Friday, 23 October 2009

Working in Dallas

When I finished my MSc course in Computer Science a hundred years or so ago, my first job was a permanent job with a computer software consultancy owned by Deloitte & Touche (as it was called then) - obviously a major international company (Big Six as they called before the demise of Andersons). On my first day at work I met M, and we started seeing each other within a month. After a year he left Deloitte to become an independant contractor; I was still working for them and spent a lot of time on client sites, so I hardly ever saw him, and after a little while the whole long distance relationship thing got to be too much for me, so I ended things. The problem was, we never had a row, he didn't do anything to me to make me hate him, so we stayed friends - email penpals really - and I found it really hard to get over that.
It was about 6 months after that we were asked if anyone would volunteer to spend 6 months in Dallas, working on a project being run by a partner from the Dallas office in the pharmaceuticals sector (which was my area, because I'd taken my first degree in Biological & Biochemical Sciences). So, I admit it, I volunteered to work on the project just to get away for a while because I was still so miserable all the time - and instantly fell into a state of terror at the idea of going so far away!
It was one of the best experiences of my life in the end! I will admit that at the time I wished it was New York, San Francisco or maybe Seattle rather than Dallas - Dallas really isn't designed for people who like to walk! In fact I rarely tried, but when I did people driving past looked at me like I was insane!
The first thing that struck me when we landed was how much sky there was everywhere - it actually felt a little bit intimidating to jetlagged me because I was used to the horizon being blocked or broken up by trees, buildings, hills... as we drove to the hotel where I spent the first week (my boss had hired a condo for me but it wasn't ready for me on arrival) everything just seemed to be unbelievably huge and the distances really enormous. I was very lucky that there was a team of English people working on the project, and though I didn't know them well at the beginning they provided some familiar accents and attitutudes to help me get used to being out there fairly gently.
Once I got to know the people at Deloitte & Touche, I felt much more at home. There were some lovely people working there at the time, and I'm sorry to say that I've lost touch with them. The one person who really stands out for me was a tester called Purnella - we did try to stay in touch after I came home but I lost her address and couldn't find her again.
I loved my condo, with its rented furniture on a development with a pool and gym - but I only used the pool once, and never went in the gym because on the rare occasions I was tempted to there were people in there and I was too shy and intimidated by their fitness and the strange machines I didn't know how to use. I'd do that differently now!
Work was just work, though it was very noticeable that there is a difference in work culture in the States. I never saw so many people work such long hours on client sites in Britain - or not without a lot of complaining!
I tried to make the most of the opportunity of being over there, but again I must admit that I would have done more if I were there now. At the time I didn't have a lot of money saved, and I couldn't drive (on either side of the road!) - a major handicap in a city as sprawling as Dallas!
Deloitte & Touche were willing to pay for me to go home about every 6 weeks. I swapped one of those to bring my Mum and her OH out for a week, and a friend of mine from school came out for a fortnight as well; my Dad claims I came home just as he was about to come out for a free holiday!
In between trips home I did some travelling at the weekends. On the first weekend I went to Galveston (which at the time was a bit of a dump, no offence, we are going back to May 1997 here and I'm sure its improved since then), did a tour of the historic homes, and on the way back to Dallas went to the Houston Space Centre - an amazing experience, including touching moon rock (anyone whoe believes in the conspiracy theories about how the lunar landings were fake can keep it to themselves - I prefer to believe it!)
Another weekend I flew to New York with my boss, and we had dinner in the revolving restaurant - Top of the World? before going to see Les Miserables on Broadway - a show I'll never forget! I also went out to Ellis Island on the Sunday while she was in church, and we met up for subs in Central Park afterwards - it was a great trip, though I developed a migraine mid-afternoon and that spoiled things for the rest of the day.
While my Mum and her OH were visiting we took the steam train from Dallas to Fort Worth Stockyards. Her OH is mad about the old Westerns - John Wayne era - and enjoyed the reconstruction of a train robbery that was staged along the way!
