Letter from America

The harsh, useful things of the world, from pulling teeth to digging potatoes, are best done by men who are as starkly sober as so many convicts in the death-house, but the lovely and useless things, the charming and exhilarating things, are best done by men with, as the phrase is, a few sheets in the wind – H L Mencken

So here I am on Broadway. No, not that Broadway. I’m at 1675 Broadway, Denver, Colorado – the British Consulate. And very shortly I start my new job as a waiter, fully intending to make sure several Americans are rendered wholly unfit for pulling teeth and digging potatoes…

Before you rush to the conclusion that I’ve left my wife and fled to the colonies, I should explain that I’m here on business. Well, yes, technically, today was sunny and 88 degrees. And yes, if you want to be pedantic tomorrow is forecast to be, er…sunny and 90 degrees.

According to my guide book, Denver has the best climate in the US, easily on a par with Southern California. The 15th step on the west side of Denver’s State Capitol Building is exactly one mile above sea level and 92.1% of the population have high school diplomas. What it doesn’t say is that 70 to 80 Americans will shortly be getting impatient if I don’t dish out the Pimms fast enough.

So, the glasses are polished, the nibbles are strategically strewn around and…You heard me. Pimms. With lemonade. And lots of fruit. Jack Daniels? Budweiser? No chance.

Let me explain. I’m here for the annual conference of The Alternative Board. TAB started in the US in 1990. Right now there are more than 450 boards, with a total of nearly 3500 members. So if I can’t learn something to help my York members in the few days I’m out here then I probably shouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.

Five of us have flown over from the UK – do you ever grow out of the sense of excitement you feel when you touch down in the US? – and we thought we’d entertain our American colleagues. And yes, we could have done white wine and red wine and a few bottles of Milwaukee’s finest, but let’s serve something essentially British. So it’s Pimms – despite the fact that all that fruit in a drink may confirm some American beliefs regarding the sexuality of British men. It’s a risk we’ll have to take.

Much later…

The Pimms party was a huge success. And afterwards we staggered downtown to The Appaloosa Grill.

Several of our American colleagues, never having come across alcohol-disguised-as-fruit-salad seemed to have difficulties pronouncing ‘Appaloosa.’ I might admit to slight co-ordination problems of my own. It seemed simplest to order steak.

Equally I might admit to a slight hangover the next morning. And as I was in a strange bed, I inevitably woke up ridiculously early so I could appreciate it. Five o’clock.

There was no chance of going back to sleep. So I drank all the orange juice in the mini-bar and headed for the hotel pool. At least I’d have it to myself at five in the morning.

Fat chance. Or rather thin chance. The guide book had said that Colorado was the only state where 50% of the population weren’t obese. No wonder. They were all in the pool. Several of my new friends who’d decided that the “App-sluice-ia Grill” was a fine idea were now remorselessly hammering out lengths. Clearly men determined to dig up potatoes…

And men determined to help. I cannot thank my American colleagues enough for all their kindness. I left Denver with the words, “No problem, Ed, I’ll do it as soon as I get back to the office” ringing in my ears. And over the coming weeks I’ll share some of their ideas with you.

But for now, let me leave you with this thought. If you want help, ask for help. What did I do in America? I simply said, “I’m relatively new, I’m learning. Can you help me?” And it works nearly every time – even with starkly sober men who spend their day pulling teeth…


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