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
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
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!
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
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.