I am writing this on board a British Airways Boeing 777, en route from London to Boston. It’s a pretty old plane – not very impressive – with bits of it that don’t work; in my case the at-seat entertainment centre.
The hop across the puddle is not unfamiliar territory for me, having made the journey at least 2 times a year, between 1974 and 1979, when I was in the employ of The American Leadership Study Groups (ALSG). ALSG, a leading US educational travel company, were based in Worcester, Massachusetts. I will be returning there at the end of our trip to celebrate Independence Day at the home of Richard, erstwhile fellow alumni of Sussex University & colleague at ALSG, and Karen. (There will be, no doubt, more about ALSG in a later post.)
Working for ALSG was not my first long-term experience of life in the USA. In the late Sixties, I spent a year between school & university in Ohio courtesy of an American Field Service (AFS) Scholarship. The year involved living with an American host family and attending the local high school in Cuyahoga Falls, a white middle-class bedroom town on the outskirts of Akron ‘The Rubber Capital Of The World’. I enjoyed the high school, immensely. Also the travel afforded by the AFS but to say that I didn’t get on with my host family would be an understatement. (The subject of another possible blog article in the future?) When I got back to the UK in August 1968, I really did not expect to be spending a huge chunk of future time there again. At that time, I really did think that the Atlantic Ocean was not only a great maritime divide but also that the cultural gap between the USA & Europe was so wide as to be unbridgeable in my lifetime.
However in 1974, with the UK in the economic doldrums, I headed west again when offered the opportunity for a more senior position and a quintupling of my income. The 6 years between my first trip to the USA, and my next, had wrought changes that I really hadn’t accounted for. In 1968, I believed that Europe was relatively impermeable to the American lifestyle but I had not really factored in the speed with which the global village would develop. In 1968, one still had to book a telephone call via the operator to speak across The Atlantic and positional orbital satellites were not yet in situ as to enable 24 hour real-time broadcast connections. And when SkyTrain ushered in the era of low-cost long distance mass travel the effect was exponential. The Seventies were indeed a watershed decade.
Since 1979, my almost every-other-year dose of Stateside has been to the West Coast, where I have close family, and which is very conveniently half distance to New Zealand; which after 1987 became another geographical reference point in my life. I espoused the opportunity to live permanently in the USA in 1979, despite being a holder of the proverbial Green Card and similarly returned to the UK in 1995, after another decision not to abandon life in the UK. In 1968, when I came back to the UK from Ohio, there was such a clear difference between ‘over there’ & ‘over here’ that the American way of life did really seem alien to me. By 1979, this was no longer the case and today, though obvious distinctions can still be made, the similarities seem to me to be as consequential as the differences. Of all the Englishmen, and there were almost a dozen during the Seventies, most decided to stay on at least for a while and most remained in the travel industry. I decided otherwise without regrets, but – especially on a trip like this – one does wonder about the ‘what-ifs?’.
Our 2016 New England Trip
June 20 – 22: Boston; June 23 – 25: Provincetown;
June 26- 28: Portsmouth NH; 29 June – July 1: Camden ME
July 2: White Mountains; July 3 – 5: Worcester MA