An Englishman’s Blog from America – Happy Holidays & Breakages that Occur to Old Men

Happy Holidays.
One thing I can never get used to in America is their strange aversion to calling Christmas by its real name. Happy Christmas.

Xmas Decorations - very Ironic

Xmas Decorations – very Ironic

As I have commented on before, the incidence of church going in this fine country is enormously different to the UK. There are more Christian churches within 3 miles of our house than in the whole of most counties in England. One of these days I am going to do a survey of churches in the area, but I still haven’t summoned up enough courage to blog on that subject yet.
My very knowledgeable son tells me this strange behavior is due to “the separation of church from state”. Apparently the constitution mandates that there is no governmental acknowledgment that we have just celebrated a day on which the majority of the population think that their God’s son was born.
Most people in the US don’t say Merry Xmas, and there is no Boxing Day holiday the day after. Strange though it might seem, in America there is no celebration of the day when the upper classes in England used to give their servants their annual present. Somehow, that tradition got lost during the American Revolution.

We started our holiday with a trip into the mountains. One of the key benefits of living in Denver is that the trip from our house to the car park by the ski lifts at Breckenridge took less than two hours. The other benefit, particularly to a poor skier like me, is that the slopes are wonderful. The pistes are wide, the snow is lovely, and there is no ice to scare me to death.
I mean that there is no ice on the slopes, obviously there is always far too much ice in the drinks.

Expert Skiers

Expert Skiers

As a very poor skier, this is the place to practice falling over. When this happens in the Alps, the snow boarders spray snow in your face, and the kids use you as a ski jump. In America, when the inevitable happens to me the whole slope stops, and several people try and help you up. And they don’t even push in at the lifts.

However, the highlight of my Xmas was not my visit to the Emergency Ward.
Now let’s be clear, arriving at ER at 5 past midnight on Xmas morning in the UK would be an exercise in painful patience, as one waited for 3 or 4 hours for the drunks to be processed. I was processed and in a bed within 10 minutes.
I will skate over the procedure to return my arm into the proper configuration, but put it this way, I was a lot more sober than my wife by the time they got my shoulder back in one piece. The only delay, was waiting for them to wheel over the portable x-ray device over, and develop the pictures. Twice, without even moving me. The whole process took two hours, and everyone was very pleasant, and extremely professional.
The only problem was finding dear Heather as she wandered around the hospital, so she could pay for our part of the costs. We have an excellent insurance policy, one of the best money can buy, but we still had to process a credit card charge for $250 before they would let me out. The insurance company will have paid over $2,000.
My feelings about this issue are a bit complicated, who would wish they had waited 4 hours instead of 10 minutes? But with the issue of “Obama care” in the news every day, I keep asking the same question….what happens to the 44 million Americans who don’t have health insurance cover?

An Old Man

An Old Man

But I have an admission to make. I didn’t injure myself on the ski slopes, I fell over in my neighbours’ garden while staggering home from a few drinks.
I have promised not to sue the neighbours, that probably proves I have little chance of turning into an American.

However, I did fall off the first ski lift we got on.

Happy holidays. Despite being an old man with only one working arm, I had a great Xmas with family and friends.

We are all looking forward to our second calendar year in the America, it is a fascinating country, with lovely people, but really quite different.

An Englishman’s Blog – Life in the US – on being a Road Warrior

Great excitement tonight as I check in to yet another American hotel. Because today I am….wait for it……the Marriott Houston North “Guest of the Day”. I eagerly ask the nice lady on the desk if the prize is a lovely bottle of wine. She smiles……I have won an “amenity”, which is in my room, which now has a super executive bed, presumably approximately the size of a small European country.

I open the door, and there is the ice bucket, one glass chilling. And a bottle of water and a bag of nuts. Life on the road is a series of disappointments. I have shared my room with cockroaches, caught scabies, and struggled to find the bathroom in the middle of the night many many times. A continuous roll call of different hotels is no place for a man with a dodgy prostate like mine.

The Prize

The Prize

Selling in America is different, a respected profession, unlike in Europe. I always used to ask new salesmen what they answered to the most boring of pub questions “what do you do for a living?” In summary, in Europe, I would tell them that if you want to pull, never say you are a salesman.

