Tropical Radio and Telegraph

1979

TRT indeed stood for Tropical Radio and Telegraph. It was just bought by a division of the company called United Brands, formerly United Fruit, now Chiquita Brands International, known for inspiring the birth of the expression “banana republic.” And “bananas” and “tropics” go together just like the horse and carriage. My hiring manager that had aversion to “jerks” but liked “warm bodies” was Mark Becker from the list below. An excerpt from my HIAS memoir about my first and second days at work in the New World is posted below.

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Greenhorning

Art and Nat were the temple volunteers assigned to help with my job search. They looked over my resume and then asked whether I preferred a small or a big company. Nat was an executive at a big corporation, while Art owned a small business. I preferred a place that would pay money. For the rest I did not give a hoot and had no idea if I should. “I am pretty open,” I said. The times were ridiculously “hot” for software geeks. Several interviews came up almost instantaneously. As one of the interviewers told me, “any warm body would do.” He was very happy to meet a “body” like mine and confessed that it contrasted favorably with the “jerks” he had been accustomed to seeing lately. Interviewing also enriched my English. Apart from the juicy “jerks” and “geeks,” I was surprised by seemingly simple expressions like “quite a few.” That adding “quite” to a small number would make it suddenly a big number (I guessed that) boggled my mind. I heard it first during an interview at a recently founded outfit with a strange name: “NASDAQ.”

I was hired by the “warm body”- loving guy, even after asking for more money than he offered. Contrary to all job-hunting rules, I argued that besides wife and children I had literally nothing (I did not mention the suitcases) and could not survive in Westport on so little (a good guess). I had the luck of a tyro – and the offer was increased.

As a bonus I could get to my work without a car. A local mini-bus, a posh amenity of a ritzy town, could take me to the train station, and after a brief ride I could walk right into the office door. On the first day I took no chances and got in 40 minutes before the start of the workday. That evening, studying the train schedule I figured I could safely take another train half an hour later.

The stretch from Westport to East Norwalk is only three miles and we are almost there, but I don’t feel we are slowing down. My little office, next door to the fascinating Factory Store, streaks by. Nor do we stop at Norwalk’s main station. Worried, I ask a passing conductor: “what’s the next stop – Stamford?” “New York City” is the answer.

The train arrives at the Grand Central. This is my first time in New York. I check the next train back – it does stop in Stamford – and frantically run upstairs to take a look at Manhattan. It’s full of people and cars (what a surprise) but I have time for only one furtive glance and rush back down. On the platform at Stamford, I find a phone booth and call work. Somebody will pick me up soon, I am told. The rush hour is over by now and after a brief wait I see a lonely car approaching. It’s a boxy, mile-long, super luxurious Lincoln-Continental. It is driven by the owner of my small company! He is extremely friendly, and I finally relax. He keeps the conversation going during the ride. I learn that he has just sold his company to a big corporation. He is probably bored biding his time, so picking me up is a diversion. Years later I find a similar immigrant story with wrong trains in Nabokov’s Pnin.

More on my immigration story here