Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Part 3 USA – Boston

Well, I did say we will jump scenes and so here is a jump across days. Later in the week we will jump back to where we left off in the last edition.

I think it’s amazing what moms and women who manage the household work do. Guys staying away from family in a foreign land in Europe or US are more than likely to appreciate the fact – especially if they are alone and have to do the veggie shopping, cleaning, cutting, cooking, cleaning up after eating, rearranging the leftovers in proper vessels to be dumped into the fridge and washing the vessels. Doing it once or twice a day itself can get irritating at times – imagine doing it three times a day everyday along with cleaning the house and taking care of washing the clothes. Things seem so simple when looking from outside – put this, put that, stir for a while, boil for a while, steam for a while, add a couple of masalas and voila – it’s that easy and quick to cook; hardly takes 30 minutes you think. Only when you do it, do you realize how time can get eaten away in cooking and cooking related chores. We take things for granted – mom or someone cooks at home and we just eat, go about our own business and enjoy; and end up forgetting about the other person. And through the day we lament about how tough our day is. Next time you brush aside lending a helping hand thinking, “I’ve had a tough day; let me take rest,” think about the other person who has to compensate for it; and they do it to keep you going.

And so after the mini wakeup, back to our story – my friend and I had our own ways; he wanted to know the night earlier what time to start while I liked leaving that decision to how the body felt in the morning – depending on when you wake up, you start the trip since Boston was just an hour and a half away. In the morning while in the car, he said, “I think we’ll miss the 9am bus.” We caught it; quite comfortably with more than 10 minutes to spare. We booked a same day return trip to save us a couple of dollars on the ride; coffee and wifi internet was free. The bus also had a toilet in the back – would be quite handy in Indian buses. It was a smooth ride on the smooth highways non stop. When we entered Boston, we passed through a tunnel and on one side there was a huge queue of cars – fortunately we didn’t go that way.

Out on the street

The bus terminal was huge – just like what is there in New York. The metro station was beside the terminal. I attended to nature's call before we went in search of tickets – the toilet was certainly not maintained well. It was just late in the morning and already there were toilets that were choked with tissue paper - you don't expect to see such conditions in the US. We bought a one-day pass at the ticket counter (it cost $9 - unlimited bus and metro rides). An individual ride costs around $2 and I had a feeling that we would probably use around 5 rides – breaking even with the day pass. Sometimes you buy these passes thinking you will save money but in the end find that you really didn’t save anything! And first-timers are the ones who would make the mistake – the pros know when to go for the unlimited package. Boston has some 6 colored metros – each color has a particular route in the city. We almost stepped into the pink line instead of the red one – no, not because of color blindness but because we didn’t know that there was a pink line and we though maybe pink was actually red! The sun was out but deceiving – you think it will be warm but instead face chillness. The sun sure deceives you in this part of the world. Wonder if it snows in sunlight!

The Aquarium was our first destination. We took the first station on the red line and then switched to the orange line and got off at the first station again. From the orange line stop we had to walk a short distance. The time between two stations is around a minute or two only. The city was pedestrian friendly – plenty of traffic signals and a fair amount of crowd on the streets. Suddenly there were sirens and two fire engines rounded up a building corner. We couldn’t see any smoke in the building but hardly had we walked a few yards when more sirens were heard – another two fire engines and a fire engine staff vehicle arrived at the scene.
“Must be for backup just in case the fire is bad.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

USA Part 2 – We arrive

The veggie food in this flight was sour. I don’t know if it was something to do with the excess mustard or whether there was something wrong in the dish – it just tasted very sour. In the previous flight the small masala dosa tasted great. I didn’t eat anything else on this flight except a bun and a Kitkat chocolate. I learnt that the gaming option was only available in the Premium economy class – must be one of the cost cutting strategies of airlines; nowadays you had two levels in economy class itself! It is a wonder how airlines manage to have their flights almost completely full – this was one of the rare flights were I found many empty seats. Unfortunately I had a window seat in this flight but on the bright side there was no one sitting in the middle seat – so there was enough space to stretch my legs. I walked around the flight only once - you can’t keep disturbing the person on the aisle every hour!

