September 1976, Miami Airport Passport Desk:
Immigration Officer – “So which company do you work for?”
Me – “British Caledonian”
Immigration Officer – “Is that an airline?”
Me – “Yes sir, it sure is!”
Following this exchange with the bemused immigration officer, I was allowed to enter the USA for the first time. I was on a 2 week trip with my friend Jon Gardner, we were both working at BCAL (British Caledonian Airways Limited), and were making use of our ‘staff travel’ privileges to enable us to make the visit – a trip that would never have happened if I’d had to pay ‘full fare’!
We spent that first night at an airport hotel, and I remember the match book in my hotel room, it simply said ‘You’ve arrived!’ – I was so excited!
During the trip, in addition to Miami we also included Houston, Los Angeles and San Francisco in our itinerary. It was a great experience, with highlights such as NASA Mission Control, Disneyland (long before ‘fast track passes’ were invented), Hollywood, and the Golden Gate Bridge.
In the forty years since then, I have been fortunate enough to visit the US on numerous occasions, both for holidays and work – holiday trips have been confined to Florida, whereas my work has taken me to many cities across the country including New York, Washington, Boston, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City, Denver, LA and Honolulu.
Some time in the mid 90’s I even had an unplanned stay at Bangor, Maine. It was a very cold January day, and I was on a flight to New York, however, an hour or so before we were due to land, the weather had gotten really bad, with heavy snow forcing the New York airports to close, so we had to divert to Bangor. As we landed, it was clear that we were not alone, with the airport full of aircraft from all over Europe, including even Concorde.
I was put up in a local hotel, where I spent a relaxing couple of days waiting for the weather to clear – the only place to visit was a local mall, by way of the hotel’s courtesy van. The highlight of the short ride however was that the van passed by a mansion owned by the writer Stephen King – it had large wrought iron gates, which featured spider-webs entwined into the iron; the stuff of nightmares!
Back in the 80’s, Houston became a favourite as I spent many weeks there working at BCAL’s US Headquarters. In the 90’s as a training consultant for Virgin Atlantic, I often found myself in New York, and later at the more quiet location of Norwalk, Connecticut (or ‘Snorewalk’, as the locals called it), following Virgin’s HQ relocation.
These days my visits are less frequent, but forty years on from that first trip, I’ve just returned from a few days attending a conference in Las Vegas, a place I had never been to before, and to be honest, didn’t really have any major desire to visit, but one that turned out be better than expected.
Walking down the famous ‘Strip’ I passed all those casinos that I had seen so many times on TV, or in movies. A special memory was in 1980, when Crawley born Alan Minter won the World Middleweight title against Vito Antuofermo, at Caesars Palace – a proud moment for my home town.
Whilst I have no interest in gambling, it was fascinating to walk around the casino floors, watching the crowds feed their money into the thousands of hungry slot machines, or play at the various tables – I still have no idea what ‘craps’ is, but it sure was popular!
So for forty years I have been crossing the Atlantic – I have no idea how many trips I’ve made, but my visits are full of great memories, from seeing the wonder on my kid’s faces at Disney World, witnessing the first Space Shuttle launch following the Challenger disaster, experiencing the thrill of jogging in Central Park, to meeting Hulk Hogan at the Mall of America in Minneapolis! Less pleasant memories include flying from LA to NY early one morning with an almighty hangover, feeling very sorry for myself; and a January visit to Minneapolis, where I experienced the coldest weather that I’ve ever known – after walking outside for a couple of minutes, I swear my ears felt like they could have snapped off!
So I raise my glass to the United States to say thank you for hosting me on so many occasions, and I hope that there are many more to come!
Of course, I had my camera with me on my recent trip, so as an alternative to Dubai, these are some of my shots of Las Vegas: