A Liberator visits Santa Rosa

B-24 Liberator at Sonoma County Airport

B-24 Liberator at Sonoma County Airport

My photo above shows the last flying Consolidated B-24 “Liberator” bomber, which I’d hoped to be flying in earlier this week. Unfortunately, the flight had to be canceled, due to an engine problem, but nonetheless I had a rare opportunity to examine the aircraft in detail. Alongside several other vintage aircraft, the B-24 was visiting Sonoma County Airport, as part of the annual Wings of Freedom Tour, organized by the Collings Foundation.

My interest in this particular type of aircraft stems from the fact that my father flew in them, as a Wireless Operator (W/O) for the RAF, during World War II. I mentioned in a previous article that he volunteered for the RAF on the outbreak of the war, because somebody had given him a “hot tip” that, by not waiting to be conscripted, he’d be able to choose which service he joined, and where he would serve. Unfortunately, that advice turned out to be only half-right, because he definitely did not want to serve in Aden, which was where he actually spent most of the war.

The Worst Place in the World

As reported in the book Wings of Empire, RAF personnel who served in Aden during the 1920s and 1930s described it as the “most repulsive place in the world”. It was from RAF Khormaksar air base that my father flew offensive missions against Italian forces, and also operated many ferry flights of aircraft being transferred from Britain to the Far East. Most of the ferry missions involved his flying between Aden and Malta.

As the war progressed, Britain took delivery of increasing numbers of American aircraft, under the Lend-Lease program. Thus, having started out flying British types such as the Blenheim and Vincent, he later found himself operating such American types as the Liberator and Hudson. (Incidentally, all the type names of the American aircraft were conferred by the RAF; in the US all the types were officially known only by numbers.)

Inside the B-24

My photo below shows the W/O’s position, behind the flight deck, as seen from the front of the bomb bay. This is where my father would have been sitting on those long flights.

B-24 Wireless Operator Station

B-24 Wireless Operator Station

The photo below, from a slightly different angle, shows the view through to the flight deck from the W/O station.

Looking towards the B-24 Flight Deck from the Bomb Bay

Looking towards the B-24 Flight Deck from the Bomb Bay

Warbirds Together

The B-24 wasn’t the only vintage aircraft visiting Santa Rosa. As shown below, a North American TF-51 trainer (2-seat version of the P-51 Mustang fighter) was just taxying in while I was inside the B-24.

TF-51 Taxying at Sonoma County Airport

TF-51 Taxying at Sonoma County Airport

Lined up alongside the B-24 was a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, shown below in front of Sonoma Jet Center, who were hosting the visit.

B-25 Mitchell at Sonoma Jet Center

B-25 Mitchell at Sonoma Jet Center

Perhaps the most well-known of the visiting types was the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, shown below.

B-17 Flying Fortress at Sonoma Jet Center

B-17 Flying Fortress at Sonoma Jet Center

Gun Crazy

The US has become notorious for having too many guns, too freely available, but fortunately the realistic-looking machine gun shown below is just a dummy! It’s the waist gunner’s position inside the B-24.

Guns at the Airport!

Guns at the Airport!

As I was leaving, work continued to repair the B-24’s engine, as shown below. The aircraft were scheduled to leave the following day, so they had to get the airplane flying again.

Working on the B-24's Engine

Working on the B-24’s Engine

He Never Went Back

As a postscript to the description of my father’s wartime experience, I should mention that he never went back to Aden again (nor anywhere near it) after his military service, and I don’t think he was sorry about that!

I’ve described in earlier posts how the lives of both my parents were blighted by war, and how fortunate I feel that mine has not (so far). I think it’s important to remind ourselves every so often of the ordeals that our ancestors endured in order to maintain our freedoms.

The Egrets of Ninth Street

Egret Shock Wave, 2018

Egret Shock Wave, 2018

I just completed the drawing above, as an impressionistic depiction of Egrets in flight.

In the thirty-plus years that I’ve lived in California, I’ve become accustomed to seeing brilliant white egrets flying gracefully overhead, or else wading in pools and on moist ground. Before emigrating from England, I’d never seen any species of egret in the wild. Now, egrets are increasingly common in Britain, but when I was young, they were such rare visitors as to be included only in the “Rarest on Record” appendix of the Reader’s Digest Book of British Birds (which was our family’s major reference on the topic).

