The Big Bad Journey

Welcome to another blog of mine. I couldn’t get to log in to my old one so starting afresh again.Starting afresh with my life as well. This first post is the description how I made it to Rochester.

The send-off at the Hyderabad terminal was an emotional experience and I was overwhelmed by the sheer presence of all those who are really close to me. I thank everyone who made it out to wish me well. I was to travel with Santosh, a friend’s cousin who is also a neighbour and our mums travel together to office. Nice chap. He is to join at RIT. Once we entered the terminal, we got all our luggage wrapped in some plastic.

Checking in was a tedious process. So many people traveling with so much luggage. Finally, after an hour or so, we got to check in our luggage till Newark, went ahead to the immigration where strangely asked if I had insurance. Strangely, because it wasn’t something I expected that I would be asked for in India. When I did show the papers, he was puzzled to see that it was ICICI. Why was he puzzled, I have no idea. Then went ahead into the lobby to get seated as we still had a lot of time for the scheduled departure. The flight was rescheduled to 3.40am from 3.00am so the waiting continued.

We were bugged by two American Indian kids, with their nonstop chatter about homework and school. With all the extended last-minute roaming over the last 2 days, both of us were physically stressed out and wanted to doze off for a few minutes but couldn’t because of that noise. The flight was finally announced and we did make it out fine in the flight which means, we slept. The seats were all cramped up. But for a flight of a short duration, most people wouldn’t complain.

The terminal at Mumbai was awesome. I had seen the Delhi one during renovation about a year ago and felt it would be a fine terminal and here I got to see the end result of a similar renovation. Made a call to my parents just to inform them that everything was fine up until then. Made a visit to the loo as well. Bought some dollars with the Indian currency that I was left with. There was some problem at the immigration counter; the scanner wouldn’t accept my passport. Must have had something to do with my photo [:P]. Things got sorted out and we got onto AI 191. I was seated beside a Gujju female who was going to NY. I liked her company in the sense that she never disturbed me all through the flight. I just wanted to sleep, sleep and sleep and then sleep more. And I suppose she wanted to do the same so no troubles on that front.

We had a stopover in Paris. Charles De Gaulle Airport seemed to have a never-ending runway. After an hour, we started off to Newark again. Watched Cheeni Kum, Teesri Kasam and Shrek 3 when I wasn’t sleeping. I was a bit apprehensive about Air India mostly because of what I heard from others. Now that I have done it, I say…Fly Air India without having any reservations( the ticketing kind u need, the apprehensive kinds u needn’t ). The food was great. I had 6 meals and each one was very very nice. The seats were comfortable enough for such a long flight.

And then came Newark Liberty International Airport. Anthony James stamped me in at the Immigration counter without asking anything. We took the $3 trolleys and waited for like half an hour to claim the baggage. Next up was the biggest hurdle; the Customs and Agricultural check. The lady asked me if I had any food item to which I replied in the positive saying that I had some traditional Indian soup powders. She didn’t understand anything and asked again” Do you have chicken or meat in your baggage? “. I firmly said “No” . My baggage was then screened and wasn’t even opened. The hyped-up saga was finished with in no more than 2 minutes. That was the end of that. All the meticulously prepared and packed foodstuffs would finally get to see their way through into a kitchen and not the end of trash.

Since I had taken the extra baggage I had to pay $80 as charges to Continental Airlines flight from Newark to Rochester during check in. But thats not a fact. I should have had to paid that amount, but they did not charge me on the basis that it was a connecting flight, which in fact it wasn’t – it was a separate booking so got lucky on that one. Santosh didn’t prepare to pay for that. Airlines in the US allow up to 18kgs plus a personal item as cabin baggage so he had prepared his extra baggage to meet those size and weight specifications. He was in visible discomfort because of the flight ; some neck problem and all. He had to carry on with the pain and his overweight cabin baggage all along. We got to our terminal on an air-train.

