Gran, me & the USA Part 1: The American Dream

Gran and me at the top of an American icon during our American adventure.

Gran and me at the top of an American icon during our American adventure.

Gran, me and the USA


Nearly forty years ago I took to the skies and headed over the Pond spening two weeks with my grandmother on the trip of a lifetime. So as a break from my usual posts about marketing, brands, urbanism, architecture and the environment, I’ve taken a walk back in time to relive this adventure.

I was only eleven at the time and gran would have been somewhere in her sixties, and our trip in April 1980 came at a time when travel to the USA started to become much more affordable. It also meant I’d get to see and experience so much of the country that had transfixed me through the small screen.

As it turns out, I remember many things from this trip, surprisingly often the smaller details. So rather than write the longest blog post ever, I’ve written a series of posts to capture and share my memories of travelling with my grandmother. With the passing of time, I’ve also forgotten lots of things, so apologies in advance if you find yourself wondering why I’ve not mentioned or written in particular detail certain aspects of the trip. The images too, will be a bit sparse and not of the best quality. It was much harder to take a good photo in 1980 - that’s my excuse anyway!

With it being the height of summer, I hope you enjoy reading the posts ideally poolside with your favourite beverage close at hand.

Gran, me and the USA. Part 1: The American Dream.

Growing up, I was fascinated by all things America. I never called it North America, the States or the USA, it was always and although incorrectly called America, but I think many other people did, and still do the same too. My vision of America was the skyscrapers, the big cars, the lifestyle. Everything I’d see or read was telling me it was bigger and better there. Of course this view wasn’t true or accurate, yet that’s the vision that came across the Atlantic into my home, and I was too young to question it.

Saturday mornings I’d be in California with the California Highway Patrol - “CHIPs” and these motorcycle cops would always catch the bad guys. Add in a whole raft of other American telly including: The Streets of San Francisco, Heart to Heart, Columbo, Ironside, the Dukes of Hazzard and Charlie’s Angels, and I was living the dream. In 1977 I was too young to see the seminal Saturday Night Fever, this was beyond frustrating. Thankfully, I now have my own copy on DVD and this is the singular reason why I will never get rid of my DVD player.

I pestered the grown-ups to take me to America, but it was a destination for the rich and famous, not ordinary folk like small town me. It seemed the only way I’d get there was dependent on dad winning big on The Football Pools.

That was until, in 1977, Freddie Laker started “cheap” flights to the USA. This was a real disruptive game changer, suddenly the USA for many Brits ceased to be a distant unaffordable dream. On our trip we didn’t fly with Laker, however this airline played a key role in the opening up of America as a holiday destination. At the time independent travel was much less common, so it wasn’t long before package holidays to America started to fill the brochures. In 1979, I spotted the Cosmos Holidays brochure in my grandmother’s flat, it included trips to America, and I got excited. My excitement wasn’t misplaced, it was official gran and me were going Stateside on an East Coast adventure for two whole weeks. Other family members were asked if they wanted to go, and don’t ask me why but they didn’t want to. Was I the only one obsessed with the American Dream?

I was told we were going, but was this really happening? Do dreams come true? I only allowed myself to start getting excited when I had my first passport, complete with a visa stamp for the US. Then I got to see our travel itinerary, we really were going and heading to these mesmerising places; Miami Beach, Orlando and New York. When our travel documents arrived I was captivated, two booklets of flight tickets, for each of the five flights we’d be taking (there was also a truly epic sixth flight, that I’ll tell you about in a later post.). I read every detail of every ticket, of course I didn’t have a clue what the abbreviations meant, and the concept of seat numbers didn’t really make sense to me. Yet for me these pieces of paper were going to turn my dream into reality, they were precious. So precious they lived in gran’s handbag for the entire trip, although I suspect this was for practical reasons, as opposed to my emotion fuelled reasoning.

As the big day came closer, we had Dollars, and I found myself holding real American cash in my hands for the very first time. These were accompanied by another booklet, that contained travellers cheques. These were new to me, not real money and you had to find places to exchange them into real money, although I think you could also spend them in shops and restaurants if they accepted them. At the time of our trip we hit lucky with the exchange rate, it was around $2.25 to the Pound. We were rich! Well not quite, but the exchange rate really did make your money go so much further.

Now all that was left to do was the all important packing and get to Heathrow. In the next post I’ll take you across the Atlantic and share with you the start of our American adventure.