Shortly after my wife and I moved to Santa Rosa in 2005, we discovered a remarkable natural event that occurs annually in a built-up part of the city. Every year at around this time, significant numbers of wading birds start building nests in a few pine and eucalyptus trees in the center median of West Ninth Street, Santa Rosa. There are several species nesting in close proximity in this heronry: Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets, plus Black-crowned Night Herons. Although they don’t nest there, Green Herons and Great Blue Herons can also be seen in the vicinity. None of these species are rare in California, but it’s their proximity to human habitation in such large numbers that is unusual in this case.

My short video below shows both Great Egrets and Snowy Egrets in the treetops at West Ninth Street, then gives a brief general impression of the scene. The trees are surrounded by houses and apartments, and cars cruise by on either side of the street.

 

Volunteers from the Madrone Audubon Society have assumed responsibility for looking after the heronry. Every year they fence off a portion of the road and put down straw beneath the trees, to protect any baby birds that may fall from the nests.

As you can hear in the video, the birds are quite noisy, and can also create quite a smell on hot days, so I imagine that the local residents are less than enthusiastic about their presence!

Nonetheless, it’s an impressive and fascinating sight for visitors. The photo below is a closeup of a nesting Great Egret, which I took during our visit in 2007.

Great Egret in the Treetops

Great Egret in the Treetops

Egrets in the Park

As I mentioned above, I often see flocks of egrets flying in formation over our house, but they usually don’t land anywhere that’s visible to us. Occasionally, however, a flock decides to feed in the park in front of our house, as shown below in a through-the-window photo, taken one foggy morning in 2016.

Egrets Feeding in our Local Park

Egrets Feeding in our Local Park

Herons At Large

In a previous blog post, I featured a photo of a Black-crowned Night Heron that appeared unexpectedly by the swimming pool of the Z Hotel in Oakland while we were staying there.

My photo below shows a Great Blue Heron wading in the Napa River a few years ago, alongside a gull.

Great Blue Heron, Napa River

Great Blue Heron, Napa River

Technical Note

Incidentally, I’m already aware that the egrets in my drawing display features from several different species. I chose features for their artistic impact, rather than for technical accuracy.

Becoming American (in Oakland)

Stage of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Stage of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Last Thursday, I officially became a citizen of the United States of America, after living here for about 27 years as a legal Permanent Resident. The photo above shows the stage of the Paramount Theatre, in Oakland, which was where the swearing-in ceremony took place.

(I mentioned in a previous post that I had passed the US Citizenship test at the CIS offices in San Francisco, and was waiting to be called for this event.)

Given the number of new citizens being admitted, there was a large crowd at the event. There were 1,018 people being sworn in at that ceremony, and everyone had been invited to bring family and friends, so there were several thousand people in the theater.

Prior to the actual oath-taking, there were several speeches, videos, and even a choir! The photo below shows California Secretary of State, Alex Padilla, speaking to the audience. Padilla himself is an immigrant from Mexico.

Alex Padilla Speaking at the Ceremony

Alex Padilla Speaking at the Ceremony

At the end of the ceremony, everyone takes the Oath of Allegiance as a group, and then Certificates of Naturalization are distributed to each individual. After exiting the auditorium, we were invited to register to vote and to apply for a US passport. This turned out to be quite chaotic, so instead of trying to get a photograph of me in the theatre, we went to the coffee shop next door, where Mary took the photo below. The flag in my hand was given to me at the ceremony, but I’ve owned the tie for many years!

A New American!

A New American!

An Art Deco Masterpiece

The Paramount Theatre was built in 1931, by an affiliate of Paramount Pictures, and was constructed in an opulent Art Deco style. Thankfully, after decades of neglect, the building was saved and restored to its current condition.

The photo below shows the theater’s lobby, with soon-to-be citizens entering from the street in the background.

Lobby of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Lobby of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

The exterior of the theater is equally impressive, as shown below.

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Exterior of the Paramount Theatre, Oakland

Next door to the theater is another spectacular Art Deco survivor, the former I Magnin store, clad in beautiful green terracotta (and also built in 1931), now converted into offices and a coffee shop. This coffee shop was the one in which Mary took the photo of me, above.

