In January of 1972 Philip Preston returned to work after the Christmas shutdown. He still drove his old Austin Cambridge, waiting for the delivery of his new company car. The first week in his new job he found dreadful. He had known exactly what he was doing when he was on the factory floor but now he suddenly found himself faced with a whole new side of the business, a side he had no experience in at all. He struggled on taking each fresh assignment from Richard, his boss, and doing the very best that he could with it. By the end of that first week he began to see why they were paying him what they were now and he was under no illusion that he would not have to earn every penny.
"So young Philip. How are you finding things ? All a bit strange I imagine. I am sorry I have not been able to give you much time so far, but I will, I promise", said Richard on the Friday lunchtime of that first week.
"Its all been a bit of a mystery to me to be honest", replied Philip, "at least I knew what I was doing on the shop floor."
"Yes, I would expect you to find things a bit different. It seems that there is a new plane now to drive us forward. The Company is going to buy its own Computer system, an IBM 360 I believe its called. Costs a pretty penny too."
"What are they going to do with it ?", asked Philip.
"Oh stuff like accounts, payroll, that kind of thing I expect. Do you know anything about computers Philip ?"
"Me ? No, not a thing", he said surprised at the question.
"Would you like to know about them ?", pressed Richard.
Philip had to think about that. He had never really given the machines any thought at all if he was honest. All he knew was what he saw at the cinema or read in science fiction books (or saw in Star Trek on the TV).
"I don't really know", he said at last.
"Well the thing is, I think it would be a good idea if this office had a head start at least on the blessed things. Like it or not they're coming, its the way of the future."
"Yes, I suppose it is. What had you in mind ?"
"I want you to go on a course, learn a bit about our new machine. Can you fit that in with your other studies "?
"I suppose so, it depends how long it is for really."
"Its a month long course and we may be able to fit it in around your other commitments. Now what do you think ?"
He was beginning to warm to the idea as he thought about it and finally thought, well why the hell not. "Yes, I think I might like to give it a go".
"Good man! You will be away I am afraid, for the whole month. Will your wife be okay with that ?"
"I hadn't thought of that. I'm sure she will be fine though. Where is it then, up North ?"
"Sort of. You will need to go to San Jose", said Richard with a sly smile.
"I beg your pardon", replied Philip who had no passport, had never been abroad in his life and had never been in an aeroplane.
"San Jose. Its in California" , Richard confirmed.
"America! Why me ? I mean with respect, don't you want to go ?"
"I would love to go, but you're smart, and you're young. We need our own people in place, people like you who will grow as we grow. The people who run this company are quite visionary in some aspects. They see the competition turning towards automation and cutting manufacturing costs and they know we have to play the same game or we die. No young man, this is your chance so grab it with both hands and don't let me down."
"I don't even have a passport."
"We can sort all that out, and get you a visa too. It will take a few weeks to set the whole thing up so we can use them sorting out this mess as I said to you before Christmas. By the way, how was your neighbour ? No problem I hope ?'
"He still won't talk to me. He got a job at the Dairy for now, but no trouble, no."
"Well I'm glad about that. Nasty business. Right, let's see what we can sort out next week."
As things worked out it was three months before everything could be set in place for Philip's computer course. His new car arrived at the end of January and he sold his reasonably reliable Austin Cambridge, saving most of the money raised for his trip to America. Baby Daniel was doing well, learning to crawl at a very early age and getting into everything. He was, as the health visitor had observed, very advanced, and took his first faltering steps in April, the month that Philip left for America.
It was a very nervous Philip Preston who arrived at London's Heathrow Airport on a wet day in April of 1972. He was so pleased that he had seen Daniel's first steps, it was almost as if his son was determined to show his dad what he could do - as if he somehow sensed that he would be away for a time. So Daniel had pulled himself up by grabbing the end of the coffee table. He stood there wobbling on his chubby legs with a huge grin that said "Look at me! I am so clever!", and then sat right back down with a bump cushioned by his nappy. He tried a second time and this time he held it, then put his left leg forward in a first experimental step. It worked, and so he moved his right and to Daniel's surprise he found that leg worked just as well so he looked at his mum and dad watching, and gave them a big smile. Philip knelt down in front of him and opened up his arms, urging Daniel to walk to him. Daniel looked and wasn't too sure about this idea but in the end he decided to go for it. Left leg, right leg, left leg, and daddy had him. "Yeeee! I can walk!", but it came out as a sort of ‘Glubble - boogle - dada'. They owned an old Kodak Instamatic camera and Mary had taken some pictures. The bright flash dazzled Daniel for a second but it did not bother him at all. Philip treasured the print that he now carried in his pocket along with a photograph of his wife, Mary.
