In the summer of 1989, I travelled to the U.S. with BUNAC, a work and travel exchange programme that provided a working holiday, J-1 visa.

There were lots of opportunities to go and work with kids on summer camps, but I didn’t fancy this.

I rather fancied living and working in Manhattan, enjoying one of the world’s most vibrant, if somewhat menacing cities.

This was only 7 months after the Lockerbie bombing, a disaster which saw Pan Am Flight 103 crash in Scotland, killing 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 people on the ground.

After a three-hour check-in at Heathrow, during which the security staff made sure my Sony Walkman actually played the tape inside it, I boarded (from memory) the renamed Flight 113, bound for JFK, arriving on the evening of July the 4th.

If ever there was a good day for a bomb, it was this.

I arrived safely to see the Empire State Building lit up in red, white and blue.

We stayed the first night in the YMCA on E 47th Street, and after an orientation, were set free.

My first memory of that morning is a group of us being yelled at as we were blocking the pavement. I quickly learnt to say both sorry and sidewalk.

I managed to find some good digs, right in the heart of sleazy downtown on E 14th Street between First and Second Avenues.

New York had passed its worst, but there were still empty crack pipes on the streets in the morning.

I bought a copy of the New York Times on the first Sunday, and even though there were pages and pages, the want ads hinted the search for work was going to be pretty tough.

I had to differentiate, and I turned instead to the Yellow Pages.

I had very little experience working in restaurants but decided to use my unique qualities to my advantage.

I searched for a British or English restaurant. There was only one, the Cheshire Cheese Restaurant, a little further uptown.

I called on spec and asked for a job as a waiter. They had no vacancies, but could I come that evening and try out as a busboy?

I said I could, and I would be there at 6 o’clock.

That was it. Easy. First call, job in the bag.

Standing out from the crowd, differentiating, may be as simple as just being yourself.


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