I found all of them to be very friendly, helpful and easy going. Most of them were eager to know a lot about Australia, so my general knowledge was tested rigorously. The computer operator who was from Wyoming said to me one day, “You know, you really talk funny”. I quickly replied, “you know “so do’ you’”.

I spent a lot of my time working with a fellow named Greg who has orange hair and doesn’t look a day over twenty five, although he was thirty six. I met his wife and son one day when they came into the office after work, and his son Nicholas iooked the typical American kid – blond haired and blue eyed. I gave him a koala stick-pin and asked him if he knew what it was. “A koala bear?” was the reply. They very kindly invited me to dinner one evening which I enjoyed very much.

Paul Hogan is the greatest ambassador for Australia. Everybody has seen Crocodile Dundee so most Americans felt knowledgable about crocodiles, Northern Territory and Australian culture. I was also surprised when a fellow mentioned that when he visited Sydney he would like to eat at Doyles [seafood restaurant in Watsons Bay]. I wondered how he knew about this restaurant and learnt that there is a TV commercial for Visa who state that Doyles don’t take Amex!

On my first day I met a Unidata customer from Dallas Texas named Richard and a support representative from Digital Equipment in Texas. Both of them had great accents and that evening, Richard and I had dinner together at an Italian restaurant as we were both away from home. He was in his forties and had served in the US Air Force so he had some interesting stories to tell. During that evening, the rain was falling in torrents. During our search for a restaurant I bought some leather gloves which were my constant companions during my stay.

The next morning, I could feel cold air coming from the window so after crawling out of the warm bed I drew the curtains and was awe-struck! The landscape was covered with snow and snowflakes were falling. I felt as happy as a young child on Christmas morning and couldn’t wait to get outside and play in the snow. I ate a quick breakfast and took a long time to walk the two hundred metres to the office. I photographed cars covered with snow, snow ploughs and the trees. I was to discover on the next day that the best snowfall was yet to come.

Tuesday night saw a tremendous snow fall and the walk back to the hotel was hazardous as the snow had packed down to slippery glass-like ice. I fell a couple of times and spent a long time finding a safe path home as the footpaths were buried. The hotel was packed as many of the guests were travellers who couldn’t get home. After dinner I got into bed and watched the television reports of the snow falls and hearing about the school closures and airport closure.

The next morning’s news was novel as am not used to hearing about hear snow closing down a city. I did hear that an aircraft had slid off the runway at Denver’s Stapleton Airport but fortunately was not a major catastrophe.

The walk to work was more hazardous today as the snow was at least a foot thick and each step could land me in a cold puddle or slipping on smooth ice. I eventually found a path that didn’t cause my shoes to get too wet.

Lunchtime was a great experience as four of us drove down South Colorado Boulevard to a Chinese Restaurant. By this stage, the snowstorm was a blizzard and winding down the window to operate the car-park boom gate caused a large volume of snow to be blown into the car. Again we had to pick out a safe path to the restaurant and I was feeling the cold right down to my bones.

The office was not so busy and I later discovered why. David had taken three hours to set home on the previous evening as his car had got bogged in a snow drift. Greg couldn’t get to work as his driveway was covered in a snowdrift and he couldn’t even get his car onto the main road. Another fellow was run off the road by a snow-plough.

I also learnt of a popular American winter pastime – shovelling the snow from one’s driveway!

On the first Friday, Ming told me “It is company policy to work Saturday!” which I didn’t mind as I thought that it could help me get home earlier. I still stayed four weeks, however I had three Sundays to do my sight seeing.

The first Sunday was spent walking to a very famous book-shop called “The Tattered Cover” which is supposed to be the largest book-shop in America. There are over half a million books in stock, and it covers four floors. I arrived there at eleven o’clock after having stopped for a coffee and a donut at Mister Donuts. I had also stopped at a chemist for some anti-histamine tablets as I had come down with a cold.

The “Tattered Cover” is in the suburb of Cherry Creek and I spent the hour window-shopping. I discovered a compact disc shop where I bought three discs for three American dollars each.

At noon I entered the book-shop and had a quick browse around, and got a headache from information overload. I adjourned to a coffee shop and returned later to seriously look for some bargains. The photography section was interesting but I found the titles were not as cheap as I thought they should be. There was a feature display on Ansel Adams, and I bought “Examples – The Making of Forty Photographs” which contains some superb black and white photographs. I also found an interesting nine hundred page paperback called “The Making of the Atomic Bomb” (by Richard Rhodes) which talks about Einstein, the early atomic tests and Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The shop was packed with browsers and I was pleased to see that the Americans have such a healthy appetite for good books.

The walk home to the hotel felt much longer, although it took the same time of forty five minutes. There didn’t seem to be any public transport in the area and I didn’t see any taxis in the area.


3 responses to “Winter in America”

  1. The title of the blog is also a reference to a song “Winter in America” by Doug Ashdown

  2. Hi Charles
    Really good essay. I remember you describing the wonderful Tattered Cover Book Store to me all those years ago. So it was very pleasing to see a photo of it included in the essay. The other photos are good too.

  3. Hi mate, I remember those days, and the book shop. But I especially remember Ming (the merciless) and David. Not sure whatever happened to them, I think Ming went back to China and David I dont know. Anyway, hope you are well. James

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