Saturday, February 26, 2005

Day 1 - NYC, here I come !

Landed at JFK around 11am ET. The very thought of facing an outside temperature of 2 deg Celcius chilled me. Was pretty tired too after almost 19 hours of flight. Put on my jacket and got ready to see it snowing for the first time in my life, but then had the immigration and the customs to be cleared.

Came out of the terminal and saw a queue of close to 100 people at the immigration counters. The queue at Mumbai immigration didn't have even two people. And there were 15 counters out there. Out here, there were a handful of booths and a queue of hundred. Progress was slow and was wondering how all the people in the queue were wearing the fur caps and the gloves and the coats. In fifteen minutes, started sweating in my jacket and the queue just wasn't moving fast enough for me. Well, the US didn't seem to be in line with my expectations.

Anywayz, in about half an hour, I was directed to an officer and that was my first experience of the security fears here. First, my index fingers were finger printed, and then I had to stare poker-faced at a webcam for a snap. Well, thankfully, the questions that followed just revolved around my work and were pretty easy to answer. And then, it was time for me to pull my bags from the carousel (wonder how they think of using these 'interesting' terms for the simplest of things here) and move over to customs. Time for some questioning again. Once again, I had to blurt out what I was going to do here and that I was carrying no food items. On the positive side though, none of my bags were opened or even touched for that matter, by anyone. They were pretty cool at that.

Out I moved, pulling my two bags on wheels through the huge steel gates behind customs and then, surprise ! I hardly found anyone out there. Wonder where all the passengers vanished. I looked around for Amit, who was supposed to pick me up, but there was practically no one out there. I thought he might be waiting outside the airport, but I could see through the glass doors and forget Amit, there was not a soul to be seen there. Just a couple of taxis moving down an almost deserted lane. It was 12 noon, my flight was supposed to come in at 10-50, and Amit was most certainly around. So, next job was to call him up.

Looked around, found a telephone booth, put in a quarter(thanks, Bijen for the same), and dialled Amit's cell fone number. But then, the fone wanted me to put in another quarter. Problem, problem. At the next booth, there was this desi who had just finished making a phone call. Asked him for some quarters and he directed me to a forex shop in typical desi style. Says he, 'go there and request him for change for a dollar. If you are lucky, he might just help you. Even I got my quarters from him !! '

Well, the chap at the shop was indeed helpful and I got four gleaming quarters when Amit tapped on my shoulder.

Opened the glass doors and there I was in the US of A.

Oh oh...but this was a very cold welcome. I could see small snowflakes coming down and a landscape covered in snow, except for the roads, which looked quite normal. Remembered what I recently read somewhere. That 10% of the salt manufactured worldwide is used for defrosting the streets of the United States !!

Got into a yellow cab, reached Flushing after a 15-min drive. Tipping the cabbie was something new.

From Amit's 17th floor apt, I could only see snow everywhere. Rooftops, playgrounds, bushes, all stark white. Children's parks had a kind of graveyard look, with practically all slides covered in snow. It was one in the afternoon and the sunlight was almost like twilight. These days, outdoors are pretty gloomy here.

After an hour or so, we decided to get some parathas for lunch. Went downstairs to a nearby shop where the shopkeeper spoke chaste Hindi. After lunch, tried to catch up something on television and got bombarded with a ton of stupid ads for the weirdest of products. Sample this - there was this ad going round and round for a pill for heartburn. It went something like - just one pill in a day and you can avoid 24 hours of heartburn. Wonder what this heartburn is in the first place.

In the evening, walked down to Ashok's place for tea. He and his wife were walking down to a nearby temple. So, I and Amit just went along. Now, this was an amazing Ganesha temple, very very neat. Also, realized that almost everyone out there spoke Kannada !

From there, we went to a Saibaba mandir in the next lane and there, they were playing some Marathi bhajans. And I ended up wondering whether I was in Flushing or in some corner of Mumbai.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant and had dosas !! South-Indian restaurant again, all Bangalore guys there too. Was this Flushing or Bangalore?

Went home and fell asleep watching Reservoir Dogs.


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