In the photo below, the queue around the building is formed by people waiting to get into the theater for the next swearing-in ceremony, which began almost as soon as mine was over!

Former I Magnin Store, Oakland

Former I Magnin Store, Oakland

It’s a great credit to the City of Oakland that at least some of its architectural gems have been saved in this way, and their presence comes as quite a surprise in the midst of so much “urban blight”.

Hear that Lonesome Whistle Blow

The ceremony started quite early in the morning, so, to avoid the rush hour traffic, we decided to stay over in Oakland the night before. We stayed at the Z Hotel, Jack London Square. The photo below shows the hotel and its parking lot after dark.

The Z Hotel, Oakland

The Z Hotel, Oakland

As the song “Walk Like An Egyptian” goes; “If you want to find all the cops, They’re hanging out…” at this hotel, apparently. The Buttercup coffee shop at the hotel is open late, and the location is close to the Oakland Police Station, so it seems that this has become a regular meeting place. The “police presence” certainly made us feel safer while staying at the hotel!

The impressive floodlit building below is situated on the opposite side of 3rd Street from the hotel, but it took some time before I worked out what it actually is. It is the former depot of the Western Pacific railroad, whose trains stopped on street tracks in front of the depot until 1970.

Former Western Pacific Depot, Oakland

Former Western Pacific Depot, Oakland

This photo on Flickr shows a WP California Zephyr train waiting at the depot. You can see the depot building on the right, and on the left is the motel that is now the Z Hotel.

Although there are no longer any railroad tracks down 3rd Street, they are very much still in place on Embarcadero West, only about 2 blocks away from the hotel. This line is still heavily used by both passenger and freight trains. The photo below shows the tail end of a freight that had just passed the crossing on Broadway.

Freight Train on Embarcadero West, Oakland

Freight Train on Embarcadero West, Oakland

We could hear the train horns quite clearly from the hotel, although fortunately they do not sound in the middle of the night.

The Heron at the Pool

As mentioned above, the Z Hotel itself is a former motel, and still features a swimming pool. The following morning, while we were getting ready to take a shuttle bus up Broadway to the theater, the pool’s sole user was a Black-Crowned Night Heron, which was hoping in vain to catch its breakfast there! The photo below shows the pool area and a closeup of the bird.

Black-crowned Night Heron enjoying the Pool

Black-crowned Night Heron enjoying the Pool

When I open my wallet now, it seems strange not to see the Permanent Resident Card that I was required to carry for 27 years! This is due to a legal oddity; non-citizens are required to carry proof of their residency status, but citizens are not.

The Japanese Garden, San Mateo

JapaneseGarden1Cright

Japanese Garden, Central Park, San Mateo

On Sunday morning, I took the photo above of the Japanese Garden in San Mateo’s Central Park. At first glance, it would be easy to think that this garden must be in Japan, but the reality is that we’re fortunate to have it right here in California.

It is perhaps not surprising that the garden looks so authentically Japanese, because it was designed by Nagao Sakurai, who, in his younger days, had been Chief Gardener at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Nonetheless, all gardens require constant maintenance, and the City of San Mateo has done an amazing job in tending to this one since its creation in 1965.

I didn’t notice until I was editing the picture above just how well the trees behind the lake disguise the huge apartment building that would otherwise dominate the view.

The garden also features Japanese-style pavilions, as shown below.

JapaneseGarden2Cright

Pavilion at the Japanese Garden

I suspect that one reason why the garden stays in such pristine condition is because it can only be accessed via locked gates, as shown below from the outside. The gates are opened to the public between 10am and 4pm each day (11am – 4pm at weekends).

JapaneseGarden3Cright

The Gates of the Japanese Garden

When we lived in San Mateo, Mary and I would visit the Japanese Garden whenever we could. The beauty of this garden, along with others that we saw in Japan, inspired us to try to recreate our own much more modest version in our current home.

A Walk in the Park

It was a beautiful morning for a stroll in the park; sunny and calm, but still cool. Outside the walled-off Japanese Garden, wisteria bushes were blooming, as shown below.

CentralParkSanMateoCright

San Mateo Central Park

I also visited the nursery of the San Mateo Arboretum Society, which was holding a plant sale. The photo below is a general view of the nursery.

