Before I moved to Lincolnshire I used to work for a French waste (mis)management company called Onyx UK that had an optimistic business plan to take over refuse collection services in the UK and I worked at a depot in Maidenhead in Berkshire and managed the Windsor contract.
The company was always trying to cut costs and one day in February 1997 the Managing Director, a man called Percy Powell, telephoned me to tell me that he had heard of a new type of refuse collection vehicle with impressive labour saving innovations that offered potentially huge operational efficiencies and that he was interested in finding out more. He asked me if I would be prepared to visit the factory where they were manufactured and give him my opinion.
To be honest I had very little interest in bincarts or how they are made but fortunately, before I could prematurely decline, he happened to mention that the factory was in Phoenix, Arizona in the United States of America and almost instantaneously my lack of interest transformed into complete and total enthusiasm. Did I want to visit Phoenix to see some dustcarts? You bet I did!
And so a couple of weeks later on a miserable wet day I drove to Heathrow Airport and met my travelling companions in the departure lounge; Dave who worked for the company and who, despite having no real technical background or training, had managed to convince everyone that he was an expert on all things vehicles and procurement, Keith who was a contract manager from Norwich and who was just as mystified as I was why he had the good fortune to be selected for this task, but like me wasn’t complaining, and then there was Allan and Ben who worked for the vehicle manufactures Jack Allen and who hoped to interest us in their exciting new dustcart range.
It was a long flight with North West Airlines but there was free drink and hot food and we made each other laugh while we misbehaved like excitable little boys going to summer camp and the first leg of the journey passed surprisingly quickly and after eight hours we landed in Dallas, Texas to make our connecting flight to Phoenix. This involved a tedious four hour wait hanging around the shopping malls and the book shops which was excruciatingly dull, but we also spent some time, well, most of it actually, in the airport bar which was a much better alternative and it gave Dave the opportunity to begin his quest to spend Allan’s entire years hospitality budget in just three days. Dave it seemed had a gluttonous appetite for beer and burgers and it started right here in Dallas.
Finally we made the second leg of our journey to Phoenix, or to be strictly accurate, Scottsdale, and once successfully through passport control and the typically unfriendly US customs we picked up the people carrier hire vehicle and made the short journey to the motel where we had reservations courtesy of Jack Allen. We had been travelling for sixteen hours and Allan, Ben and Keith all declared themselves weary and ready for bed but Dave wasn’t finished just yet and he coerced me into going to the bar for last drinks and a final burger. The term ‘last drinks’ usually implies a quick twenty minute round up but once Dave had got the taste for the beer, Allan’s room number for charging it to and had fallen in love with the attractive girl behind the bar we stayed for a good long session until, way past reasonable closing time, she finally ran out of patience and decided to call time!
My travelling companions…