From a work perspective, moving to Denver certainly was an amazing opportunity. From growing up on a farm outside a small town, I don’t think I would have ever imagined that at 25 I would be managing someone else’s business on the other side of the world. Rightly or wrongly, my dreams were never that big – and perhaps to my discredit, still are not. And an amazing opportunity it certainly was. I got to broaden my experience which at that time had mostly been confined to Australia with a few jaunts to Asia to working all over the United States, and in addition travelling and working in Canada, Mexico, Columbia and South Africa.
This is not to say it was all wine and roses. I was only 25, had little business experience, and in particular, no experience at least in a professional sense managing a team of people, all of whom other than the receptionist were older than myself. I made many mistakes, but found that group of people at Exploration Computer Services to be for the most part extremely forgiving. They were more than willing to offer advice (which certainly in some cases translates “told me what I was doing wrong”), but I think for the most part, I was willing to listen and over time we formed a solid team and friendships or at least familiar acquaintances which have lasted to this day.
It has been a real pleasure to be working again professionally with Lori who I know I rubbed the wrong way possibly most of all in the early days. I have also enjoyed getting back in touch and even the occasional get together since being back in Denver with office managers Robyn (Chapman) Parker and Tammy Joyce, and other engineers Kim Knerr, Dereck Prince and Bev Zabel. In time I may track down the others.
Shortly after arriving, I found a church to be a part of. Believers Christian Fellowship met close to my office at Colorado Christian University. The idea of a Christian university was certainly unfamiliar in my Australian experience, and although I probably expected there to be quite a lot of young people, there really wasn’t. None the less, it felt like the right place to be, the teaching was solid and so I settled in. One of the people I met early on turned out to manage an apartment complex just across the road from the university campus. Figuring that even if there were college students living there, being a Christian University it would not be like living near the university I went to, and the rent was affordable, I moved into my first apartment. Oh – I was somewhat wrong about the students thing – but on the whole they were OK! The world is so small now though as I have since connected with Pam (Eflin) Healy who was a neighbor from back then on FaceBook. I did become good friends though with a young couple Stu and Lori Sprecher who were about my age. Stu was later to be one of my groomsmen.
I travelled a lot with work. Seemed like for a while I was going to West Virginia every other week, Texas a lot of the weeks in-between, and then just to break up the monotony, a couple of weeks in South Africa. That trip was truly amazing. It was before Mandela was freed and the country came under majority rule. I felt safe enough although I guess there was a certain amount of tension. One of the things I have enjoyed travelling the world is worshipping in a strange country. At least this was in English, although there is something special about having little understanding of the words, yet full comprehension of the message they convey. Worship in any language is a universal language. With South Africa still under apartheid, there were no direct flights and while this seemed to me to be a petty and pointless gesture, especially given the racial problems in some parts of the US but it meant having to fly via London – so I took a week off and had a look around the UK. One of the fringe benefits of the job I guess.
While much of the travelling of course involved flying, I love to drive. As my wife will agree we got our male/female stereotypes crossed up there. Joy just likes to get there – me – I like the scenic routes. My first big road trip was from Denver to just south of Houston. I was part of a choir (that probably has a few of year shaking your heads) performing an Australian composed oratorio put on by friends Lee and Debbie Lemson who I connected with from prior church connections in Australia. One weekend (I think there were 4 performances over 2 weekends) I tacked it onto one of those many work trips to Texas – the other – well I just drove down. I got a speeding ticket just a few miles from Bay City – destination of that weekends concerts. I figured the policeman would be understanding – I had a lot to learn about how small US towns raise revenue. And I guess in hindsight, a young guy, driving a sports car registered 1,200 miles away, claiming to be in a hurry to get to a concert in rural Texas. Hadn’t really thought of it from that angle until just now – probably wouldn’t have believed me either…
About that time I also remember having a week in West Virginia, followed by a week in Texas. Steve Jacobs who was looking after my car back in Sydney (remember I was only going for 18 months – seriously) was in Philadelphia doing something with Honeywell. So instead of going home for the weekend, I went to Philly and had a great time catching up with Steve and checking out some American icons – Valley Forge and the Liberty Bell stand out. Luggage didn’t make it to Texas but you got to love 24/7 stores (unless you work for one maybe). Shopping for clothes and toiletries late on a rainy Sunday night in East Texas at a 24 hour drug store – just another part of the American experience.
Settling in at Believers was not hard. In the fall, this big guy Todd Lansing organized a softball team. I figured that wasn’t too different to cricket – how hard could it be so put my name down. I learned three things at least. 1: Playing 3rd base, you are not supposed to catch line drives with your bare hand – and certainly not twice off the same guy in the same game. I remember Jim Tisdall coming over from short stop and asking what exactly I said after the 2nd one – lucky it wasn’t a church league. 2. If they throw a poor wide pitch, you are not allowed to step toward it to pound it – at least not if it involves stepping on home plate – you’re OUT. Stupid rule. 3. There was this kind of cute girl with really long hair and just a little bit of competitive spirit – I remember her stamping her foot in disgust one time she got struck out. More on her later…
A week or two into softball season, I got stuck on a trip to West Virginia. I called Todd to let him know I couldn’t make it. I think that kind of made an impression – most people who for some reason or other were not going to turn up from just down the road didn’t bother to call. Seemed the right thing to do and I think was the start of a lifelong friendship. But fringe benefits strike again – figured no point going home the next morning – off to spend a weekend exploring Baltimore and Washington DC.
There were two more events that stick in my mind from that first year. Football season rolls around and Todd and his lovely wife Denise tended most Sundays to end up at her mom and dad’s place to watch the Broncos. Dennis and Marge Farmer are amazing folk – Dennis to me became a spiritual father / mentor over the next few years. I am sure in no small way he has been a big influence on the husband and father I strive to be. Anyway there must have been quite a bunch of us there one Sunday and I think we realized most of the younger adults were born in ’64. We jokingly decided we should form a club and do something which turned into a weekend retreat for any young adults from Believers at the YMCA Snow Mountain Ranch camp near Winter Park. Todd and I learned to ski that weekend. Good friends Frank Muehlbauer and Jim Tisdall patiently spent the day coaxing Todd and I down the slopes. I still love skiing – have never tried it anywhere but Colorado. Guess once you’ve tasted heaven, nothing else is ever the same.
The last was my first Christmas in the USA. This was not my first Christmas away from home, but it was certainly the furthest away I had been. Another road trip was in order to spend this special day at the home of Debbie Lemson’s folks in Drexel Missouri. This means driving across Kansas. I don’t know why I didn’t learn the first time – YOU DON”T NEED TO DO THIS MORE THAN ONCE! Good times.
to be continued…