SanMateoArboretum1Cright

San Mateo Arboretum Society

The Annual Flight Crew Luncheon

The primary reason that Mary and I had traveled to the Peninsula was to attend the annual luncheon for United Airlines flight crew, which took place once again at the Westin Hotel (below) near San Francisco Airport.

WestinSFOCright

Westin Hotel, San Francisco Airport

While we were parking outside the hotel, the usual lineup of aircraft waiting for takeoff could be seen on the runways of SFO, just across the waters of the bay, as shown below. There are 2 United Airlines aircraft visible, plus an Air China Boeing 747 and a Virgin Airways Airbus.

Aircraft Queueing for Takeoff at SFO

Aircraft Queueing for Takeoff at SFO

Mary had once again volunteered to help organize the reunion luncheon, and she did a great job, which was much appreciated by all the attendees. For both of us, it was very pleasant to be able to meet up once again with old friends.

Thank you once again to all those who continue to make the annual reunion possible!

A Short Stay in San Francisco

Embarcadero Wharves, San Francisco

Embarcadero Wharves, San Francisco

The photo above shows part of San Francisco’s famous Embarcadero, which was once a busy docklands area (with rows of wharves on the right), and was a major embarkation port during World War II, but is now mainly a tourist attraction. My wife took the photo yesterday, while we were staying for a short time in the City. When I first visited this location, about 30 years ago, there was a railroad yard on the left (which had been part of the State Belt Railroad), but all that is now gone, and the only tracks are those for Muni streetcars.

Mary and I had gone to San Francisco so that I could attend my US Naturalization interview. I’ve been a US Permanent Resident (always legally, of course) since 1991, and, following many years’ procrastination, I decided that, instead of renewing my “Green Card” again, I’d apply to become a US citizen. Part of this process involves an interview with a CIS officer, who tests you on your English language skills and your knowledge of US history and government. In addition to passing an FBI background check, you have to undergo these tests to have your citizenship application accepted.

Given that my interview was scheduled for early morning, we decided that, rather than try to rush through the morning traffic, we’d stay overnight nearby the night before. We chose the Galleria Park Hotel, partly because it was close, but also because it’s pet-friendly, and we wanted to bring our cats with us! The photo below shows the hotel building, on the corner of Sutter and Kearny streets.

Galleria Park Hotel, San Francisco

Galleria Park Hotel, San Francisco

Whenever Mary and I arrive at a hotel, we try to remember to take a “selfie” on the bed in our room. The photo below shows us just settling in at the Galleria Park.

Arrival at Galleria Park Hotel

Arrival at Galleria Park Hotel

The hotel building dates back to 1911, but has recently been renovated, while retaining many of its Art Nouveau features. All of us (Mary, the cats, and I) had a very enjoyable stay there, and can recommend that hotel if you need to stay in San Francisco’s financial district.

The photo below shows a twilight view from the window of our room. The skyscraper in the center background is the former Bank of America building at 555 California Street.

View of the Bank of America Building at Twilight

View of the Bank of America Building at Twilight

Ginger in the City

The photo below, taken by Mary, shows one of our cats, Ginger Tom, arriving in style on his first visit to San Francisco.

He was riding along Van Ness Avenue in our car, and was intensely curious about everything around him.

Ginger in the City

Ginger in the City

Return to an Old Haunt

During our stay, we took the opportunity to revisit a very long-established restaurant that we last ate together at about 30 years ago, while we were dating.

Sam's Grill, San Francisco

Sam’s Grill, San Francisco

The restaurant in question is Sam’s Grill, which has what is, by California standards, a truly ancient history, all the way back to 1867. We had a very enjoyable meal there, sitting in one of the private booths. Many of the other eateries that we frequented when dating are long gone, so it’s nice to find one that is still going strong.

Status: Approved

Fortunately, I passed my citizenship test, and my application has been recommended for approval. I anticipate that the next step in the process will be that I’ll be called to a swearing-in ceremony, where I expect to receive my Certificate of Naturalization. I’ll write about that experience when it happens.

How Mary and I Met

Mary & David in Scarborough, 1990

Mary & David in Scarborough, 1990

The photo above, which is one of the earliest of my wife Mary and me together, was actually taken in Scarborough, England, in 1990, during the occasion of our first joint visit to my family there. At that time, we weren’t yet married, or even engaged, but that all was to change within a year following the visit.

