USA - 1978


The New Zealand government employed me as a DecSystem-10 systems programmer, based on a few years of experience in Australia, but I had no formal company-based training, In 1978 they sent me to the USA for training in Macro-10 and system internals - a six-week intensive course. Geoff managed to get time off work and went with me, and we allowed an extra four weeks at the end of my course to see some of the States.

DEC were based in Massachusetts, so our flight was to Boston, with a night spent in Los Angeles. Nothing much to say about that - just a hotel, sleep, then back on the plane. We took a taxi from Logan Airport to Marlborough, where we were to be based. The taxi driver had no idea where it was - it turned out to be about 30 miles west of Boston. We stayed in the Holiday Inn for a couple of days, until the apartment caretaker reappeared, then were able to move into our pre-booked apartment, inconveniently across town from DEC, in a town with no public transport at all.

We hired a "rent-a-wreck" and Geoff had to drive me back and forth to work, leaving him free to explore Boston and the surrounding countryside during the days. It was autumn, and the leaves were turning just after we arrived, presenting us with stunning scenes of neat little New England towns on placid lakes, surrounded with firey day-glo trees. On the weekends, provided the wreck didn't break down, we drove around the local area or went into Boston, giving me a break from study and a look at some of the places that Geoff had found out about in his free time. We managed to see most of Massachusetts, and some of the surrounding states.

I arranged a lift to and from work with a DEC employee who lived in the same apartment block, giving Geoff a chance to go further afield. We had a friend in New York, so, armed with a map that just showed one thick line of roads converging on Manhattan Island, he set off. Since it wasn't obvious that he was on an island when he arrived, Geoff almost drove straight through New York and out the other side - it was only as he saw the last exit before the Goerge Washington bridge that he realised that this was it - he had arrived - and he swung off, under the parkway, and stopped to figure out where he was. Almost predictably, the old VW refused to start, and he spent a very anxious time in a very unsalubrious neighbourhood, waiting for the motor to cool. When he had reached the point of saying "If it doesn't start this time I'll just get out and walk calmly away" the engine fired, and he was able to head off, back up Broadway, to find Joe.

I was able to join Geoff in New York for the weekend - it was great, but I was glad we were with Joe and Suzanne, who knew their way around. We ate in Chinatown (and were chased out on the street by a yelling cook when we forgot to tip!), went to an off-Broadway show, and visited museums, art galleries and the Bronx Zoo, amongst other things - a very busy weekend!

We had aranged to have a few extra weeks at the end of my course, in order to visit other friends and to see a bit of the states. Joe and Suzanne (from N.Y.) were keen to go to Montreal, so we arranged to fly there and meet them for a long weekend. Winter was just setting in, with the first snow falling as we left Boston.

Montreal was a good choice for me - Jean Denis, one of the friends I had made when travelling, lived nearby, and I still had a contact phone number for him. Geoff and I got in touch, and Jean Denis drove into town and picked us up; we spent the afternoon with him, finding out what he had been doing in the years since we had met. However, most fo the three days we had in Montreal were spent with Joe and Suzanne, looking a round the city (including a disastrous bus tour - we really know better than to go on those sorts of things!), visiting museums and galleries (where we bought a set of fantastic prints which still grace our walls) and eating in the many cafes.

Joe and Suzanne found Montreal a bit of an eye-opener: subways that were clean and showed art-works; trains you could sit down in and have conversations without the scream of the rails making it impossible; underground pedestrian linkways between shops that were safe! We spent a lot of the time underground, since the surface temperature was around -14°C. during the day, mainly the wind-chill factor, but a bit cold for us!.

We flew to San Francisco with an unscheduled stop in Chicago. It was appalling weather, and we circled over the airport for almost an hour, waiting for permission to land - not the best of feelings. On the tarmac planes stood covered with ice and snow, and we were incredibly glad to get back into the air and head for balmy California.

The sun was out, the sky was blue, and friends in Cupertino were happy to see us; San Francisco was wonderful! Katherine and James Stanley had worked in New Zealand and only recently returned to the States, so we had lots to talk about. They showed us around the immediate area, and we hired a car to explore the coast north and south from the city.

Our last night was spent in an hotel in downtown San Francisco. It didn't start well, with the bellhop stopping the lift between floors to demand a tip in advance, then we found ourselves crossing through a park where body outlines were chalked on the pavement and groups of youths sidled up, muttering incomprehensibly; they gave up when they realised we had no idea of the street jargon they were using. We ate in Chinatown, then came out for what was supposed to be a leisurely stroll back to our hotel. It wasn't like that at all - instead, we felt like natural victims on the street. No-one else was walking, and the only other people around were beggars or small groups of youths. Probably quite innocent, but we scuttered nervously back to the more-populated streets near our hotel, happy to be leaving.

Hawaii: sun, beaches, skin-diving, volcanoes - it was fantastic. We had two weeks, starting in Honalulu, with visits to Geoff's colleagues at the Uni, and time to explore the parks (particularly the bird park) and beaches. Then we flew to the big island, hired a car, and spent most of our time walking - across Kilauea crater, part of the way up Mauna Kea, through lava tunnels and into lush forests. The people we talked at the Uni had made suggestions of where to go and places to stay on the big island, including a little Japanese-run hotel up in the hills above Kona. We spent most of our stay on the island of Hawaii, and it was the best decision we could have made. The skin-diving was good, the volcanoes were fascinating, and we could easily have spent more time there. We flew back to Oahu on a tiny plane, through a thunder storm. Real flying, when the wings flap up and down!

Then it was back to New Zealand, laden down with goodies bought from the Japanese department stores in Honalulu, vowing to come back to Hawaii some day.


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