In 1976, the year the United States of America celebrated its 200th birthday, I visited for a three month holiday. I had obtained a J-1 visa allowing me to work there, arranged with the help of BUNAC (British Universities North America Club). Before setting off from England I had secured a temporary job with Penguin Ice Cream in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio.
I travelled out there with a school friend Phil who had arranged similar work in Chicago. We parted company in New York but I did visit him for a day on my travels across America, which took me to the west coast, Mexico and Canada before returning to the UK for the start of my second year at university.
Back in 1976 things were different in many ways. For example, the following were not around:
- mobile phones
- the internet
- bank ATMs
- compact discs
- personal stereos
Nelson Mandela had served twelve years in prison and would not be released for a further fourteen years. We were in the middle of the Cold War. That meant, for example, that the USA and USSR had nuclear weapons aimed at each other. However, US Apollo and Soviet Soyuz 19 spacecrafts had recently linked up in the first international manned space flight and the world seemed a safer place then than it does today.
US unemployment was at a 30-year high. The Vietnam war had ended the year before, and Gerald Ford was president following the resignation of Richard Nixon in disgrace the year before that. Elvis Presley was still alive. The World Trade Center in New York was three years old.
In the UK, the Northern Ireland conflict was at its height, with frequent bombings there and on the British mainland. James Callaghan was newly-appointed prime minister following the surprise resignation of Harold Wilson. Margaret Thatcher was leader of the Opposition. Concorde scheduled flights had just started. John Lennon was still alive. The American fast food revolution had not yet arrived.