Saturday, May 26, 2007

Travelogue - First day in the US of A

I didn't feel much of a jet lag the night I arrived. We headed straight to their home in the city of Lodi. And on the way Anish received a call from offshore; it was 11 pm but hey this is one of the drawbacks of working in a foreign land and having to coordinate with a team that is many time zones ahead of you.

The area was not the typical city of sky scrapers that one usually expects US to be; instead it was filled with plenty of two storey bungalows spread out near the highway with lost of empty space. Same was the case within our house as well - there was ample space and it could easily accommodate five or siz people - but it was occupied by only three. I shared the room with Wreet and I was quite active till around 1am unpacking some of my stuff and chatting with Wreet. He was busy with two laptops - an official one and a personal one. I put up a couple of sleeping bags together and went to bed.

Morning it was a kind of a dash to catch the bus to New York city. Buses had time tables and we had a bus every 20 minutes or so from our place. Surprise of the day was the weather - it was raining and temperatures were low (when you come from a land of 45 degrees centigrade anything below 20 is cold and now it was somewhere below 10). I put on the huge leather jacket and grabbed Wreet's umbrella as I stepped out of the house. Anish was leading the way. I was welcomed to the street with increasing rain and stronger winds - hardly had we walked for a minute when I felt the biting cold on my right hand which was exposed because it was gripping the umbrella. Every twenty seconds I would alternate hands to hold the umbrella but still felt very cold in my fingers - the word 'biting' cold made more sense to me now! I was walking head down with rain cap and umbrella blindly following Anish's footsteps.

The bus stop was around five minutes away from our place. The bus was quite comfortable - there was no conductor; the bus driver was conductor plus driver. People stepped into the bus in an orderly manner - no fight to step inside and grab a seat. There was an electronic display board above the driver's head which had some counter on it; I initially thought that each stop had a number but later I learnt that my theory was wrong - it was a count of the number of people who had stepped into the bus. Above every seat there was a little bulb and an overhead tray for baggage (just like airplanes) and there was also a stop button. You press the button and the driver would stop at the next bus stop. Wow - the first thing that struck me was how organized everything was; there was hardly any noise in the bus, no one was moving about up and down (no one needed to since everyone was seated) and it was an air conditioned bus. We travelled for an hour to reach New York city - the bus terminal was huge with some mysterious concept of a 'gate' for every bus. I didn't understand much of it and just followed Anish down a couple of escalators to enter the famed New York subways.

Anish explained about downtown and uptown and how to know which train to take but most of what he said flew overhead; it would take me sometime to understand how the subways worked - which train should we take and how do we know whether we are heading towards our destination or away from it. Trains had names A, B and C! Anish said we take the A or C trains and we hopped onto one. The train would stop and the door would open for maybe 30 or 40 seconds in which time people would get off and on the train. Again there was no fighting to get in - people were allowed to get off first and then people got inside. So organized. And I also saw a variety of faces in the crowds - asians, europeans, americans - a mixture of faces and ages; a lot of cultural diversity.

As we walked from underground onto the open I felt the weather had only got worser. Guess I had carried the Indian monsoons with me! It wasn't long before my umbrella bent in the reverse direction but the umbrella was designed with this in mind since the framework inside was kind of flexible - it wasn't rigid and so you could easily restore the umbrella back to its original state even when it got upturned. The winds grew really strong making it harder to even walk. Added to that was the low temperatures - hands getting frozen, avoiding getting drenched in the rain, fighting with a succumbing umbrella and mustering strength to walk against the wind. Anish said, "We're almost there" and he made a dash by unfolding the umbrella. I did the same as if we were in an Olympics race running the final mile. We were soon in the reception area of a huge sky scraper - some 30 or 40 storey building which was our office. Mission accomplished!