Given that Valentine’s Day occurs this week, it seemed like an appropriate time to post an article about how we came to meet. Since posting previous articles about how I emigrated from Britain to California in 1987, there seems to have been some interest in how Mary and I got together. One event definitely did not follow immediately from the other, and I certainly hadn’t come to California with any expectation of “finding love”.

Resources for Dating

In a previous post, I described how, having moved from Britain to California to live and work, my new answering machine message began to attract completely unexpected attention from anonymous women, who apparently liked to call and hear my “cute accent”. I’d never really considered my accent to be of much interest to anyone, although my original Yorkshire cadences had changed somewhat as a result of having lived for a few years in Southern England.

Those expressions of possible romantic potential eventually led me to think that it might be worthwhile to try dating again, which was something I’d given up on several years previously. However, that was easier said than done in a new country, because I had been sponsored to come to California by my employer, and I knew absolutely nobody in the state except the people I worked with.

Although there were some young women working for my employer, most of them seemed to have the (probably wise) attitude that they didn’t want to date men with whom they worked. For their dates, they seemed to rely on their own family contacts, or friends with whom they’d grown up at school, and of course none of those resources were available to me.

I began to look at various “dating agencies”, but in general these seemed overpriced and of questionable value. Some seemed to be outright “rip-offs” that tried to employ high-pressure sales tactics to get what they seemed to regard as “losers” to part with their money! (I’m pleased to say that such tactics didn’t work on me.)

There was, however, one relatively cheap service that, in my case at least, produced a spectacular result, albeit via a rather roundabout and initially unpromising route.

Yellowphone

There was no internet dating in those days, of course, so I eventually found and joined a San Francisco-based telephone dating service called Yellowphone (now long defunct). When using this service, I called in to a central number, entered my personal ID, and then listened to voice messages from prospective partners who were “compatible” with me. (Mary said that her experience of using the service was different, but that was what I did.)

You couldn’t see a picture of the person speaking (which might actually have been a good thing, since it prevented people from making snap judgments based on looks), so all you had to go on was their voice and their descriptions of themselves.

I did contact several of the women whose messages I listened to, and, although I had some pleasant dates, I felt that I just didn’t have enough in common with any of them to make a successful relationship. I’ve sometimes wondered whether I may have been giving too much emphasis to that factor, because my experience of the opposite sex at that time was very limited (and spectacularly unsuccessful). On the other hand, maybe my emphasis was correct, because when I did finally meet someone who seemed to have some views and interests in common with mine, it worked out well.

Not a Match

One morning in early 1989, when I would normally have been at work, I was instead lying in bed in my apartment with some kind of flu. The phone rang. It was the lady who owned Yellowphone, calling to tell me that she had a client who would like to meet me, but was not really a match for me, so she wanted to get my permission before giving out my details.

The problem, apparently, was that Mary was a few years older than me, which wasn’t considered a match for my preferences. Nonetheless, her description otherwise sounded interesting, so I agreed that we should meet.

It turned out that Mary had been told the same thing; that I was not a match for her! She had been a member of the Yellowphone service for a while, without any particular success. Finally, the owner asked her if there were any particular types of men she’d like to meet. She mentioned that perhaps a British man would be interesting, because she’d visited England a few times and liked their sense of humor. The owner responded that I was a member of the service, and offered to contact me to see whether I would permit my details to be given out.

A Great First Date

Mary and I did exchange details, and we got together for a first date. It all seemed to go very well; we went for afternoon tea at the King George Hotel, then to the Champagne Bar at Neiman-Marcus [Edit 3/1/18: Mary tells me that the Champagne Bar was at Nordstrom rather than Neiman-Marcus; I don’t remember!], and finally ended up going to see a particularly appropriate movie (“A Fish Called Wanda”).

I mentioned in a previous post that I had interviewed one of the stars of that movie—Michael Palin—while at university, and of course I told Mary about that at the time.

The Scene of part of our First Date, much later in 2014

The Scene of part of our First Date, much later in 2014

I think that, by the end of our date, we had both decided that we’d like to see each other again, although I think we both had some reservations. One very good sign was that, during our date, conversation didn’t seem to lapse, as it had often done for me on other dates. The two of us seemed to have many experiences and pastimes that were of interest to the other.