This was all so new to Philip. It was as though his life had been turned upside-down. He had a family now and a job that was simply going places he could never have imagined. It was all so exciting. He found his way to a car park at the airport and left his company car there, noting the extortionate rates but having no real choice. ‘Make sure you get receipts' were the last words of advice that Richard had given him. After ten minutes an airport courtesy bus came along and took him over to the terminal that served Pan-Am, the airline he was to travel with. He joined a long queue at check-in and waited to be called forward to the desk. It seemed to take forever until it was hit turn to be called but at last it was and the formalities were run through until he was handed a boarding card.
It was not difficult to find his way to the departure lounge. There were a number of duty free shops that he browsed in before finding a Travelex booth where he obtained a supply of dollars. The company had already provided him with a thick wad of travellers cheques and he knew that he had to account for every penny, correction cent, with a receipt. He bought two paperback books and a magazine in a branch of WH Smiths and then sat watching the overhead monitors for his flight to be called. He was on flight PA103 to New York where he had to change to another aircraft that would take him right across America to San Francisco. He wasn't sure why he had to take two flights when his return was direct from San Francisco to London, but he didn't mind - it all added to the excitement.
The first leg of the journey was also Philip's first flight. He listened carefully as the air hostess went though the emergency drills and then extracted the plastic card from the seat back of front and made sure he read that too. Never mind the fact that the aircraft was taking the polar route to the USA, up an over Greenland and Newfoundland - if the aircraft came down in the sea they would all freeze to death long before they got a chance to blow on their whistles, and if it came down on the Arctic wasteland, they would all freeze to death anyway. He read everything that he could fins in the seatback and then settled down to watch a movie that was projected onto a large screen in the cabin. After that he enjoyed (you can always tell a first time flyer because they enjoy), the packaged dinner. He wanted to sleep because he knew about the time difference but he was so fired up that he couldn't so in the end he began to read one of the paperback books that he had purchased. After a while he dozed off, and as the other passengers fell asleep the cabin lights were set down low so that most people could settle in for the ‘night'. The next thing he knew, the sun was streaming in through the window and a light breakfast was being served. He ate his second in-flight meal with the same enthusiasm as he had eaten his first and no sooner had it been cleared away than the ‘fasten seat belts' sign was illuminated.
Philip had to change planes at JFK New York and at first did not understand how the transport system could look after his baggage. Put more bluntly, he was very sceptical of the assurances that he had been given that his bag would simply be ‘checked on through' but they promised him that the computers looked after that kind of thing and all he had to do was to hang onto his baggage claim ticket, which he did. JFK was his very first taste of the USA. He had loved the accents and manners of the PanAm girls but now he was on the ground and this was real, he was in America. A stern faced Afro-American woman who looked like a policewoman in her uniform and who obviously ate a lot more than maybe she should have barked at the people to ‘stand in line' and he joined a long queue at the ‘All other Passports' booth. Any deviation from the line met a shouted instruction to ‘get your ass back in line there'. Was this really America he wondered ? What happened to ‘have a nice day' ?
An hour later Philip was taking his second aeroplane flight courtesy of United Airlines to San Francisco. He was really excited about staying in the city, more so because he enjoyed watching the TV series ‘The Streets of San Francisco', although the same program also made him a bit nervous and unsure how safe he might be in such a city. He had another cause to worry and that was the hire car that he had to collect. He had never driven on the right hand side of the road and anyway, what was an American car like. There was more than enough to keep his mind occupied as he crossed the United States. At some point Philip fell asleep and slept on through another plastic airline meal. He did not wake up until the aircraft began its descent. Now that he had cleared immigration in New York he was just another commuter. He collected his bag and made his way to the Avis desk. This was all new to him, the very idea of hiring a car was beyond his modest pay on the shop floor. He was bewildered by questions such as "do you want collision waiver?" and a number of other questions that are the norm to American customers. In the end he decided to accept every option including a full tank of gas because so long as he had a receipt he reckoned it would be okay. A few minutes later he was sitting, bemused, behind the steering wheel of an Oldsmobile Cutlass.
