Call Mulder and Scully

Why have I just found a chopping board in one of the zip pockets of my suitcase ?



We've never been happier to be denied an official document 🙂

It's the usual saga about needing a SSN but this time for a driving license.

Sam's visa doesn't allow her to work in the US. This is something I need to look into changing, not necessarily to ensure we have a way to keep up the repayments on the Plasma TV and 6Mbps DSL connection, but to let her have the flexibility to do what she wants when the girls are at school.

With no work visa, she doesn't qualify for a SSN. With no SSN, she can't get a driving license.

This is where the official Social Security Administraion Denial Notice comes in handy. This informs the reader that the applicant was unsuccessful in their application for a SSN. So congratulations on being denied.

On other topics, we're still waiting to hear from the realtor about the house we want to rent. If everyone can assure me she'll never read this, I'll tell you all about her.


Yay!! Bank of America rules !

I take it all back.

Bank of America let us have an account for a $25 deposit and no social security number 🙂

Much celebration.


Is it too late to back out ?

The famous philosopher, Homer (*), once said “If something's hard to do, then it's not worth doing.”

That's how I feel right at this moment.

There you are, a simple support engineer on a business trip one September in 2004 and someone, let's say the CEO for sake of example, asks you if you want to relocate to the US.

“Sure”, you say, while thinking “How hard can it be ?”

At this point, you would imagine that a Star Trek-style red alert would immediately start blaring in the back of your head. For some reason, I must have been thinking of chocolate instead.

It's like this you see…

If you don't have a social security number, you can't open a bank account.
If you don't have a social security number, you can't be put on the company payroll so the only way that the company can pay you is by cheque. How the *expletive* are you supposed to pay in a *another expletive*ing cheque if you don't have a *previous expletive or another one*ing bank account ??

This country is run on the principle you may have seen in a previous post of mine: Keyboard not found, press F1 to continue. That and: You don't exist until we say you do.

It appears that I can't establish any kind of credit presence until I get a credit card of some sort and I can't get a credit card until I have a credit presence.

I have my UK credit card which is fine but, sooner or later, I'm going to need to transfer money from the US to the UK to pay it off. By all (anecdotal) accounts, the average waiting time is a year before the banks will graciously grant you a card. After that, you can't stop the credit card applications piling through your door. A UK credit card does not exist in the eyes of the US financial business.

A credit presence is necessary if I want to get a car. Basically, if I had the money to buy a car outright, I would have bought a plasma TV by now.

Barclays and Barclaycard were no use. I phoned them to see if I could get a credit report of some sort which I could then take to banks as part of my begging plan. They use external companies for that and can't generate the report until another financial institution asks for it along with the reason why ? Whatever happened to the Data Protection Act ?

Things may not be as bad as I make out. I have a letter from the Social Security Administration to say I have applied for a SSN and there's a reference number to go with it so I'm chancing a visit to a couple of banks this weekend to see if they can do anything.

The other gripe I have at the moment is that this country runs on the principal that, if you want to transfer money, you do it by cheque. It costs money to transfer more money from one bank to another by electrical means. There's something called BillPay but I've yet to experience that.

We're in the process of negotiating to rent a house. We're offering a lower rent to the landlord than they advertised but we're asking for a longer lease. She's going to think about it this weekend. Due to my inability to divide a simple 4-figure number by 2, our budget was set lower than we can actually afford so there is some room manouevre if necessary but we're not telling anybody. Keep it a secret.

Again, this rental transaction has to be done by cheque. $1000 as a security on lease presentation so that if we back out, we lose it. $3000 security deposit plus the first and last month's rent on occupation of the property. All done by cheque. We have to post it so I hope that the Pony Express is fast enough.

It's not that we don't have the money, it's just that we can't get it to anywhere useful. You'd think that the real estate agent had the ability to handle cash or credit cards but, no, they want cheques. I made a point of counting out $20 in $1 bills to pay the fee for the credit check (which will come back with nothing because I have no credit presence…Aaarrrgggghhh!)

So, for some reason, I've gone a little more grey than before.

I'd waste away to nothing if it wasn't for my next topic…

Why is your average American deli physically incapable of making a simple sandwich ?

It's at this point I turn into a whinging Brit.

