I flew to Chicago last week. Well, I say ‘I’ although really I should have written ‘we’ as Her Kateness was with me.
Day One: Arrive Chicago. Although it was ‘Chicago’ in the sense that Milton Keynes is London. A long way out. A lot of nothing but flat land and traffic between our Sheraton Hotel and the Windy City. It was promising in the way that flu is promising.
We sat at a bar with a drink. Got chatting to a man in a baseball cap with thick eyebrows and dark eyes. I ordered an American beer. He couldn’t understand why anyone would want to order an American beer. We talked and eventually Iraq came up. Why wouldn’t it. “You lot never learn,” I said. “It’s Vietnam with a different climate.”
“I was in Vietnam,” he said. His dark eyes went darker. You could see him reliving it.
He was 18. He was supposed to have had 4 weeks military training and 4 weeks orientation. Instead, he got four weeks in total and was whisked away from the Chicago ‘burbs and into the rainforest. “All that time, I never saw the enemy. Not a single once.” He stood next to a friend when that friend’s shoulder was ripped away by a bullet. “It was terrifying. I spent most of time like this,” and he mimed the foetal position. “All we did was drink and smoke and hide.” He refused to go point for his sergeant. “I took a rifle butt to the chin, but I wouldn’t go point. ‘Who’s backing me up?’ I asked. He didn’t answer. I wouldn’t go point. Not when you never saw the enemy. I never saw the enemy once.”
I’ve seen plenty of films about Vietnam. Those thirty minutes in the bar blew them all away.
Day Two: A meeting. Then a trip to Chicago. Plenty of tall buildings and some very tall buildings. Up on the 94th floor of the John Hancock Tower, you saw what had once been the prairie. It was now a mess of low rises for as far as the eye can see. On the 94th floor, you can see about 100 miles.
Day Three: A day of meetings with Client X. Client X is full of lovely people. Americans, or at the least the ones we met, are lovely people. We were in the hub of a $50bn turnover organisation. The corridors sounded like a library.
Day Four: A long meeting. In the morning, I vaguely knew what I was doing. It was the afternoon I was worried about. I had no idea what I was going to do in the afternoon. Going back into the workshop in the afternoon I felt like a poker player playing for all my savings when all I had was a two and a seven. Poker face. Never let them see you’ve got nothin’.
We came out winners. Everyone was happy. We went back to the hotel. A hotel in the Milton Keynes of Illinois. The bar tender there bought us both a drink. No one does service like the Americans.