Letter 10 (page 3)

America

I had to go to our factory in Minnesota in January (mid-winter) to test some equipment and I had a scare on the way from the airport to the hotel. I was driving at 50mph/80kph at night while it was snowing and the heater was blowing on my feet and not on the windscreen. When I sprayed the window to clean it, the washer fluid instantly turned to ice and blocked my view. It is supposed not to freeze but it was obviously too cold for that. Fortunately there was no-one else nearby and I still had a clear area about the size of a business card so I was able to get to the side of the road and scrape it off. On another day on the same trip it was -21°F (-29.5°C) when I drove to work one morning! Incidentally, -40 is the same in °F and °C but I hope never to be in a place where I can confirm that first hand!

Anyone outside America is probably unaware that the Denver Broncos football team are now "world champions" having won the "Superbowl", or what we would call the Grand Final. I guess it was nice to be in the city with the winning team but the excitement got a bit out of hand. The Broncos were expected to lose the game which made the win even better but the initial response was a rally that evening that resulted in drunken fighting and a few cars being overturned. Two people were shot but it was later determined they were just "ordinary" shootings, unrelated to the rally. Still, it seems odd to damage your own city when you won. Apparently when the Detroit team won some years ago, a good part of the city burned. The "official" rally at lunch time a few days later drew 650,000 people which is a huge crowd anywhere but even more amazing since there are only 2 million people in metropolitan Denver and 3¼ million in all of Colorado. Lots of people took the day off work so they could go.

I find it quite bizarre that everyone gets so involved in something that has no real effect on their lives (wont affect if they get a job, can buy a house, educate their children etc.) and they have zero control of the outcome. In contrast, people say they have no interest in politics but government policies have tremendous affect on peoples lives and yet if the president comes to town, it gets a mention on the news and a few party faithful may go to see but no-one really cares.

Perhaps what is most offensive is that professional sports teams all over America are operated as businesses (they call them "franchises" just like McDonalds) and teams threaten to relocate to another city unless local taxpayers subsidise a new stadium so they can make more money. Denver is now being asked to pay US$240 million which is 75% of the cost of the new stadium the Broncos want. Now that they have won the Superbowl, it will be much harder for responsible politicians to say "no". While they have not yet said they will go if the new stadium is denied, the "D" for Denver was removed from the team’s logo last year which suggests this strategy will be used later.

This issue’s bumper stickers (I confess I haven't actually seen the last one but it is too good not to include):

  • Hug your kids at home. Belt them in the car.
  • Leg check 50 feet (ahead). Please raise skirt.
  • It’s time to pull over and change the air in your head.
  • Did you ever stop to think ...
    and then forget to start again?

Did I ever mention that can take as many as 5 people to read the local TV news in Denver? Two for the news, one for the weather and then one, sometimes two, for sport.

Interesting things:

  • The electricity in our Denver unit is now wind powered. For a few extra dollars a month customers can sign up and they'll install wind turbines to cover the average load.
  • "American consumers seem unable, or unwilling, to curtail their addiction to gas-guzzlers. Chrysler Corp. claims fuel economy ranks 19th among buyers' criteria in picking cars, right after 'quality of the air conditioning.' " - The Economist. Petrol is about Aust42¢/litre in Denver verses about 68¢ here.
  • In a survey of 100,000 IBM employees in 66 countries, people were asked if they would give up their weekend to paint their boss' house. "Nearly all" Australians said no but less than half of the Indonesians and just a quarter of the Chinese said they could refuse such a request. This cultural difference has contributed to Australia’s zero fatalities in commercial aviation as junior pilots will make known an error by a senior pilot. - Institute of Engineers
  • I think the pilot of the 747-400 I flew on said we had 288,000 pounds (131 tonnes!) of fuel on board to get us from LA to Sydney (& make a lot of greenhouse gases)
  • In Britain "three-quarters of all couples now live together before they marry" - The Economist
  • American girls aged 12 and under spent US$1.2 billion on make-up last year - Lan heard it somewhere
  • Only 6% of 4WD vehicles in America are ever taken off road - Denver Post
  • The average American uses as much electricity in 22 days as a Chinese person does in one year. - IEEE
  • The average 15 year old American boy owns 8 (!) pairs of athletic shoes - from a documentary I saw on Air New Zealand about Nike (they are a bunch of crooks).

Conclusion

When we left for America, I promised to go for 9 months but it turned into 3 years and Lan would be happy to stay forever. (Any less than 9 months and we would have to repay the airfares and hotel expenses to get us settled.) We did make a few good friends over there but for me, Australia will always be home and in any case, I never offered to emigrate. Lan even noted that mothers expect to be pregnant for 9 months and if it turned into 3 years, there would be some dissatisfaction!

Since our American adventure seems to be coming to an end, this may be the last newsletter, at least in its current format. Our day-to-day life in Australia wont be nearly as interesting as our travels in America, or even the peculiarities of life there. I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I have enjoyed writing them. For those in Sydney, I look forward to seeing you in person real soon.

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