I watched a German movie with English subtitles – something about the camera murders; it was slow paced and had a typical open ending that we see these days in plenty of movies (even Indian ones; the culprit was shown but nothing about whether he was caught or not) – the ending is left to the viewer’s imagination. The story was more on the lines that you couldn’t trust people easily – someone who at first might seem to be charming might just happen to be the villain. It dealt with the issue by following two couples and the disappearance of kids in the deserted area where they vacation. Soon each one starts suspecting someone else but no one knows for sure. I didn’t find it that interesting and after the movie I dozed off. When I woke up we had already landed! In both the flights, I slept through the landing.

The first stop coming out of the airport was the immigration counter. My friend and I took out the papers we needed – this was it; there were people who have been sent back from here! The time was 1:30pm and there didn’t seem to be any other flight that arrived at this time. By the time we were done with sorting out our papers, most of the crowd had disappeared. My friend used to say, “Fatigue helps – it reduces the rush of adrenaline.” And I guess both of us were pretty relaxed and calm after the lengthy journey. As we waited in queue, I was watching at what was being played on the lcd screens. The videos were meant to inform passengers about the procedures that would happen in immigration and customs – the aim was to avoid intimidating passengers by the formalities. We had a few standard questions and then had our passport stapled with the I-94 card.

First step in the city

The temperature was not in the negative; as we travelled in the cab, we could see blocks of hardened snow all over. The cab driver seemed to be the type of person who liked to talk freely but neither me nor my friend made much of a conversation. We were just looking out of the window trying to absorb as much of the place as we could. I, as usual, dozed off on the way!
We went up to the apartment block and found that we couldn’t open the door; a guy noticed from the balcony and came down to open the door for us. I touched the hardened snow and tried to grab a little piece on my hand – it felt pretty much like ice. We picked our keys and headed to our room – 2nd floor and the place looked very cozy. From our balcony we could see a little white hill – covered by a sheet of snow.

Monday, March 14, 2011

USA Part 1 - the trip

Even at this stage there was this little thought running in the mind, “what if I have forgotten some paper that is required.” We had heard stories of people returning back from the port of entry in the US (that is the immigration point in the airport after you step out of the flight). How would it be to get sent back just because you forgot some piece of paper!

“Does the US government take a return ticket for the person then?”

“They probably just get the original return ticket changed to current date.”

The thing with stories is that you never know what really happened – and I doubt anyone ever does. It goes through so many ears and mouths that by the time you hear it, it is distorted and magnified.

I had an aisle seat and so did my friend. There was an old lady sitting by my side – she seemed to be a North Indian. To my utter disappointment there was no game option in the entertainment console – movies were available but no games! And I was eagerly looking forward to playing a few games of chess – especially since the short naps helped me avoid fatigue. The couple of air hostesses I saw had quite a thick layer of makeup. It is funny how makeup attempts to hide the age of a person – the makeup looks almost perfect when seen in snaps but not so much when seeing the person live. The way the world is progressing, I guess pretty much a lot of the cosmetic stuff would be used by men as well (many already are!)

The fun of sitting in the aisle seat is that you can get up and walk around anytime you wanted. In the trip of 11 hours, I probably got up from my seat at least 7 times. So I’d eat, sleep, walk, eat, sleep, walk, eat, sleep, walk. The lady by my side was reading a novel whenever she was awake – but it was all French. On taking a second look at her, I guess she was French. It was a John Grisham book. For a while I tried to read along with her and realized that I had forgotten most of my French vocabulary!

The flight took a route that went above Prague (Czechoslovakia) – on route to this I could see ice capped mountains; I think they were part of the Alps mountain range. The scene looked beautiful from the top. Hmm – someday should drive through the Alps on a Ferrari. Watching movies in the flight is not too comfortable because you need to keep the volume in the headset really high. So I tried picking movies that had subtitles – I saw an English one (the movie Salt) and a Swedish one. The Swedish one was interesting - it touched upon many themes but all were tied together by an investigation – about abuse, blackmail, hacking, holocaust, detective work and photography.

