LEAP DAY Greetings from the USA!!!
Dear Family and Friends,
This is an ideal day for writing because it is cold (29°F or -2°C) and windy outside, fortunately as a consolation the sun is shining brightly.
The tale of our American adventure continues and we reached another few milestones. Tony got a job and we moved from the Washington DC area to St. Louis, Missouri. As they say in the cowboy books "GO WEST MY SON, GO WEST" well we went west, 980 miles.
With our arrival in New York, now only a distant memory, I think it would be fun to recap and thereby relive the experience with you. The week in New York was great fun and we (dogs included) enjoyed the busy and bustling city. We rode the elevators (see we are almost Yanks, by not saying lifts) to the top of the Empire State and World Trade Center buildings. What a sight! Buildings as far as the eye can see. While we were up on the 110th floor observation deck of the World Trade Center a little Cessna plane and a helicopter flew by and we had to look down at them.
Central Park is massive as far as parks go - 2½ miles long and ½ mile wide. We took the dogs for a walk every morning and we went on a different route every day. Another interesting fact about Central Park is that we left a turbulent and violent Johannesburg and I personally has never seen a dead body and on our second day in the park, we came across the police and a dead body in a body bag! The very next day we came across a crime scene where one could see the outlines the police drew around 2 bodies. But I suppose that is symptomatic of all big cities.
We rented a big van Dodge RAM 3.5m long, to lug all our luggage down to Washington DC. The trip took 3½ hours and this was our first taste of US highways and traffic. At times there were 6 lanes going in both directions and full of traffic. We found this very intimidating in the beginning especially when all you could see in the rear mirror, is the grille of a big semi truck! Another thing that we found disconcerting was all the trees lining the highways. One could almost not see past them and it felt like we were driving in a tunnel. The colors of the trees were stunning. We were in time to see them in their fall colors oranges, yellows and rusts with tinges of green. The ones we could identify were sugar maples, oaks, birches and elms and after awhile we became very impressed with all the trees. Our reactions ranged from "We are boxed in" (claustrophobia) to "Jeez, look how many" (amazement) to "hey, look an open field" (amusement) and "Gee, even more trees in St. Louis" (disbelief).
Our first apartment was located in Bethesda, Maryland and was about 35 minutes drive (if you have a car) from downtown DC where the capitol building, memorials, museums and the White House are located. Bethesda is an oldish town with a fair number of Art Deco buildings, which was typical of the architecture in the 60s (I think). The town reminded me of a lot of Alberton when we (the Geldenhuyses) moved there in 1964. The apartment complex, Bethesda Hills is a new building and we enjoyed our stay there. The only negative criticism is the traffic noise. The apartment is located on Rockville Pike, a busy double road (like Jan Smuts), the beltway (like the cement ringroad) intersection and the spur onto the Interstate highway and to top it all the Metro train popped out from underground in the middle of all this!!
The dogs were none the worse after their long flight and move to DC. They did however contract kennel cough during the first week in DC. They probably sniffed an infected dog in Central Park. The vet gave them medicine and Buttons was soon over it. Snuggles struggled a bit and took much longer to get better. This was due to her heart that has become weak and her old age. She is also now stone deaf and we communicate with hand signals. Buttons discovered a new creature the North American squirrel. He thinks of them as fair game and is forever on their spoor when he gets a whiff of their scent. If he could climb trees he would. When we say, "wheres the kitty cats" he finds the first best tree and jumps up against the trunk.
We were very fortunate to have our first visitors from South Africa in December and we enjoyed having Jane and Adriaan for a weekend. It was great to share all the wonderful sights of Washington (our Nations Capitol as the locals refer to it) with friends. We cant wait for our next visitors so start saving and come and see us!!!
The Americans go from one holiday to the next. We arrived just after Halloween (31/10) and a lot of the houses still had Halloween decorations. The next holiday was thanksgiving (3rd Thursday in November) and then it was Christmas and New Year and most recently Valentines Day. Every holiday comes with its own decorations and trappings (to the retailers delight). The houses looked especially pretty over Christmas and for Valentines they stuck big red hearts in the windows of their homes. The shops and malls looked the same as ours did over Christmas.
We spent the week between Christmas and New Year with our friends in Canada. The dogs stayed behind with a special dog/ house sitter. We were convinced we would have a white Christmas, but there was a few warm days and a thunderstorm that took care of all the snow just before we arrived at Tony and Mada. While we were there the temperatures stayed above freezing and we had a green Christmas. We enjoyed our stay and it was great to speak mostly Afrikaans and talk about home. There were about 11 South Africans together for Christmas day.
We arrived back in Bethesda before New Year and spent a quiet uneventful New Years eve on our own.
And then we were hit by the "Blizzard of 96" the biggest snow storm to hit the East Coast of America since 1922. With the first storm we were buried under 2 feet of snow and a week later another foot on top of it. Everything came to a stand still. Nobody could get anywhere and the poor authorities worked around the clock to get the roads and streets cleared. The official name "Blizzard of 96" soon changed to the "Big dig out". This was the first time we were not sorry that we didnt have cars. Only the 4x4 wheelers could go out on the roads without slipping, sliding and getting stuck.