All I want is two slices of bread and a small amount of filling. I don't need to have an elaborate creation which can only achieve stability by being held together with a cocktail stick. Don't get me wrong. The food here is great but I like to be able to take a bite of my sandwich in one go rather than having to take two or three. For those of you forming a statement in your head, I said *bite* and not *whole sandwich*.

I'll take a deep breath now I've let all of that out. These are minor rants and it doesn't serve to keep it all bottled up 🙂

We're still having a fantastic time. The girls (all 3) are going a little stir-crazy in the hotel. Because Sam doesn't have a car, it cuts down on travel plans a little but she has access to the hotel shuttle. The other day, she got them to drive her to McDonalds so the girls could have something to eat for lunch and play in the play area. The driver actually waited for 30 minutes before they came out.

This weekend, we move to a different hotel which is closer to the office. It's more of a house with a kitchen and living area. This means we can start getting back into a routine for meals without needing to go out (we nearly went to the Macaroni Grill again).

On Sunday, one of the guys at work has invited us to his house for brunch so his kids can play with our kids and vice versa.

Along with all of that, we're still house hunting.

I'm sure by the end of the weekend, I'll have some new stories about how the banks work.

(*) That was Homer Simpson, by the way.


Raindrops keep falling on my head

Nothing much to report today apart from the fact that it's raining. It's nice that they're trying to make us feel at home but when I stared out of my Basingstoke windows at the grey miserable skies last week and smugly announced that clouds and rain would be a thing of the past I find myself having to eat humble pie (and being in America, they only serve large portions).

We've been looking at houses this week. We thought we found a great place in San Mateo. The rooms were very big, there was more space than we'd ever been used to and the rent was affordable. The problem was that the neighbourhood wasn't too desirable. If you've ever seen Back to the Future II where Marty arrives back in Hill Valley in an alternate 1985 and someone else is living in his house, just as he sneaks back into his bedroom, you can see huge electricity pylons. It was a little like that except swap the pylons with the intersection between Hwy 101 and 92. It's a shame, if they could have moved the house down to Mountain View or Palo Alto, we would have snapped it up.

Sam arranged for us to visit another house last night and phoned to confirm the time we were due to view it. “Oh No!”, replied the vendor, “You don't view it today. You drive by and look to see if you like it. Then you arrange to view it”. “But can't we just arrange to view it now ?” asked Sam. “No. Drive by first, then arrange appointment”.

We gave that one up.


Take a number

As today is a Monday and I have no status, I decided it was time to register for a Social Security Number(SSN). This is all-important in identifying yourself to most American bureaucracies.

I tried phoning the 1-800 number but got through to an automated system whereby if I wanted to speak to a representative, I needed to key in my SSN or the extension number of the person I wanted to speak to (keyboard not found, press F1 to continue). Quite what happens when my SSN is the same as somebody's extension number is an exciting mystery I'll get to experience at some point.

The San Mateo office for Social Security Administration (SSA) is down some back street between a row of car repair shops and the train line. I think they're making the dole scum feel more at home. The office has a courtyard with a fountain. This is to lull visitors into believing that it is a nice place to visit. It doesn't prepare you for the mind-numbing tedium that you are subjected to once inside.

Just inside the door sits a rotund security guard who probably needs to put down his burrito before he stands up to chase anybody. His job is to tap the sign which reads “Take a number and wait to be called”. That and straighten the ticket reel when it goes out of true.

Once you have your ticket, you get to sit in hard plastic chairs and stare at your fellow inmates. What was missing was the piped Country and Western music in the background.

However, as I was preparing for a long wait, in came an elderly lady with a loud voice who provided us with a morning's worth of free entertainment.

She hadn't received her Social Security cheque. This was a point she reminded anyone and everyone who looked in her direction. She then realised that there were a large number of Japanese/Chinese visitors in the waiting area. This provoked a barrage of comments to the caucasian lady who was sitting next to her about how US troops had fought the Japanese in the war and yet the Japanese were coming over to the US and laughing at them by claiming benefit. We were also reminded that you had to have earned the right to claim benefit by putting something in. After that, nobody really wanted to sit next to her or even make eye contact.

This didn't put her off. She woke the guard to ask where the restrooms where. When she came back, the real entertainment began.