This was the first time he had ever driven an automatic car but the nice lady at the Avis desk who loved his English accent and did indeed tell him to "have a nice day", had advised him to forget the clutch pedal because there wasn't one - "just put it in drive and you'll be fine", she had said. He sat there looking at all the control and knobs, a lot more than on his basic Ford Escort that he now drove. What was this thing with the snowflake symbol, Air conditioning ! What ? In a car ! And where are the window winders, switches ? It has electric windows ! Philip went on a mini voyage of discovery around the dashboard and doors trying all the buttons that he found until at last he knew he would have to drive out of the parking lot. The car was almost twice the size of his own, yet when he rented it he was assured it was a mid-sized vehicle. He had noticed as soon as he left the Terminal building that everything in America was on a bigger scale than anything in England and the width of the roads just astonished him - these kind of things simply did not come across on the TV or in the Cinema. After a good study of the map he turned the ignition key and started his engine. It made a low meaty sounding rumble, not at all like the small engine of his Escort that made a sort of rattling whine when it was running. He blipped the accelerator a couple of times and heard the immediate response from the powerful motor. Nervous, he was hot and sweating so he tried the air conditioner to cool himself down. He was rewarded with a blast of icy cold air and after fiddling with the control managed to get a temperature he was happy with. ‘Oh well', he thought, ‘this is it', and he set the transmission to drive. The car moved forwards about six feet and a strange but urgent sounding chime came from somewhere behind the dashboard. At the same time a small red light lit up bearing the legend ‘Release Handbrake', which he did before moving off once more.
Philip edged out gingerly into the traffic. A shuttle bus had brought him from the airport to the rental base which was almost in downtown San Francisco. He turned left because the road that he had to join was a steep hill that went down towards the bay. All thoughts of the map he had studied so carefully were lost now, he just wanted to get somewhere, anywhere at all, so that he could pull over and say to himself that he made it. He just let himself go with the flow of traffic since he knew that if he kept going downhill then sooner or later he would reach the Bay, and a few minutes later to his immense relief he completed his first drive of an American car safely, pulling up on a wide patch of ground near the bay bridge. ‘Easy peasy' he thought smugly, then checked his map to see where he was and where his hotel was. His confidence boosted, Philip found his way onto the Embarcadero, followed it around the Bay to the exit he needed and ten minutes later was checking into The Holiday Inn, shattered.
The whole journey caught up with Philip all at once now. Despite his excitement at being in America and in a city he could only have dreamed about just a few months ago, he had been travelling for almost eighteen hours and all he wanted to do now was to sleep. He was lucky in a way because the local time as four ‘o' clock in the afternoon whereas his body was at some time after midnight. He slept soundly until the next morning, but awoke feeling great and excited all over again. It was a Sunday so he had this one day to himself before he needed to find his way to San Jose. The first thing he did was to call Mary in England. It was half past three in the afternoon when Mary answered the telephone.
"Hi sweetheart, how are you ?", said Philip.
"You made it okay then ?"
"Yes, eighteen hours in the end, door to door. I was so tired by the time I got here."
"You must have been. So what's it like then ? Have you driven yet ?"
"Well, its warm and sunny. Everything is so big. How is Daniel ?"
"Lucky you! Its pissing down here. Daniel is still trying to wobble around, I have to have eyes in the back of my head now."
"Is he asleep ?"
"Yes, I've just fed him. If he is awake next time you call I'll put his ear to the phone."
"I am going to venture out soon and checkout where I have to go on Monday."
"Well be careful won't you ?"
"You know I will. I'll call you every other day or so, I have to be careful because the firm might get funny if I run up a big phone bill. Love you."
"Love you too and good luck for tomorrow", said Mary breaking the connection.
(continues to Chapter 3 part 2)