Selling is a dirty word in the UK, but in the US there is real pride in being a Road Warrior.

As I have perhaps said before, the key thing to understand about America is that it is vast. Flying coast to coast takes over 5 hours. From my home in Oxford I can drive to anywhere in England in far less, well anywhere you would want to go on business. Customer visits in the UK might mean an overnight stay, but in America you have to arrange several adjacent meetings, or else the time spent travelling and the costs involved make it all too prohibitive.

The Oldest Restaurant in Colorado

The Oldest Restaurant in Colorado

But being on the road every other week has its frustrations, and you certainly have to have a calm disposition. You rely on certain routines and methods. And queuing.
For those who know me well, this will have produced a snort of derision. Ward and patient queuing, what a laugh.

But business travel is a series of quiet bits between queues. I have even had to change my age old passion for being the last one on board the plane. My reasoning has always been simple, why sit in an uncomfortable seat when you can be nice & relaxed in the airport bar? My long suffering wife will recall when I have got this slightly wrong…….”last call for Mr & Mrs Ward”. But my line is simple, “they have our bags, they won’t take off without us”.

However, in America you are forced to try and get on first. The problem lies in getting all your travel needs in to a suitcase which you can “carry on”. But most of these aircraft do not have enough overhead locker space, a major design fault you might say, and so you fight to get on as early as possible. My excitement last month was gaining “silver status” on United, which meant I can now jump the queue, and board in group 2, only slightly behind the weak, the sick, and the very blessed.

No longer for me the humiliation of the dreaded “gate check”, as my bag is dragged off me and put in the hold. I am now a true Road Warrior.
There are other rules of the road. I never put anything in a drawer, this limits the opportunity for an old man to leave things behind.
And I print out all essential bookings, there will be an argument or a mistake at some stage of every trip. Last week it was my side kick Vrinder who booked rooms for both of us, but managed to book for a week later. Paper still works best, it saved us being ejected from the Sheraton.
Lots of people use boarding passes on their iPhones, but the first time I saw one rejected I knew this development isn’t for me. No point in queuing at security to only have to go back to queue at the check in kiosk and then re-enter security. I know best, I am a Road Warrior.

The Star Spangled Banner - Sung before every Sports Game

The Star Spangled Banner – Sung before every Sports Game

But things do go wrong. Last month in Michigan, I keyed Detroit airport into Apple Maps on the iPhone, and the nice man guided me along politely. I was cruising, I had plenty of time, it had only taken me an hour to get to the hotel the previous day. But with Sat Nav (sorry GPS), you just don’t pay attention to your route like we did in the good old days of maps.
After 50 minutes I noticed that I was driving into a poorer area. The houses were literally falling down, in fact many were ruins. With the financial collapse of Detroit, many houses are worthless, and areas have been deserted, and I now found myself in such an area. And one thing I know, American airports are NEVER in poor run down areas. I locked the car doors.
Pulling off the road into an abandoned gas station I checked the man on the phone. Yes, he was sending me to the wrong airport, in fact it appears that this had also been abandoned.
So back to good old Google maps, and a very hairy drive back in the opposite direction meant I caught the flight by minutes. Don’t do business travel if you are easily stressed.
I have now visited 24 states of the Union in the last 18 months, and the differences are amazing to a foreigner. The accents are very different, the ethnic mix can be very different, and the politics veers, but are always right of what Europe calls center (sorry centre).

Sunset in Colorado

Sunset in Colorado

In Colorado cars stop to let you cross the road, in New York or Washington DC, they will speed up to try and scare you out of their way.
In Texas everything is big and loud, but in Seattle they are probably the most quiet and polite people you can meet.
But above all else I am continuously struck by the way they greet me. They all love the English.
The stereo-typical conversation yesterday was about wanting to meet Prince Harry, they are obsessed by the Royal Family. I didn’t laugh, she seemed like such a nice lady.

So my life as a Road Warrior is always lively. I dress in a white shirt, and dark suit, every bit the English gentleman. Please don’t laugh, it works.
And I try and survive the life of a Road Warrior. My record trip was 12 days, 8 hotels, 6 airports, 8 states and 4 different rental cars. I have met many interesting people, but I am obsessed with stupid things, like collecting hotel and airline points that I will never spend.

