LA Confidential – X-Band & Artichokes

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel, Los Angeles

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel

I’m the sort of person who likes to plan, but despite my best intentions life always seems to be event-driven. Such is the case today, which is why I’m writing this. Let me explain:

I’m on Linkedin and am a member of some 30+ Groups relating to satellite communications. Being a helpful sort of guy I try to answer questions posed by Group members if they relate to a topic that I know something about. Such was the case today when I saw that someone had posed the question along the lines “What is the difference between the use of a Klystron and a TWTA in an earth station transmitter”?
Well, that’s right up my street. I remembered writing a paper related to this way back in 1981. Even though that was 30 years ago and technology evolves, the underlying physics remains the same.

The paper was entitled “Design of a High Power Earth Station Transmitter for the Band 7.9 to 8.4 GHz”. As you’ll all know that is one of the main uplink bands (X-Band) used for military satellite communications and the paper arose out of some work I did on a contract for a particular Government which was building an anchor station for all of its military satcoms.
How does this relate to Artichokes you might ask? Read on and all will become clear.

I thought the paper was pretty good so after receiving the appropriate clearances I submitted it for inclusion in a major annual conference scheduled for the USA later that year, the 1981 IEEE/MTT-S International Microwave Symposium to be held at The Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles. I never thought the paper would be accepted but, lo and behold, to my surprise it was.

For those of you with a technical bent, there’s a copy of the paper in PDF format here or if you’re an IEEE member it’s in the ‘conferences’ area on their website. Pages 264 to 266 of Microwave Symposium Digest No 19.

My company decided to take a display booth at the co-located Exhibition, and since I was the marketing & sales director I had that to organise in addition to presenting the paper. So, my colleague Mike T and I eventually set off for the States on a trip that started in Los Angeles and then continued on to include visits to customers along the West Coast of California and in Silicon Valley.

I’m sure everyone will recognise The Bonaventure hotel, being something of a landmark in LA and which has featured in many a Hollywood movie. The conference lasted three days and I still remember presenting that paper to a large audience of international experts, and dreading that someone would ask a question about something I had missed or had got wrong. Relief, the dreaded killer questions never came up and I even saw that a couple of people at the back of the auditorium had dropped off to sleep, thank goodness.

A Titan IV Centaur Launch at Vandenburg AFB

A Titan IV Centaur Launch at Vandenburg AFB

With the Conference and Exhibition over Mike and I picked up a rental car and headed north, our first stop being Santa Maria for a customer meeting adjacent to the Vandenberg US Air Force base and satellite launch facility.

The next day being a Saturday we headed north on Route 1, the scenic Pacific Highway, rather than the more direct Route 101. Our aim was to arrive in Carmel or Monterey and to overnight there. Upon arrival we looked for a hotel but the whole place was booked out. It was late, we were tired and so decided to head inland to Salinas, known as the Salad Bowl of America. I remember seeing a large billboard as we drove into town stating “Salinas – Artichoke Capital of the USA”.

Old Main Street, Salinas

Old Main Street, Salinas

We found a decent hotel, had a quick shower and set out on foot to look for a bar where we could get a long, cold beer. Unfortunately, being a Saturday night in a country town some of the local rednecks were out and about. You’ve guessed it; as soon as this particular gang of five heard our British accents we were destined to be their source of violent entertainment for the night. I remember that the leader was nicknamed “Pinky”. Why? – because he was missing a little finger, probably lost in a previous Saturday night’s brawl!

They were drunk and things started to get ugly so, discretion being the better part of valour, we decided that we had to do a runner – but how? Plan hatched, I made the excuse of going to the men’s room. However, these guys weren’t stupid and they all followed me down the narrow corridor at the rear of the bar. At least that left Mike the opportunity to disappear through the front door of the bar, which he wasted no time in doing.

I had no option but to run for the back door and managed to escape seconds before the first redneck reached me. Once they saw I was away and gone they staggered back inside to find some other folks to harass.
I haven’t had much of a taste for artichokes since that night.

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