Paul and Margaret Hardy
Mail forwarded from:
15 Kentings, Comberton,
Tel (when in UK) 07739 755623
1400 Barton Rd - Apt 2416,
92373, CA., USA
Tel +1 (909) 856 8300
As our last year’s letter reported, Paul was made redundant in June 2003 after 28 years at Laser-Scan, with no notice or redundancy pay, as the company was put into administration (followed soon afterwards by a cheap management buy-out – definitely immoral). The best job offer was from ESRI (Environment Systems Research Institute), the company that currently has the largest share of the world mapping software market. So we moved to Redlands, east of LA in California at the end of December 2003, after nearly 30 years living in Comberton – a huge wrench.
Paul is enjoying the work – an interesting mix of an external-facing role as “Product Manager for Cartography” combined with an internal role as software project leader on a leading-edge software development project. He had 15 seconds of fame on the big screen at the ESRI user conference in San Diego (14,000 attendees), talking about ESRI’s vision for cartography. He has an H1-B visa as a “Temporary Non-immigrant Shortage-skills Worker” – long gone are the days when America welcomed immigrants and foreign workers. If he wants to renew it after three years he will have to leave the country and apply at an American embassy capable of taking his fingerprints!
Margaret is frustrated and homesick. She hates her status (or lack of it) as an “Accompanying Alien Spouse”. Her H4 visa does not allow her to do paid work or even get travel expenses. In the past, one could apply for a green card and get one quickly. However, since the Bush administration and 9/11, resulting in the subsequent paranoia that America is under imminent and total terrorist attack, it now takes at least five years. Similar recent restrictions mean that Margaret cannot even be issued a social security number – the universal ID in today’s computerised America.
Having been used to there always being more that she wanted to do, than would fit into her busy working life in England, she has found the lack of meaningful activity here hard to handle. There is very little to do during the day. The strong work ethic (and lack of free health care) means that everyone not needing a Zimmer frame is working long hours, so there are none of the many educational, cultural and leisure activities that are offered in Cambridgeshire. The other problem is that it is seriously hot here for half the year – temperatures above 100F (40C), which rule out any outdoor activity - even walking. However, if you are working indoors, all the offices and shops are air-conditioned to just above freezing point!
Her sanity has been saved by the friends she has made here, and by the support of family and friends in the civilised world who have sustained her with emails, letters and phone calls. She is also very grateful to all who have welcomed her, entertained her and housed her on her visits ‘home’.
The other saving grace has been the National Children’s Forest in the local San Bernardino Mountains, where she has been doing voluntary work since January, teaching visiting groups of school children about the environment and forestry. The education coordinator left in April, and Margaret was (after several months) offered the job, starting in September. With no work permit, she agreed to do it on a voluntary (unpaid) basis while they applied for a change of visa status for her. In previous years there were 192,000 H1-B visas available, but this year it was reduced to 62,000 (more US paranoia!). The new visa year started on the first of October, and the quota was filled by the second day! So Margaret is now working in a job with substantial responsibilities and worries, for no pay.
The voluntary nature of the work, and an excellent assistant, have enabled her to take time off to travel. Margaret came back to the UK in March, then through July and August to get away from the heat and to see her friends. Paul had a conference in the UK in August and we then had an excellent week of walking in Tuscany. Margaret also accompanied Paul to a trade workshop in Orlando in Florida (sandwiched between hurricanes Ivan and Jeannie), and to a conference in Portland in Maine, where we added on a few days to explore and see the autumn colours (fall colors?) which were spectacular. Paul is visiting the UK on business at the end of November, so Margaret is coming too.
Immediately before coming here last December, we had a week of walking in Spain with Headwater. This Christmas we are off on another walking holiday to Hawaii, with UK Ramblers Holidays. We can’t find any equivalent to Ramblers here in the US – they don’t have the concept of rambling – only ‘hiking’ which involves getting up to the highest point in the shortest time. We were very pleased to be made honorary members of Comberton Ramblers and are thrilled that we’ll be home for the last walk of the year and the Christmas lunch.
Because our future is unsettled, we have stayed in the small two-bedroomed apartment rather than buying or renting, a house. We have looked at possibilities, including moving ‘up the hill’ – 7000 feet (a mile and a half high) to be nearer to Margaret’s work, but they get several feet of snow at a time and there is no postal delivery or ‘trash’ collection! Living there would also add to Paul’s already long day. The working day is a minimum 8 hours (everyone works more), with only 15 days holiday (the original offer was 8 days!). Down in the valley, the air is often smoggy, and a concrete jungle surrounds us, fast replacing the former orange groves. House prices here on the edge of the LA sprawl are as high as around Cambridge, and plots are small. The apartment complex has a nice swimming pool and big hot spa tub, which Paul uses every day, and he can cycle to work which are small compensations. We also have beautiful humming birds that come for the ‘fast food’ on offer in the red plastic feeder (made in China) and spurn that in the Czech cut glass feeder (this sums up California!).
We have had a number of people visiting, ranging from Paul’s mother, aged 90, who came last Spring, to a family of four from Comberton, one of whom (aged 15) slept without complaint on an air bed in our walk-in closet! Paul’s nephew and partner came recently and we spent a very enjoyable weekend together in San Diego. We can be in the high mountains (above the snow line in winter) within half an hour, or on the beach within an hour. LA, Hollywood and the desert beyond Palm Springs can be reached in an hour and a half and San Diego in two hours. San Francisco is a one-hour flight.
We have enjoyed visits to places like Joshua Tree national park (where Margaret had a very close encounter with a rattlesnake), Newport Beach (excellent fish and champagne Sunday Brunch), the Getty Centre and the Huntington Library in LA (marvellous art), and the cosmopolitan cities of San Francisco and San Diego. We have also enjoyed the clear air and vistas from the local San Bernardino Mountains and nearby Mount San Jacinto (reached by a rotating cable car from Palm Springs).
We still haven’t got to see some of the ‘musts’ in the area. California is three times the size of England, and places like Death Valley, Yosemite, Sequoia national park, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon, need more than a long weekend, and most have to be fitted between the snows of winter and the heat of summer. After six years of drought it is an El Niño year, and we had two feet of snow in the mountains before the end of October. However the following week the temperatures were back to 75F with clear skies. Do come and sample the Californian experience!
With every good wish for Christmas and the New Year,
Paul & Margaret