And while my friend D was staying with me we spent a weekend in San Antonio with a co-worker and friend. I loved San Antonio, especially the restaurants alongside the river. We did a tour while we were there and I've been to the Alamo!
My only other weekend trip was to New Orleans. A group of 4 of us went together, we stayed in a lovely B & B in the French Quarter. We went on the river in a paddleboat, walked through the streets listening to jazz, hid in a bar from a sudden rain shower... the only problem we had was that my boss was vegetarian and New Orleans doesn't really seem to get vegetarianism - in fact in honesty, nor did most of Dallas at that time - so we had trouble finding food she could eat! (no, soup made with beef broth isn't vegetarian even if there are no chunks of beef in it... nor are baked beans with the ham picked out....)
We also went to a couple of rodeos, a play in a park, and did the tour of Southfork while I was out there - interesting even though I never watched Dallas! And I still have my small collection of (sadly machine-made) 'Native American' pots that I bought while I was there!
It really was a great 6 months. I loved the local supermarket, where I discovered arugula for the first time! And as someone who'd never lived in a major city before I really loved the choice in restaurants - there was a great Mexican place just down the road from my condo. And I really loved the bookshops! Barnes & Noble was my home from home then, as I was discovering new authors that were hard to find in Britain. This was before it became common to have coffee shops in British book shops, and I loved the idea of being able to have coffee surrounded by books!
I loved the air conditioning in my condo - I would walk in and just sigh with relief! I didn't love the heat that made it necessary as much - I was heavier then, and the heat really bothered me, in fact while my Mum was out there the three of us took a bus downtown to look for the farmers market, and I got heat stroke that day - even though all the restaurants were spraying cold water out onto the pavements to cool things down. And I remember getting sweaty just waiting outside my condo for the colleague who drove me to work every morning - that wasn't very pleasant!
I was offered the chance to stay on in Dallas for another 6 months and I must admit that I wanted to at first - but at the point when my initial 6 months was running out, M changed contracts back in the UK, his new clients were building quite a big team... and he suggested that I apply. I had a phone interview while still out there, and a face to face interview on a long weekend trip home, and they offered me the contract - so I took it, for 3 times my salary and, yes, the chance to be with M again. And the rest, as they say, is history...
If only it were easier to get contracts in the US without moving there I think I'd go back in a heartbeat, and I still love visiting the States. I haven't been back to Texas but I'd like to - I never saw any oil fields, deserts... I wanted to go to El Paso, maybe Christchurch... some day maybe!
I'm afraid that's all I remember now - I wasn't a blogger then obviously, so I wasn't used to keeping records back then. Hope you enjoyed it anyway!
Stay Healthy



  1. Good morning Chrissie,

    Thanks for the Dallas update. I'd wondered what drew you over here. Dallas is not the place for walkers, for sure; Although that part is changing. And Galveston, well, let's just say that Hurricane Ike didn't improve things. It's in even worse shape now. The Stockyards area of Fort Worth is one of my favorite places around here, although we don't go there much anymore. Bick and I met there for our first date, so it does hold a special spot for me :-)

    Have a great day.

  2. Hi Chrisse. I LOVED reading this! Really loved it.

    I had no idea you and M had known one another for so long. Sounds like it was a meant to be thing. How lovely to have had that period of friendship. Shows that you two really *like* one another - which sometimes isn't the case with romantic couples.

    The time you had in America sounds very interesting on so many levels. A complete adventure just with it being such a different culture. Makes me wish I could go!

    I think you're very lucky to have chosen a job that means you can potentially go and do it anywhere in the world. The job itself might be boring, but the travel and experience of other countries could be incredible. You have so many possibilities.

    The trips and treats you got to go on were obviously great highlights - I would love to go to New York! But the New Orleans trip appealed to me the most.

    I hope on your next holiday you'll keep a journal and share it with us when you get back. I'm assuming you won't be taking the computer with you!

    Best wishes,
    Bearfriend xx