The photo below of me was taken in a famous (albeit foggy) location by Mary, during one of our early dates.

David at the Golden Gate Bridge - with hideous Mullet!

David at the Golden Gate Bridge – with hideous Mullet!

We dated for over a year before deciding to get engaged, and we were married in early 1991.

We chose a date in early January for our wedding, which I realized in retrospect was a poor choice, because it was so soon after the holiday, and the weather in more northerly climates was too severe for some of our family members to be able to attend.

Making It Last

So that was the start of what has to date been a twenty-seven year marriage.

Of course, it hasn’t all been “smooth sailing”, and we’ve had our share of problems. Nonetheless, through it all, not only have we both continued to love each other, but we are also friends, and I think that those factors have helped to preserve our relationship during difficult times.

Lessons to be Learned?

Incidentally, I’m not offering this article in any way as “Dave’s Tips for a Lasting Relationship”! My experiences of relationships are quite limited, and my personal history has been relatively unusual, so I doubt that my concerns and decisions would be applicable to the personal situations of others.

However, one thing that has become obvious to me, in retrospect, is the importance of not being too restrictive in advance about who may or may not be a “match”. In our case, not only was the owner of the Yellowphone service wrong about our suitability, but I myself would have had serious reservations, earlier on.

I explained in a previous post that, if someone had accurately predicted the course of my life when I was a teenager, I would have laughed at them and dismissed their claims.

Similarly, if someone had told that young undergraduate engineer entering Imperial College in 1981 that, within 10 years, he’d be marrying an “air hostess” (as they were then called) who lived in San Francisco, he’d have laughed at that too! After all, engineers just didn’t do that, and what would we have in common anyway? (Mary would probably have felt the same way about the idea of marrying an engineer!)

Happy Valentine’s Day

I hope you have an enjoyable Valentine’s Day this year, wherever you are, and whomever you’re sharing it with!

California Movin’: Thirty Years Ago

Golden Gate Bridge from Treasure Island

Golden Gate Bridge from Treasure Island

I arrived at San Francisco Airport for the second time exactly thirty years ago today, on Monday, 16th November, 1987, but on that occasion I did not have a return air travel ticket, and I was planning to make a home in California, for a while, at least.

This is the third in the series that covers the events of that time, when, while living and working in Southern England, I was offered a job in California, decided to accept it, and moved here on what turned out to be a permanent basis. The first post in the series was It was Thirty Years Ago Today, and the second was California Confusin’.

Living in Foster City

When I arrived, my employer had obtained temporary accommodation for me at the Residence Inn in San Mateo, which was very pleasant, but too expensive to be a permanent home. My boss recommended that, for long-term accommodation, I should look in nearby Foster City, which is a modern waterfront community with many apartment complexes.

I did look there, and eventually signed up for a one-bedroom apartment in Beach Cove Apartments, a large complex on Catamaran Street. Although these units were generally regarded as barely adequate by locals, by comparison with my accommodations in Britain they seemed palatial and well-equipped. For the first time ever, I had my own phone line, and—wow!—an automatic dishwasher!

The photo below shows part of my apartment in Foster City. The only item visible in the picture that I brought with me from the UK is the hi-fi system, which I’d bought in London while a student there. Everything else was bought or rented in California. Just visible, on the right, is my new answering machine, which was to cause a completely unexpected change in the direction of my life, as described below.

My Apartment in Foster City, 1988

My Apartment in Foster City, 1988

Driving

California officially only permits visitors to drive on an out-of-state license (so spelled!) for 10 days. After that, you’re required to apply for a California license. Thus, I began the process of applying, which required both a written and practical test. Although my prior experience of driving in Britain actually worked against me (because it made me seem too confident for the California examiner), I did eventually pass both, and had my first California license by December 1987.

What Credit History?

One significant problem that my employer had failed to warn me about was that, despite having a job and a Social Security number, I would be completely unable to obtain credit in the US on arrival. In Britain, I had already bought several cars on credit, had two credit cards, and had credit accounts with several stores, and I was oblivious to the fact that my UK credit rating would be totally meaningless in the US. My credit history outside the US simply didn’t appear on the records, so it effectively didn’t exist.

