Saturday 21st August 2004,
I was in the Chennai Domestic Airport, through-checking in my luggage at the Jet Airways counter to Philadelphia. I took the boarding pass confirming the only available window seat for me, despite it being the last one and it wouldn’t push back. I soon went through the screening test where some bunch of khaki guys insist you to keep my hands horizontally stretched, for a second I felt they were filming me standing at the nose of the Titanic. I was then waiting in the lobby near Gate 4, and there came the announcement. I, like all other passengers there moved steadily towards the aircraft. That was my first flight in 20 years. I was in some kinda excitement but couldn’t let it out. I’d been on fights when I was in my kindergartens, and I still have slight memories of that.
Happily sitting in the window seat, I was waiting for the flight to take off, and Ashwini from the boarding section came running towards me (I noticed her name while collecting my boarding pass), I was taken aback wondering if it was one more of my company’s tricks end my trip by showing me how the flight looks, but it was not so, she give me a new check-in luggage slip that accommodated a stop at Amsterdam.
The flight then moved, gradually towards the end of the runway waiting for the queue to clear. I never believed Chennai airport handled flights flying in and out every 60 seconds. As the flight clearly maneuvered to the end of the runway, the engine suddenly roared like a wild bull increasing aggression before it could charge, and it zipped from 0 to about 250 KMPH in a whisker. Guess what, Shumi does it even faster.
Sitting in, I didn’t feel that great, it was more like our TTDC’s 52 seats omni bus. But the flight crew complemented it; they were beautiful, ever smiling, and ready to help. (Well, that’s what they are paid for).
As the flight moved up, I cud see our Madras-namma-Madras illuminated with sodium vapor laps, it was sad coz I couldn’t really see much. As we were moving higher and higher, we reached 36000 feet with occasional jerks, we even went over the holy shrine of Tirupathi.
Dinner was served, it was good and I enjoyed it. At around quarter past 10 we reached “aamchi” Mumbai. The flight 30 mins late and with 90 mins for the next flight to leave, I was frantically rushing towards the international Airport. Unlike Chennai where the International airport is just a stone throw away, the Mumbai International Airport (ISO 9001:2000) is in Ahemdabad. There were few of them from the same flight who had almost the same route as mine (Don’t ask me how I found it). We had to load our luggage into a transition bus, and proceed to the international airport. That Volvo bus was more comfortable than the aircrafts I flew in.
I was deliriously awaiting my luggage to come out of the bus, when I acquainted with Anitha from TCS Chennai who’s going to Seattle via Amsterdam. The feeling that I had company suddenly made me feel as if I knew her for years. We went together searching for the KLM/Northwest boarding area. On the way, we noticed a plastic baggage wrapping section; we wrapped our bags completely, paid him and headed towards the KLM counter. At boarding time, there was this guy asking me all sorts of questions, including my pet dog’s name. After finishing boarding and scrutiny we left for immigration. The wrapper guys came around to me complaining that the girl didn’t pay and to her telling I didn’t pay. I some how got rid of them and went beyond immigration, into the Northwest NW041 aircraft. It was a Douglas DC10 that can carry 272 passengers and fly at a maximum of 545 miles/hour (some crazy statistics). In it I could see almost 80% were Indians, mostly mamas and mamis who going for jobs mostly baby sitting. By now I’d lost Anitha, and couldn’t spot her in that crowd.
As the flight moved, I was talking to the guy next seat. Basically an IITian, Amit, works for a company in Diamond District, the building shared by Covansys-Peoplesoft office, Bangalore. He is some kinda consultant, and claims to travel the world very often. We didn’t talk much and I desperately wanted to get some sleep. At around 2 AM IST, food was served, I am not too sure if I would call that dinner or breakfast coz I’d finished dinner and I was not fasting to break it, but I still ate it. It was some kinda bun with veggie and cheese fillings and a can of apple juice. Well I drink only Apple juice even though my dad doesn’t wear a tie and my mom doesn’t know a gown.
This flight didn’t even have a personal TV. I spent the night watching a documentary on Moscow played at the front (Hail Kremlin!). As the flight proceeded over 36000 feet at 900+ kmph, there were jerks often, the captain announced that the weather wasn’t good. I began praying god to cancel any appointments with me until I see America.
At around 9 am IST, 6:30 AM local time 22nd Aug, I was in Amsterdam, Holland. My first step outside India. Out there I spotted Anitha, and few others including, Harish, Anu and Raju all from CTS Chennai. We roamed the entire airport, and it was great being together. Anitha, is a diary writer, and she was making note of every incident, including, walking straight and turning left. We all jelled till it was time we leave, Me, Harish and Anu were heading back to the same flight to Minneapolis, while the rest two were on a different one heading Seattle.
We were airborne, flying over the gigantic Atlantic Ocean. The sky was bright and the base was blue, I was reminded of the helicopter of Jurassic park. Just because I was flying in the same flight again, doesn’t mean they must show me the Moscow’s documentary again and again :(. This time, my neighbour was Jon Well, a long gray haired old man from Las Vegas. He is (still) a bachelor and has his horse as his only company. With no one to save his money for, he travels the world often, this time he was back from Poland. We had a great time talking about almost everything under the sun. The flight journey was 10 hrs and we spent 7 hrs talking/eating/talking. We exchanged chocolates, currencies, stamps and what not!
It was 1.30pm local time and I was now in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It is my port of entry and I was waiting for the Immigration, a bit nervous. I came to the officer and requested him 4 weeks of stay, he asked me if I was sure, and I said yes, he asked if I was pucca, confident and if he could lock my words ;-), and I said YES, and he stamped me 3 months. I was exalted, as my visa was expiring in a month, and now my I94 makes me stay longer. The customs was again a cake walk. I was pinching myself to see if this was real.
After this long journey, I’m still not done. I had to catch another fight from Minneapolis to Philadelphia. Wondering if I was crazy to catch a flight via Minneapolis (in the mid) when my destination was Philadelphia (in the east)? That was the cheapest deal my company could get. I walked the huge Minneapolis airport for a while before I could spot my gate. From now everything was dollars and I was still not used to spending dollars.
The flight to Philly was nothing of a great sort, it was 2 hrs of idle time and I was busy reading “Windmills of the gods” by Sidney Sheldon. At around 6:30 pm local time I reached Philadelphia, and was happy to see my baggage safe and sound. I reached the ground clearance section, booked a shuttle to Homestead studio suites, Malvern, around 33 miles from Philly.
The Shuttle was a Dodge van that links major Hotels and inns with the Airport. This was my first direct view of American roads; they are awesome, huge, clean and well disciplined. And the cars that zoom! I could spot every brand, including, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Volkswagen, Volvo, Ford, Jaguar, Mazda, Chevrolet, GMC, Cadillac, Lincoln, Buick, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Mercury, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Kia, Saab, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Nissan, Infiniti, Toyota, Lexes, Honda, Acura, Suzuki, Hyundai, Isuzu, International, Mack, Peterbilt … I am tired!
I was sitting in the van along with three other passengers. One of them was going to the Day-inn, one to the Sheraton and one more the Hilton. Though I was the first into the van and though my place (“Malvern”) was crossed 3 times, he dropped me last. That’s when I realized whatever your nationality is, all are humans.
I checked into the Homestead Suites, and went into my room (no. 200). The studio apartment was a well furnished full kitchen hotel with no restaurant. After all this travel, I had to make my own dinner because, to buy anything outside, I need a car. There was nothing in walking distance and most in most roads pedestrians are prohibited.
Now the time is 8:30 PM, Sunday 22nd August. (6 AM Monday in India)