Between 1989 and 1998, I'd visited the US 13 times and been to every state except Alaska and Hawaii. On 9 occasions, I'd gone for 3 or 4 weeks in the summer and on 4 other occasions, I'd spent 2 weeks over Christmas with friends in Georgia.
Then in April 2000, I decided I wanted to go for a longer trip and so I took a 6 month work sabbatical and had a fabulous time with friends Debby and Dennis in Michigan. We crammed so much into those 6 months that hardly a day went by without us being off touring somewhere.
We went on a long "trip out west" by driving across the northern states to Seattle, then down the coast to San Francisco before heading east through the southern states and finally turning north back to Michigan. More full rectangle than full circle !
We also went on a family float trip which involved blowing up huge inner tubes and gently floating down a river on a blisteringly hot summer's day with a stop for a picnic along the way.
A drive down to the Florida Keys was also a highlight as it was my first time in Key West and we also found time to get tickets to watch the launch of shuttle mission STS101 from the Kennedy Space Centre on the drive home.
So all in all I'd had a fabulous time and as a thank you to my hosts and also to cram in one final trip, we flew to Las Vegas in late October and stayed at the newly opened Aladdin Hotel & Casino. In fact it was so new that final touches were taking place and some areas were still to complete.
It was a fabulous hotel with 37 floors and 2,456 rooms and we had stunning views overlooking the Vegas Strip and were able to look down on the beautiful musical water display at the Bellagio "across the road." It was even better at night, as most things are in Vegas.
I only had my little 1mp Kodak digital camera back in those days so the quality of the photos weren't great but this one will always remind me of both that Vegas trip and also the US 2000 holiday as a whole.
The Aladdin had 2 rooftop swimming pools and during our stay, I got some great outdoor views looking down on the Strip. Sadly most of those Vegas photos were lost when my external hard drive was corrupted so I'm left with just the one above, taken through the room window with the associated reflections.
But I guess that, in a way, knowing this was the exact view we had from the room window adds to the memory.
Nothing lasts for long in Vegas and within 3 years, The Aladdin had gone into bankruptcy, to be sold to Planet Hollywood. By 2007 it was fully rebranded as The Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino which, amazingly, it still is today !
Anyway, when we got back to Michigan, it was very hard to think I was at the end of this wonderful US trip. So I started to find out what would be needed to stay longer ! The IBM sabbatical 'rules' said I could have a year off and so they had no problem giving me another 3 months to add to the initial 6. The US authorities were ok with this too but as a visitor visa is only good for 6 months, I had to pay a fee to have it extended. Finally I paid $100 and had my return flight date altered.
Did we sit around for those 3 months ? Hell no. In November we had another road trip to Key West and in December we went on a Caribbean cruise, my first of many !!
I vividly remember getting back to my desk in January 2001. I stood for some time looking at it and thinking "I don't want to do this anymore." The time off hadn't fired me up for a return to work. Quite the opposite. Despite being only 48, I started planning for my retirement at 50, the earliest date possible. Fate was with my plans as a few months later IBM wanted volunteers for early retirement and my hand shot up so fast I almost pulled a muscle.
And so it was that on 25th June 2001, on my 49th birthday, I retired. I got a sweet package from IBM which included a generous lump sum to cover me for the year before I would be able to get my private pension.
And where did I go for my first trip as a retiree ?
On 7th November 2001 I flew to America for 4 months !!