Echoes of the past | The joys of Houston

Things end but memories last forever – Kumar Milan

Work life is very hectic right now, the project I have been working on for the past year is less than a month away from going live – days in the office are long, emails never ending, but over this past week, a significant news event has caused me to pause briefly and reflect on a wealth of memories – I’m talking about the awful flooding that is taking place in Texas, and especially Houston.

Houston holds a special place in my heart, as for a large part of the 1980’s I was a regular visitor there – it was home to British Caledonian’s U.S. headquarters. As an instructor in the uniquely (although sadly now almost defunct) airline art of fares and ticketing, I ran numerous courses there that were attended by both the local Houstonians, and staff from across the U.S., plucked from our various airports to come and learn the wonders of fare construction.

I usually stayed at the Wyndham Hotel opposite Greenspoint Mall, and  have so many great memories from those days, and of the wonderful, friendly people that I met and worked with.

It was also a time when I became immersed in American (or perhaps Texan) culture, and amongst other things, it was where I first learnt about:

  • Long Island Ice Teas – as a Brit who’s exposure to alcoholic beverages before that point was limited to ‘light and bitter’ in the local pub; cocktails, cocktail bars and cocktail waitresses were a whole new world
  • Mexican Restaurants – falling in love with fajitas, and wondering why people would eagerly gulp down a tequila with a worm in it, just to get a t-shirt that said ‘I ate the worm!’
  • McDonalds happy meals – having just become a father, I was amazed to find these little boxes of joy (to my best recollection, they were not available in the UK at that time), and I bought one purposely to take home the toy car that fell out of the box, to my new born son
  • The right to bear arms – one time, whilst being given a lift back to the hotel by one of the ladies in the office, we had stopped to buy gas (petrol) and she asked me to get her purse out of the glovebox. As I opened the glovebox, I came face to face with a small, but no doubt potentially lethal, pistol. Now I don’t want to get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of individuals carrying guns, but for me, this was quite a shock, we certainly aren’t able to do that in the UK, and when I asked her about it, she responded with words that indicated that to her, and clearly many Americans, it was perfectly normal

Other highlights included when BCAL’s office secretary served me ‘proper’ english tea, from a teapot on my birthday, because I constantly moaned that Americans couldn’t make tea, and she wanted to prove me wrong! Also, being there in 1986 when the Houston Astros baseball team won their division title, and despite knowing very little about baseball, it was great to get swept up in the atmosphere and joy that that event created.

Some thirty years on, and sadly, I haven’t had the chance to return. I’ve totally lost contact with anyone I worked with there, but this week they have all been constantly in my thoughts; on seeing events unfold, my heart breaks for them. I really hope that they and their families are all safe, and that life can get back to some sense of normality as quickly as possible. The colleagues that I met all took great pride in being Texans, and recent TV pictures have shown that strength and courage are also in abundance amongst the devastated communities. Be safe everyone.

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