The most ridiculous thing I have done? Probably booking a flight for the evening rather than the morning.
In my defense, please bear in mind that America has a very strange fixation with the old 12 hour clock. The only people here who use the 24 hour clock are the military, and they use it for a reason, it is more reliable. Even I couldn’t possibly get 9.00 and 21.00 confused.
And so I would rather be at home, or down the pub. Or spending time with my family. But I am a Road warrior, a very old Road Warrior, but I am pretty good at it.
Can I lie down now please nurse?

Another day another city

Another day another city

Life at a Mile High – America and Consumerism

One of the biggest changes in the life style in America, by comparison with the UK, is the rampant consumerism.  Planning is a bit more under control in Colorado, in most American states strip malls are everywhere, whereas here there are just shopping centres every 10 miles or so.

But I have to admit I have occasionally succumbed to the shopping bug that runs at full pelt in this country.  I wandered in to my favourite shirt shop, Lucky Brands at Park Meadows, a long 10 minute drive away, and purchased a most lovely shirt.  Getting back home, I showed it to Heather, and told her how great I thought it was.  Yep, she said, it is exactly the same as one in your closet (actually she said wardrobe).  What an idiot.

IMG_0807It is astoundingly dry here, static is an issue at a mile high, not what my dear English friends want to hear, but the weather here is fantastic.  We have had 4 weeks at below zero, but for the last few days it has reached 20 degrees C.  Strange lumps of snow linger in the corners of the garden, and fountains are still partially frozen, I guess that shows how deep the freeze was.  But most of the time the sun shone, so it didn’t feel so bad, and it just never rains, amazingly in 4 months here it has only rained once (for less than 10 minutes).

The climate plays terrible tricks in other ways.  I bought a Xmas tree the first weekend of December, Ben was feeling down, so we went and bought it to cheer him up.  But within 2 weeks it was dead, dried out, kaput.  We had an artificial tree for Xmas.

The Xmas lights round here were astounding, they competed for trophies in the local media.  The house over the road had two deer made out of lights on their front lawn, but one night someone mounted one on top of the grazing one.  We all laughed, but IMG_0797perhaps this is not in tune with the average middle America sense of humour.

Our pathetic attempt at lights was probably the joke of the street, but everyone is far too polite to comment.  But it did make us think of the Deddington tree again, yep, I learnt a lot of my decorating abilities from last year in the square.

Last weekend was our Jake’s 1IMG_08187th birthday, not one of the great events in a growing lad’s life, but one well worth celebrating.  Izzie bought him a lovely American flag based tie, the best the “thrift store” had to offer, and his mother and I helped him buy an amplifier so he can form a band, become a superstar, change the world and enable me to retire.  At last.

We had a busy birthday weekend, we had some Americans round, and some mad Aussies.  Good fun, and on Sunday we went up to see Red Rocks, a great concert venue, we look forward to seeing Justin Beiber in the summer.  And then on we went to The Fort, a local restaurant based on old western cuisine, but please bear in mind that old is 1860 around here, there was no-one here before that.

And the great news is that the birthday regime from Pizza Express in Banbury lives on, they banged a drum, the mad local bloke dressed as a “First Nation Citizen” produced the hat, and there was Jake in the Buffalo head being told………Gryffindor!

The clientele IMG_0819were instructed to join in 3 times….Hip Hip  Hazaa, but no-one can explain this strange choice of words.  The buffalo steaks were great, but a poor substitute for Ben who had set his heart on Rattlesnake only to find they are currently hibernating and therefore not for catching (or eating).

Who says culture doesn’t cross the globe.  Earlier in the weekend we had been subjected to 2 renditions of “Happy Bar Mitzvah to You” from an adjacent table.  And the local Synagogue is offering “Jew Chew” to the high school kids at lunch time.

So life here is all a bit of a shock.  Think I will have to do something about the nylon carpets and the “Joey” sofa, something you do have to see to believe, imagine a 7 piece corner piece with individual controlled progression from Economy to First Class, but how will I ever get it home to England?

Think I need to put a damper on the electric side of life.  At least that what Heather says.   Poor me.