The pilot announced that the temperature in London was 3 degree Centigrade! Whad roughly an hour to get onto the connecting flight at Heathrow. Not enough time to roam about the airport. Terminal 5 was huge – lengthy elevators going up three storeys but the number of staff seemed low. We struggled a little before figuring out that we had to take a little train ride to go to another section of the terminal for connecting flights. It was an internal metro. We roamed about the terminal for a few minutes. There was a huge cosmetics shop – in fact it seemed to be the largest shop in the Terminal; great business! We had our first whiff of sub 5 degree centigrade when we stepped out of the terminal to take a shuttle bus to the aircraft. Both of us didn’t have jackets and I noticed that most of the other passengers had some jacket and some even had boots. It was hardly a few seconds in the open but we immediately knew that it would be the breeze that is the problem. The next exposure came when we were waiting at the steps to climb into the aircraft – it was really cold.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Back to USA - Day 0

Ggguuuuuudddd morning; here's your morning reading about what's happening in the other part of the world...
And yeah, before I start – a friend remarked, “Hey, you haven’t completed your last travelogue and now you’re on to your next trip.” Well, there is a little more pending from the Dubai travelogue – so what we’ll do is run both in parallel; like the way we see in a lot of movies lately!

Here we go – the day was pretty lengthy with me getting stuck in a traffic jam that made the 50 minute drive a two hour ride from office back home. The problem with it was that for an hour I had to do clutching and breaking almost every minute – my leg ached when I reached home. At home, I finally wound up with the packing – yeah ,my flight was just 8 hours away and here I was still packing! And i was researching on the Internet whether you can carry one backpack and an extra item as cabin bagage or not - in the end it seemed like I could but I couldn't find any British Airways contact number to verify. I learnt that in Heathrow there was a time (during terrorism alerts) when only one hand baggage was allowed and nothing else was permitted. One hour before the cab was scheduled to arrive, I took a nap.

My friend and I met at the airport which was still undergoing renovation. During the cab ride I wondered, “I’m sneezing here itself with the window open; it is probably somewhere in the mid 20 degrees. How would it be in the place I’m going to which is at negative temperature?”

The airport

Once inside, the first thing we saw was a huge queue waiting for getting their check-in baggage scanned. Fortunately, there was a British Airways lady who came around searching for BA passengers – she directed us to another counter for scanning. Before scanning, the guy had a weighing machine to check weights – 23 kgs per bag was the limit (2 bags allowed). To carry more you’d have to pay more. There was a north Indian couple who had huge bags and they were rearranging stuff from one large suitcase to another. For us, the guy never used the weighing machine – just by lifting the suitcases he knew it would not be anywhere near the 20kgs! In the end we discovered at the check-in counter (the place where you get your boarding card and hand over your check-in luggages) the lady asked my friend, “You are travelling very light, sir.” He was more than 50% below the permitted limit! The BA staff clarified my lingering doubt on whether we can carry a back pack plus an extra jacket (the leather jacket I had was huge - around 3kgs and in itself is like another piece of baggage). The lady clarified, “Don’t worry; even if they say you can’t carry it, you can wear it and go.” Immigration went through failry quickly and in customs since we didn’t have anything to declare we just walked by.

After check-in, we filled up the immigration form which is taken at the immigration check counter. After crossing the queue there, we went up to the security check area on another floor. We had well over 2 hours for the flight when we finished the security check procedure. Our boarding pass contained the gate number for our airline. There isn’t much you can do in Chennai airport since there aren’t many shops to roam about in. And my buddy was feeling quite exhausted and wanted to catch a nap; so we sat near our gate so that in case we drifted into deep sleep the airline staff might notice our ticket and wake us up. He slept for an hour while I slept for around 30 minutes – the 1 hour sleep at home before I started for the airport did help, I guess; I didn’t feel much of a fatigue even though it was 3am! For 15 minutes I roamed around checking out some of the shops - I felt a little hungry but seeing the prices satisfied my hunger; Rs.100 for a veg. sandwich.

Fast and furious... wins the race?

As always happens, announcement was made saying boarding would start and immediately people lined up outside the gate. The announcer then called for women with kids, elderly people first. Then she called for people in specific rows – even then every other person would also try to cross the gate. And the air hostess would stop the person and ask them to wait. It’s like in driving – people try to race ahead in the city traffic by honking and rash driving; all for what? Just to get ahead by a few seconds and I wonder whether these people had the same intensity when it came to pursuing ambitions in life or in their work.