Buying a car turned out to be a significant problem, because of my lack of accessible credit history. Eventually, I was somehow able to persuade one dealer to grant me credit via General Motors Acceptance Corporation (probably only because it was a secured loan).

Once I had obtained the car loan, and began making payments, I was able to begin building a US credit history. Nonetheless, for the first year or so, I had to depend entirely on my British credit cards, sending my payments to the UK in US dollars. It seemed “so unfair”, but in fact the time passed quickly. After only 18 months, I’d built up sufficient credit history that I was able to buy a brand-new Ford Mustang, as shown below.

My 1989 Ford Mustang, in Monterey

My 1989 Ford Mustang, in Monterey

Northern California, Where the Girls are Warm…

When deciding whether to move to California, the idea of finding romance there was definitely the last thing on my mind! As I mentioned in the previous article, I did not even have a girlfriend in Britain, and had essentially given up on dating during my undergraduate years.

I must have heard the Steve Miller Band’s song Rock’n Me on the radio in Britain many times since its release in 1976, but I had always completely ignored its lyrics! Part of the lyrics say:

I went from Phoenix, Arizona all the way to Tacoma

Philadelphia, Atlanta, L.A.

Northern California where the girls are warm

So I could be with my sweet baby, yeah

I had emigrated to California strictly for professional reasons, to get a better job. Nonetheless, something completely unexpected happened after I moved to California, which eventually led me to begin dating again. Strangely enough, it happened because I bought an answering machine!

In my British accommodations, I had never had my own phone line, and of course there were no cellphones in those days. When I rented the apartment in Foster City, it came with a dedicated phone line. Given the 8-hour time difference between California and the UK, I was concerned that people from Britain would try to call me in the middle of the night. I decided to invest in an answering machine, so that at least they could leave me a message.

After I had installed the answering machine and recorded my greeting on it, something odd began to happen. I came home from work several times to find messages from anonymous women, explaining that they had just called to hear my “cute accent”! That was something that, for obvious reasons, had never been regarded as in any way special in Britain, but now it made me begin to think that perhaps there was something about me that might be deemed “attractive”!

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’d obtained seriously distorted preconceptions about California from American media. As such, I assumed that California women would be impressed only by bronzed “surfer dudes”, and would have no interest in pasty-faced Brits such as me!

My Sweet Baby: Mary!

My Sweet Baby: Mary!

I Won’t be Home for Christmas

Ever since I moved away from my parents’ home in Scarborough, it seemed to have been assumed by everyone (including me) that I would return there to spend each Christmas with the family (or what was left of it). While I was a student, those visits were very short, because I was working in Selfridges or other London stores over the Christmas period, so I had to get to Yorkshire and back during the brief period that the stores were actually closed.

My feelings about those visits were very ambivalent. On the one hand, there was little point in staying in London or Andover when my few friends there were also absent (visiting their families). That would have made for a very lonely holiday. On the other hand, I had no friends or activities left in Scarborough, so spending the time there was also quite lonely.

Of course, it would have been very unrealistic to expect my family to leave Scarborough to visit me at Christmas, because I was living in small bedsits or houseshares, which could not accommodate guests. Nonetheless, by 1987, I was becoming anxious to find a solution to the problem, whereby I could find a reason to stay in my own part of the world during the holiday period.

Union Square, San Francisco, At Christmas

Union Square, San Francisco, at Christmas

Moving to California solved this problem once and for all. It simply was no longer practical for me to return to Scarborough at Christmas, so I had to spend it in California. Although that was a little lonely for my first Christmas there, my employer was accustomed to hiring engineers from Britain, and so went out of their way to ensure that we were to some extent included in the seasonal activities of other families.

Working Three-Day Weeks?

I’d also given no thought to the fact that the week after I arrived in California was Thanksgiving, which of course is not celebrated in Britain. As such, my employer treated us to Thanksgiving Lunch at work, then we had two days of the week off.

During the lunch, my employer’s CEO leaned over and mentioned to me:

We don’t do this every week, you know…

A Good Start

As I began to settle in to my new apartment and new job, I felt that I had made a good choice, and I saw little evidence of the problems and disappointments that some had predicted.

In every aspect, my new life was no worse than my previous existence in Britain, and, in many ways, it was much better.