The dogs didnt know what happened to their world, overnight it changed into a white wonderland. They also refused to go outside and after a little persuasion and a kick in the butt they went outside and promptly sank up to their ears into the snow. Buttons got such a fright he started to swim! It wasnt long after that they realized it was safe and now they seem to like running and jumping in the snow. The only thing that freaks them out is when a snowball forms between the pads of their feet. They looked very cute with their woolly red and blue jerseys in the white stuff.
A week later we had a thunderstorm with heavy rain that washed away all the snow and caused the Potomac River to overflow and a lot of businesses and houses were flooded.
In between all of this we diligently went on with our job hunting, going for a few interviews (panicked when nothing materialized) and seeing a few employment agencies. Tony must have sent off close to sixty CVs to prospective employers. We also continued sightseeing. It was slow going for awhile to see the museums, because the federal government ran them, and Bill Clinton would not approve the budget and the federal government was closed for weeks on end. Every time, when there was a breakthrough and the government was back at work, we would jump on the Metro to go to a museum. We still only saw about 30% of the museums. You are probably wondering why I am babbling on about this but the Smithsonian are truly magnificent and worth visiting. By now we have seen most of the major sights: Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson memorials, national cathedral, Union station (my favorite building) and a small part of the Arlington cemetery (too depressing to walk around graves).
Most of the people we have met so far are non-Americans. Nearly all the people in Washington are transitional (much better in St. Louis where everyone was born here). Our neighbors were from Germany and we met a couple from Switzerland and another from Turkey.
Then at the end of January our big break came with Tony getting a job interview in St. Louis. The company, Boatmens Trust part of a big banking group, paid for us to go to St. Louis for the interview on 1st February. A few days later they made an offer and Tony accepted. When we went there for the interview a cold front moved through the area and the coldest temperatures for 20 years were recorded (-20°C). Everybody ensured us that this was not normal but as far as I was concerned I was not going to live in such a cold place. Also at the time I was not too keen to move away from the coast it felt like I have unfinished business here, like sitting on the beach, but the feeling disappeared when we weighed our options and we realized that they made us an offer we cant refuse. Tony was appointed as Assistant Vice President looking after the trust companys computer facilities department, with the possibility of a promotion to VP in 6 months after proving his abilities. The job titles sound very important, dont they? Back home it would have been plain old manager. He started work on 16 February.
We packed up and moved 10 days after the interview. Once again we rented a truck to move all our suitcases and stuff. We traveled through 7 states in 2 days and 980 miles later we arrived. The states were Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Missouri. We stayed over in Zanesville, Ohio. The place was named after the cowboy book writer Zane Grey (if it sounds like I know a lot about westerns I dont my Dad is the expert and Tony read one or two). As we came into Indiana the world became very flat with farmlands as far as the eye can see and reminded us of the Free State. They grow grain in Indiana and Illinois. It became hillier with a lot more trees the closer we got to St. Louis.
St. Louis is situated on the banks of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers and is a big city with a population of 2.5 million. The city and surrounding neighborhoods spread over 570 square miles. St. Louis is known as the gateway to the west and is probably best known for the Arch. The arch was constructed as a memorial for all the pioneers that trekked west (just as we did) and is a stainless steel arch that is 630 feet high. St. Louis is pronounced as LOO-IS (like Lewis) and not LOO-EE, and was founded by a French businessman Pierre Laclede from New Orleans. There are a lot of French names all over the place. Our apartment complex is in Creve Coeur, which means broken heart.
The dogs once again behaved like model dogs in all the hotels and decided they like this nomadic lifestyle.
Our apartment is very comfortable and we have a unit at the end of a cul-de-sac with massive grounds around us, the size of about 3 rugbyfields. Whispering Hills has 2 stocked lakes, an indoor olympic swimming pool, 2 outdoor pools, a gym and 2 tennis courts. Now we have no excuse not to get fit and healthy. It is also blissfully quiet and the only sounds one can hear is that of the birds.
We are settling down and for the next 3 months we will definitely not be moving. My parents will be coming to stay for 3 months and we are looking forward to their visit. We will start house hunting soon and I am in the process of looking for a contract job, so that I can spend some time with the folks. We were also very fortunate to be able to buy some cars and it is great to be mobile again and not to depend on busses and trains to get around. We are now the proud owners of a secondhand 1994 Chevrolet Camaro (dark green) and a lovely new Plymouth Voyager mini-van (plum).
Thank you to all that has been writing regularly. We cant tell you how much it means to us to have a link home. The others that havent got round to putting pen to paper please write soon!!! We miss our family and friends very much and we are sorely aware of the great distance between us and now it is even further. Best wishes to you all and God Bless.
Annelise and Tony Snuggles and Buttons