Thursday, September 22, 2005

How I became an American

I am a naturalised American. I got my citizenship a few years back, just after my son was born. There were many reasons - mainly I had had a green card for over five years and was eligible. Also, it was post 9/11, and there was a vague worry that the powers that be might decide to rescind green cards from those who didn't apply for citizenship. Mostly, though, I wanted to vote, AND, I really like the place and what it stands for, (the last five years notwithstanding), I like Americans, (I married one, afterall), and years of late night westerns with my dad and ridiculous amounts of time listening to various derivations of American music had rearranged the cultural synapses in my brain. As John Lennon said, "The first time I heard rock and roll on the radio, I was already half American," or something like that.
All that said, U.S. citizenship was never really high on my list of ambitions when I left college: Rock and roll stardom, Olympic gold medal swimmer, (despite that in the competitive swimming world, I was in my already in my dotage, and wasn't that good to begin with), world traveler, Bob Dylan’s guitar player, spaceman, Jennifer Connelly's boyfriend...I applied for a green card in the lottery, just like every other Irish person in those twenty two percent unemployment days, but I wasn't going to cry if I didn't get it. I did get one, and even then I wasn't sure if I was going to leave. I liked Galway, I was making some money from DJing, a few band projects had possibilities, and I was trying to get a little software enterprise off the ground with a college classmate, (actually the truth is he was trying a lot harder than I was). At the time, both of us were on the dole, as were almost all of my post graduate class. There were several government programs aimed at helping the unemployed, but college graduates were expected to do ok - or leave, so there was nothing specifically directed towards helping us with gainful employment. We decided that we would see what kind of government grants we could get to help our little enterprise up on its feet. An appointment was made, and we arrived dressed to impress. I must have looked ridiculous; I had below shoulder length hair tied in a pony tail and a purple jacket, pink shirt, grey pants, and a scarlet tie. I looked more like a Miami Vice reject than a future entrepreneur. My partner made up for it by dressing much more conservatively.
We laid out our business plan, which essentially was a software package geared towards Irish realtors. Nothing like it existed, and we really felt there was a market for it. Also the way it was written meant it could be adapted to other types of business. We were told that the agency only funded manufacturing type enterprises that employed more than 10 people. My partner and I had just come from three years of business school and a year in a Systems Analysis postgraduate program. Over and over, we had been told how totally unsuited to manufacturing Ireland was. A small island with terrible transport infrastructure meant prohibitive transport costs alone. We felt that software was a perfect business for Ireland. I don’t think he even know what a PC was. He did say that the agency could give us a living allowance while we were getting off our feet. How much was that? Less than what we got on the dole, and way less that the dole combined with our rent allowance. How’s that for an incentive to get off your ass and start a business.

So in short, my band had split up, my girlfriend had left me, I was on the dole, I had no money, and it was raining. Easy decision, California here I come! Actually, Rhode Island first, for a wedding. The Irish pound devalued which killed the housing market in Ireland for the short term, which meant any prospective customers we had pulled out, I was only half committed anyway and I really, really, needed to leave Galway. I was in danger of being the guy who never truly leaves college. A friend told me I was leaving Ireland at a very interesting time, and that things would chance dramatically over the coming years. How right he was. I still made the right decision.


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