With a routine that would have caused Mr Motivator to have a heart attack, she proceeded to hook her leg over the handrail next to the disabled access ramp like a ballet dancer and do some stretches. After swapping legs, she began waving her arms in circles. It's possible she thought she was going to calcify by waiting with the rest of us but she'd come prepared. She pulled out a resistance band from her purse and was using that to do vertical push-ups against the wall. Quite why she didn't get a round of applause at the end, I'll never know.

I got called up to the desk after about 45 minutes of waiting and went through my application. I had all the correct identification papers but the Department of Homeland Security haven't recorded my arrival yet. This worries me on a number of levels.

First, I still have no status. After 9/11, I'm surprised that they're not tracking my every move by satellite. I landed last Thursday so why haven't they entered my details ?
Second, it's going to take up to four weeks to verify that I exist before they can begin to process my SSN application and generate me a SSN which will take a further two weeks. Why does it take so long to generate a number. I can think of lots of numbers very quickly, imagine what you can do with a computer.

I don't know if this is going to cause any problems with getting paid. I've alerted the appropriate people inside Scalix to this fact. I'm hoping for a suitcase of dollar bills. Chances are, it'll be a cheque.


Green-eyed monster

If you have an appreciation for all things electronic / computer-related, going to Fry's is like a pilgrimage to Mecca. For the uninitiated, Fry's is only equivalent to PC World in the fact that it is a store which sells computer-related products. Fry's has more floor space, more stock, cheaper prices, more staff. If you've got the time, take a picnic and stay the whole day.

We went to Fry's on Saturday to buy Sam a laptop. She needs one to be able to surf the house rental lists and keep in touch with people through Skype and e-mail while I'm at work with my laptop.

We picked up a Compaq Presario R4010US for $1029. It has a AMD Sempron processor with 1280×800 15.2″ screen, 512Mb, 80Gb Hard drive, DVD +/- RW DL burner, SD/MMC/XD card reader, 3 USB 2.0 ports, firewire and 802.11g wireless built-in.

I was almost crying as we came away from the store because I didn't buy anything for me. Sooner or later Sam's going to get suspicious as I keep asking to borrow her PC. My laptop may have to stay at work to force the issue.

So, we're sitting in the hotel bed with a cup of tea, each with a laptop and wireless connection surfing the web.

Speaking of cups of tea, the first thing that Sam made me buy when we got to the hotel was a kettle. In the past, my usual trick has been to heat the water in the coffee percolator. For some reason, that has a tendency to make the tea taste of coffee. We, i.e. Sam, brought a box of 240 tea bags in the luggage along with a tub of Marmite for the girls and also some UK chocolate. Robinsons are shipping a further 1000 tea bags, 1.5 litres of Marmite and 5-6 Kgs of chocolate. It's as if there's going to be shortage somehow. If anybody comes to visit us, they know what they need to bring over.

We're off to look at some properties today and begin the hunt for the next house to be named Kelly Towers.


In the land of the free…

Phew !!

I've finally sat back and relaxed today.

As you may have already guessed, we've landed. America doesn't know what's hit it.

The past few days have been a bit of a blur. It started on Wednesday night / Thursday morning as we continued to tidy the house for our new tenant. I pity the bin men as we threw away anything that wasn't nailed down.

I have to admit it was a very surreal experience cleaning out a fridge from top to bottom at 1:15am on the day I'm due to emigrate.

We have a big Samsung fridge (my last concession to my previous employer). It has a wonderful feature whereby, if you leave the door open and the temperature inside the fridge or freezer rises by one degree, a little alarm beeps to let you know. This is really useful because you don't want Ben and Jerry's Phish Food pooling all over the floor. Because we've always closed the door on the first instance of the alarm, I never realised that the bloody thing beeps at *every* rise of one degree. This means that you get a constant nagging to close the door (something you can't really do when you're cleaning it out). Even after a year and a half of leaving the company, they still exist to bug the hell out of me.

The taxi arrived at 8 o'clock on Thursday to pick us up. You should have seen the look on the driver's face when he realised that he needed to get seven large cases plus six pieces of carry-on luggage into the back of his car. Luckily, Sam's family drove up to the airport with us so Sam and Joanna went in their car and Rachel and I went in the cab.

