How I discovered America

Last updated 2001-03-15

When Chris Columbus discovered America 500 years ago, he thought it was a big deal. A lot of other people couldn't understand what the fuss was all about, because their ancestors had lived there for dozens of generations.

When Chris Burger discovered America in 1995, he was even worse off. Even his wife had been there before!

Our stated purpose was to see snow. We met that objective with a vengeance. The New England locals insisted that they had seldom seen so much snow so early in the winter. In fact, we ended up having to flee New England prematurely because of a looming storm, threatening most of the Northeast. Our flights out of Manchester NH and out of Philadelphia PA were both the last flights of the day that weren't cancelled. After that, everything stood still for three days.

Our hosts, Doug and Karen Grant and their children Jenny and Michael, made sure we saw the local antennas and customs and sampled the local cuisine. Not one of these feats was easy; antennas are hard to see in New England because of the tall trees; you have to arrive near Christmas to see the locals feasting in their natural habitat, and you have to get taken to a famous Boston seafood restaurant, mainly famous for its rude waiters. Doug even took me to see a basketball game; I must be one of very few people who has only seen one basketball game, and yet can claim to have seen Michael Jordan in action. We passed through Philadelphia airport with the Chicago Bulls; there are really some big dudes!

In Colorado, where at least you can see tall antennas from a distance, we were hosted by Charlie and Rita Summers. They are frequent visitors to our shores, and had been with us in Johannesburg a few months before, the day when poor innocent OJ was acquitted.

Our visit there was clouded somewhat by Charlie's absence--he'd gone to be with his terminally ill mother. We just briefly met Charlie at the airport, when he arrived just as we were leaving. We spent a few enjoyable days with Rita, though, and Chris got to meet some of the friendly natives at a ham radio get-together.

Our next stop was southern California. This stop was carefully engineered to give us, as natives of sunny South Africa, some sunshine in the middle of our trip. We were partially successful; although we saw more sunlight there than on any of the other stops, we still didn't have more than a few minutes of direct sunshine. We got to meet Mickey, and even got to fly around the Bay. LA is not a small town, even by our standards! Our hosts, Art and Mary Ellen Goddard, also hosted an amateur radio get-together, attended by two other members of their 1994 Swaziland expedition. Art showed us his slide show of the Swaziland trip. During the party, we also saw a slide show of their most recent trip--a sojourn in Mongolia to sample the best of local rice, potatoes and fatty mutton.

The single stop at which we spent most time was with Chris's sister and her family in Vancouver. Ben and Marleen Lamprecht and their nine month old son Dylan tooke these savages from warmer climes to the mountains, to savour the thrill of tumbling into packed snow nose first. We concluded that skiing is primarily genetic. Certainly, attempting to ski a few days after seeing snow for the first time did not yield impressive results. But then, maybe it was our inability to wield the local language (Chinese) that left us at a disadvantage...

Kathy Kirk in St Louis MO was our next hostess. Kathy had stayed with Annemarie on an extended visit to South Africa. She tried her best to show us the Gateway Arch, but as the government was closed due to a budget dispute, this plan didn't materialise. Ah, the delights of living in a democratic country!

We also visited Greg and Linda Wilson on their small farm across the Illinois border. A fun evening was spent there, with the three radio hams present exchanging lies about their operating prowess and Linda showing the two lady visitors her horses.

The return trip was on the first Boeing 777 off the production line, N777UA. Three United Airlines training captains were flying, as they were still developing operating standards for the aircraft. With six video and 25 audio channels in ergonomically optimised seats, this machine represents the latest and greatest in aviation technology. But perhaps the best feature of the 777 is that there are very few passengers on board. This allows one to occupy five seats during the night and get some solid sleep. This aircraft type is highly recommended, for that reason.

We left St Louis at 17:00 on Sunday and arrived home at 12:00 on Tuesday. The trip included two airport stops, in Chicago and Frankfurt. New Year came somewhere over the Atlantic, with bubbly wine being served to subdued passengers in subdued lighting. This is not a trip that you would want to tackle as part of a relaxing long weekend. Especially not when you take into account the sleepless nights that follow as your body tries to catch up with the ten time zones that you've crossed.

Looking back, one sees extreme fatigue from a lot of travel, the sniffles Annemarie picked up from Dylan in Vancouver and thoughfully passed on to Chris on the way home, the overspent budget, the jet lag. One could probably argue that there was nothing new. Satellite TV and cheap American programmes have all but ensured that we all know what America looks like.

However, there are also the fun times, the chance to renew old friendships and make new ones, the chance to just relax and be a tourist, complete with camera around the neck. And it's suddenly all worth it.

I hope I can reciprocate some of the kindness one day. At each stop, we were showered with attention, and everyone went to tremendous lengths to show us the local sights. We got to see the kind of things that other tourists with cameras around their necks don't see--the kind that the guidebooks don't cover. You really have to try it to appreciate it!

Note to radio amateurs: You may or may not recognise some of the names in the story. Doug Grant is K1DG, and we visited K5ZD's place where I met a string of famous names: KC1XX, K1AM, W2SC and N6BV spring to mind. Charlie Summers is W0YG. I visited W0UN, and met K0EU, N2IC, K9AY and others. Art Goddard is W6XD. At his place, I saw N6AA and K6MC (both members of our 3DA0Z Multi-Multi in CQWW Phone 1994), as well as W6EJJ, K6VNX and others. Their 1995 Multi-Multi was from JT1Z. Greg Wilson is N4CC, and I met K9SD at his house. And, of course, Chris Burger is ZS6EZ. It was my first visit to the USA, and my radio friends helped to make it so much more memorable. All of them showed unwavering and overwhelming hospitality. I even got to try out my US callsign (then AA0VP, later N3EZ) from one or two of their stations.

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