Day 2 - In And Around Flushing
Woke up on a Sunday morning around 8. With little else to do, went around Flushing. Was keen to see the Flushing library, especially so, after Amit informed me about its good collection of books and free membership. :) So, walked down till Flushing Main Street station. The library was closed (apparently, on Sundays, it opens only at 12.) Went down the road to Citibank to encash my traveller's cheque. Realized that the bank was closed on Sundays !!
After that, I and Amit decided to do some grocery shopping. There is a supermarket very close to my building. We went there and bought some fruits and vegetables. The fruits here are pretty amazing to look at. Most of the fruits are over-sized and appear very very luscious. (Was to realize later how deceptive appearances can be.)
Well, the problem at supermarkets here, is that everything you wanna buy comes only in large quantities. We thought of buying some ice-cream, then found out that ice-cream was available in 5 litre packs only. Same was the case with canned juices too ! Eventually, thought of trying some apple juice (and by apple juice, I mean apple juice only ! ;)). Heard the girl at the billing counter speaking chaste Hindi !! Well, she also spoke in heavily-accented English. Must be another of those ABCDs who seem to be in plenty here. BTW, she looked good too ! ;)
Speaking about good looks, most of the Indian girls out here look stunning, to say the least. Not that I have seen much of them, coz people generally are so heavily covered here that you feel everyone is moving around in veils. In fact, you can barely recognize someone on the street whom you know very well too, coz almost everyone is in a black coat or a black jacket. Guess things should turn better as the weather improves. Coming back to the women, I find that most of them are pretty vain about their looks. Almost all of them are covered in an inch of makeup, so they end up looking too rosy to be real. India seems much better off, at least our people don't have to indulge in so much artificial makeovers to look good !!
Anywayz, I and Amit then went over to a Patel Brothers shop here. Apparently, this is a chain of shops across US, where you get anything and everything a desi would want. Well, true to its reputation, the shop was stocked with everything you'd find in any Indian supermarket. Everything from vermicelli to coriander leaves was available and I was indeed, surprised.
Walked back home and realized how tiring the cold is. Had walked barely a mile and it felt equivalent to what I used to feel when I would walk down to The Forum and back in Bangalore. Temperature was still around freezing point and well, walking around with a couple of dozen pounds of additional clothing ain't an easy task.
Later, I and Amit cooked some rice and dal for lunch, and by the time, we were through with it, it was almost three in the afternoon. Watched Fahrenheit 9/11 until it started getting boring and then, decided to check out the real NYC. Left home around 6 to go to Times Square. Was pretty excited about going there, especially so, after watching the empty streets of Flushing for most of my stay here.
Walked down to Flushing Main Street station, went downstairs from the pavement into a subway station for the first time in my life. Since I had to take the subway to Manhattan everyday, bought a 30-day unlimited ride MTA card (MTA being Metropolitan Transit Authority or Metro, in short) . Metro cards are available at $4 for unlimited rides for a day, or a 7-day card at $24 or a 30-day card at $76. Also, since the buses too are run by MTA, a 30-day card entitles me to free rides on the buses too ! :)
Apparently, Metro rates had taken a hike today itself, so had to shelve out $6 extra for a card which hitherto cost $70. The card-vending machine looks very similar to an ATM machine back home. You gotta select the type of card you want from a touch-screen panel, then choose whether you are paying by cash or debit card. If you pay by cash, the machine takes in notes and gives back the exact change. If you pay by debit card, it behaves exactly like an ATM machine does while paying off utility bills.
BTW, I didn't find any counters where you can go and buy these cards, they only had these vending machines. In fact, hardly any manpower is needed at these subway stations, because everything is automated. To get to your platform, you have to swipe your card at one of the many turnstiles. If swiped correctly, you get a 'Go' message in front of you and the turnstile can then be moved in the front direction. People coming out of the subway stations use the same turnstile, so it moves freely in the reverse direction. Though you need a card to get inside.
Once inside, we walked down another set of stairs to the railway platforms. Found that there is no set schedule for the trains here. They seem to come every 2-3 minutes. The indicator keeps flashing the current time and the name of the station, plus all the trains that leave from that platform. Subway trains here have route numbers and generally, you get only one or two specific routes on one platform. Flushing Main Street happens to be at one end of the subway network, so it's the starting point for the trains coming into Queens.
Subway route 7 takes you from Queens to Manhattan, so this is the route that I have to take everyday to get to office. It goes from Flushing all the way to Times Square in Manhattan. We need to get down at Grand Central (two stations before Times Square) and take a connecting train to Wall Street.
On a late Sunday evening, I and Amit realized that there were no express trains today, so had to take a 7 local, which stopped at all stations. Found that subway stations are hardly a couple of streets away from each other. The train accelerates from a station and barely, when it reaches full speed, decelerates again. Next station from Flushing Main Street is the Shea Stadium station. On one side of this station is the famous Shea baseball stadium where the World Series matches are played, and on the other is Flushing Meadows. Route 7 is supposed to be one of the better subway routes as it goes over the ground for most of the way till Manhattan. Got a good view of NY city on the ride. BTW, at every station here, the train guard announces the route of the train and the next stop for the train. Plus, if you get some connecting trains from a particular station, it is also announced. I think this is something which is seriously lacking in the Mumbai trains. Things become so much more easy for a newcomer when you know where you need to get down and which connecting train to catch from there.
Because of track maintenance activities, had to take another train to Times Square from Queensboro Plaza. Came out of the subway and the first look of Times Square simply floored me. For the first time, the United States seemed to have something that lived upto all the hype. The street was lined with amazing digital billboards of all kinds, some just too wonderful to be described in mere words. The first thing that I need to buy here is a digicam to capture all these awesome sights. Some of the displays on Times Square looked much better than the best 51" plasma TVs in town.
Next door to the subway entrance was Madame Tussaud's, another much-heard-of place. Well, we had to see it, so just went in and saw a full-size Michael Jackson mannequin. Had one look at the entrance rates and the next thing we knew was that we were both back on the streets looking for better places to get into. Spending $30 for looking at stuffed celebrities wasn't our idea of having a fun evening. We decided to come some other day with cameras and then, go to that place again.
Times Square is lined with multiplexes showing more than a dozen movies each. Also, saw NASDAQ, Reuters, DowJones and well, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There were roadside vendors too, very similar to what we find in the lanes around CST in Mumbai. You get 'I love NY' T-shirts, caps and stuff like that on the pavements.
Then, it started getting really chilly and around 8, we decided to go back home. Got down to the subway, and into a train. After a couple of stops, realized that we had got into a train going in the wrong direction ! Thankfully, there are subway maps in every compartment and station, with routes marked for all trains. So, was easy to get back on track and reach home.
Was pretty tired at the end of it all, got some methi parathas from the nearby store, had it for dinner and packed it for lunch for tomorrow. Amit had to do his laundry today, but we came in quite late and the laundromat at the basement of the building was closed for the day. So, went back home and decided to call it a day. :) Slept around 12 with me wondering whether I will be able to get up at 6 tomorrow morning for going to office.