23/09/2021

Coast-to-coast

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Another lengthy journey was taken when I extended my BOTB grant to include North America and took my first trip to New York. I met up with Olympus America, who sold the same fiberscopes over there. It became a very long day.

New York

I flew out and they suggested there was little point in going to my hotel, so we went to their offices first and had a long series of meetings. They then suggested that there was little point in going to my hotel, we should go straight out to dinner at the Algonquin. The net result was that by the time they did take me to my hotel I had been on-the-go for much more than twenty hours and sleep was nowhere in my vocabulary.

I went to the dingy hotel bar for a drink to send me to sleep. I ordered a whisky and American Dry – not a hope of them understanding that – I learned a Doo-ers (dewars) on-the-rocks was my way forward. There was an older guy with a tartily-dressed younger woman next to me at the bar and he caught my accent. He was well-juiced and suggested to the girl that I was from MI5 (Bond was popular at the time). I had an early red LED watch, the sort you had to push a button to see the time. So, I pressed the button and said, ‘My cover is blown, I’m coming home.’ The barman rushed around the counter and grabbed me and threw me out of the bar. When I questioned this, he said he had just saved my life. Still confused he said the guy was an off-duty cop, that I had smart-mouthed him in front of his girlfriend, didn’t I know that most homicides in NY were committed by off-duty policemen?

Suddenly feeling really tired I went back to my room and played TV roulette for a while, channel-hopping as their lengthy commercial breaks halt all momentum in their shows. When I finally tried to sleep, this dreadful howling started up in the alley outside my room. I called the lobby to ask what it was. Apparently, a dog had been hit by a cab and crawled into the alley where it took an age to either go quiet or expire. Welcome to New York!

ASIDE: One later trip saw me fly on a Sunday to Boston, meetings in West Lynn on Monday then flew to Washington DC for Tuesday meetings. Flew Tuesday night to Cincinnati for meetings Wednesday. Flew to Philadelphia Wednesday night for meetings on Thursday, then back home Thursday night. I just slept-walked my way through this journey – over 1,500m of internal flights.

But on take-off at Washington the plane was struck by lightning several times. By then I knew enough about aircraft to know that it was designed to take this. Further storms brought us down for an unscheduled landing in Columbus. I waited three hours for it to continue on to Cincinnati, and was surprised to find that I was the only passenger who got on the Jumbo. The crew explained that the flight would be only fifteen minutes. Worse, it overflew Cincinnati into Kentucky and I had to cab it back across the city to my hotel which I could have reached in under twenty minutes from Columbus. No one had told me this, I was just following my itinerary without studying maps.

I had success a little south on Chesapeake Bay at the Naval Air Station at Patuxent River, and managed to get two of our scopes defined for the US AAH, Advanced Attack Helicopter. It was designed for field maintenance to be performed with a handful of tools and two scopes. Subsequent trips to Boston and Cincinatti also had us specced for GE engines.

I was even better received on subsequent trips to the West Coast. I got on the plane and quietly set about asserting my rights to the arm-rest between me and some other guy. He was also a Brit and later explained that he was the brother of Michael of Michaeljohn. I had never heard of the Knightsbridge hairdressers and assumed it was John Michael a rag-trade chain I had dealt with way back when, while at Senelco.

Kookie – Edd Byrnes

The brother explained they were opening a new place in Rodeo Drive and there was to be a big launch party the next night, he wrote on his business card to admit me. He said Farrah Fawcett would be there, and she was very much vogue at that moment. So, the next night I had my Kookie moment. Edd Byrnes had portrayed Kookie, pretty much an early prototype for Fonzie of Happy Days and Danny Zuko in Grease, he was a parking-lot attendant in 77 Sunset Strip and stole much of the cool limelight from the actors who played the two detectives. I drove my rental car up to the venue on Rodeo and confidently let the parking-lot attendant (not looking at all like Kookie) drive it off, with little appreciation of how I would later get it back.

There were Hollywood rubber-neckers across the street trying to see who was attending this sparkly event – well, right then, it was me! I soon found myself in conversation with Susan George and other individuals who I should perhaps have known. My conversation with Susan finished abruptly when I blurted out that I had enjoyed her in Straw Dogs, only belatedly recalling that she had been raped in the movie. [As I write this a 67-year-old less-interesting Susan George is appearing in the TV show The Real Marigold Hotel]. But I soon realised the attention I was getting was from the men, it was only then I fully appreciated that this Michaeljohn was a hairdressers. I saw another guy looking just as overdressed as me (both in suits, collar and tie) and just as uncomfortable with the male attention. He had sold them real estate insurance, we hunkered down and enjoyed the sights, safe in each other’s company.

ASIDE: Being interested in the emerging home computer business on this trip I visited computer stores on the West Coast and even saw an early Apple I being demmed by Steve Jobs. I later made several personal entries into the field. I subsequently bought a single-board computer kit that taught me I was not so interested in the hardware, and much more enthusiastic about software and applications rather than building blocks.
The Commodore Pet

I managed to acquire on loan a Commodore Pet which proved a lot more my sort of thing, with its on-board cassette and screen I could make it do things. I recall one of my earliest tasks was to exploit its character set, which include the four card-suit symbols, to type out my Bridge convention card.

I have always felt guilty that I later went out and bought an Apple II, when perhaps my family circumstances could not really support that investment decision.

Apple II and extras

I further confess that early on I played mostly games, but I was soon seduced by the Apple killer-app, VisiCalc. As we will see later, Nolan Bushnell fully appreciated this need to go hands-on to learn anything about the technology and its potential. But then he didn’t help my cause, because my second ‘silly’ purchase was Nolan’s Atari 2600 VCS.

Atari 2600 VCS Games Console

The VCS I also bought did, at least, engage the whole family with its range of games.

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