Just before we left, I went through the ritual of placing each case on a pair of bathroom scales. For flights to the US, Virgin Atlantic allow two pieces of hold baggage each weighing 32Kg. My ritual, bordering on obsessive compulsive disorder, was to weigh each case several times to make sure that no new air had got into the case and made it weigh more. There was some method in my madness because it allowed me to determine which cases had spare capacity to store extra USB cables or DSL modems. It would appear that I have the capability to run a small hosting facility from the hotel room with the amount of computer equipment I had in my luggage.

Sam's obsession was hoovering the house from top to bottom. Her family had to prise the Dyson out of her hands to get her into the cab. I think she was clinging on to the last bastion of British existence before she was converted into an American.

It all got a bit emotional at the airport (and not because I couldn't look through Dixons). It's obviously a big upheaval for Sam to leave her family after they have lived so close for so long but everybody we said goodbye to has PCs with internet connections and most of them have webcams.

The flight was uneventful. The girls were fantastic throughout the journey and Joanna wowed the passengers and crew with her flashing Barbie sandals. We're always proud of both of them when people come up to us to coo over them. They have cultivated their public persona to maximum effect. I can assure you the veneer starts to peel when they get tired or are behind closed doors.

We picked up the rental car with the same effect as we had on the taxi driver in the UK. The rental firm employees had to do a few double takes as they looked between our cases (see above for quantity) and the compact car that had been reserved for us. In the end, after we gave the sob story about having no home, we got a free upgrade to a Chrysler Pacifica . I was able to impress everyone by cramming all the luggage in the trunk with room to spare.

I decided to pop into the office to introduce the family to the San Mateo office. Expecting fanfares, marching bands, banners and streamers, we arrived in the office to the sound of tumbleweed as most people had decided to work from home. It's amazing how quickly anticlimax can counteract adrenaline.

We got to the hotel without a problem and made sure that we paid a visit to Romano's Macaroni Grill as part of the first night tradition whenever someone visits San Mateo. We all went to bed at about 8pm and the girls were up at 4am the next morning. That's not too bad considering the time difference but, we are writing a complimentary letter to Nick Jr, Disney Channel and PBS Kids to congratulate them on having kid's programmes on so early.

Friday morning was spent in the hotel diner to experience the American breakfast. Contrary to popular opinion, I'm not a big fan of American pancakes so I didn't have the short stack. However, the Radisson Villa Hotel specialises in the Villa scrambler which is three eggs, bacon, italian sausage, chorizo, spring onions and cheese. Apart from Dr Pepper, I may have found another Achilles heel (read addiction).

I had to work on Friday so Sam and the girls needed to entertain themselves. They spent a lot of time in the Japanese gardens in San Mateo. When I got back from the office, they seemed to have picked up another hotel resident so that Sam could attempt to convince her into buying Forever Living Products that Sam has been selling for a while.

A quick trip to TGI Fridays for tea, where Joanna nearly fell asleep face down in her spaghetti, and we were back in the hotel.

And so ends our first week as non-American immigrants.


Who vacuums light shades ?

Oh my god !

My house is empty. The men from Robinsons came and packed all my belongings into cardboard boxes and placed them carefully into a 20ft freight container which is now on its way to the boat.

We had a good night's sleep last night because they left us our beds and the TV. Tonight, we sleep on airbeds ready to leap into action when the taxi arrives tomorrow.

Now that everything has gone, the absence of furniture has revealed a horrifying secret. We've been collecting fluff and dust for the past 13 years. It's no wonder that my side of the bed was uncomfortable, we have a dustball the size of a small sheepdog. We've beaten it into submission and the Dyson made quick work to dispatch it.

The house echoes but it looks bigger than when we bought it. I'm thinking of calling the whole thing off and living as a minimalist just to make use of the space.

What's left to do ? Well, basically, everything that was currently in the ironing pile is being crammed into a suitcase, making sure that the case weighs below 32kgs. I've made sure that all the essential computer equipment (isn't all computer equipment essential ?) is being carried as luggage rather than being shipped. I just can't live as a pleb without a decent internet connection.

We're in maintenance mode because we have a friend renting the house from us. She moves in on the day we move out so, apparently, we have to vacuum the light shades in preparation. Why ? We're going to be 5000 miles away by the time our new tenant realises that we couldn't be arsed to hoover the floor.

Still, that's the least of our worries. The great adventure begins tomorrow and we're heading into the great unknown that is the Radisson 🙂