We checked in at around 630pm and the flight to Rochester was scheduled to leave at 9pm. And then it happened. A quick shower took center stage of the busy NY scene for about half an hour and disturbed the entire flight schedule at the airport. Continental had its separate terminal busy and bustling with cancellation activity. Rescheduling was the norm and cancellations were no surprise. At around 730pm ours was rescheduled to 1030pm and the flights before that to Rochester, i.e., the ones at 430pm and 530pm were canceled within a few minutes of that. We decided to inform those supposed to pick us up, about the delay. And now the adventure began.

Both of us had not brought coin change though we had $1 notes ( bills supposedly ). I asked many people passing by- passengers, airport staff, stores. None of them were willing to part with change either because they hadn’t any with them or just trying to enforce their free will. I went to a foreign exchange store and she was trying to sell me a calling card of $10 ( minimum ) instead of giving me change for a $1 in quarters. She finally gave me the change for $2 in quarters after a little persuasion mixed with desperation.

I went to the pay-phone and tried to call Alex, a guy who had been staying at the place of my accommodation. I dialed the number and was asked to enter $1 for a 5minute call. After I did that, it said that I had dialed wrong and that I had to try again. I did it again and the same result. All the change was gone and the intimation wasn’t done yet. Santosh went to the restroom and found a Tamilian who was more than willing to let him call his pickup guy. But as luck would have it, the guy at the other end was not lifting the call. It was 9pm – we had not had any food in a long time and were pretty tired as well, at this time. We then got some more change and this time decided to ask someone for help – enough with the experiments. We approached an African-American Airport staff for help and he let us call from his phone. I informed Alex about the delay and asked him to inform Kamesh, my roommate about the delay as he would come to pick me up at the airport with someone. He said that he would do the same. Santosh called from the pay-phone ( previously I had not pressed 1 before dialing the local number, the same staff guy helped us out with this call too ) and informed his friend as well. Santosh had an extra hand baggage, which I adjusted into my back-pack after putting my stuff in his bag.

All this time we were away from the gate at which our boarding would be. Walked a long way to get to our place. There we found quite some rush at the gate as those who had gotten their flights canceled were waiting for either getting accommodated in a later flight or taking another route. Many of them were simply canceling and going away. We found an Indian girl who seemed to be in the same crowd who after noticing us, approached us to ask if even we had gotten our flight canceled. She seemed pretty furious about the situation and was waiting for some kind of confirmation from the airline authority. She went away to the customer service center and both of us settled there in the lobby near the boarding gate.

The flight was rescheduled to 1130pm and then to 12am so we decided to have some food or the other. We had to walk a long way with our baggage for around 3km to get to a food court that was open since the rest of the stores had closed by 9pm. The walking was kind of reduced with the presence of conveyor belts, read horizontal escalators. After a lot of searching, we finally got there. Light at the end of the tunnel was McDonald’s. There were many other stores but we weren’t willing to pay so much too. I decided on a large strawberry shake and Santosh went in for some French fries and a shake. First meal in the US – A milkshake for $3. Halfway through the shake, we decided to walk to our gate only to find that our flight was removed from the Departures listing. Things running in my mind at that time :

  1. has the flight left before schedule without us?
  2. I don’t think so because they had been making announcements, informing passengers who had not boarded and that they would do so for us as well
  3. They made the announcement and since we were in a very busy food court, we never heard the announcement
  4. They never announced it on this side of the terminal cause our gate wasn’t anywhere near the section of the terminal we were in
  5. The flight was canceled.

This was the chronological order of my thought process as I was running towards our gate. I ran as fast as I could to reach there while Santosh had given up on the running, halfway.

The staff at the gate said that they had no information on the flight getting canceled. She said the crew was ready to fly but for the captain, who was to arrive from another place, and had not done so yet due to the delays and rescheduling and that they were¬†waiting on a confirmation of the fact that if he would arrive at all. The flight crew members were checking with the airlines and said to us that if they were let off from duty then that would mean the flight would canceled. At this point of time we met that girl again. It seems she had been waiting at the airport since noon and still she had no signs if at all she would reach Rochester on that day. She was asked to wait till our flight was boarded by passengers and if there were any vacancies then she would be accommodated, else she would be given accommodation in a hotel till the next day’s flight at 4pm. This was the case with about 100 other passengers waiting in line near Continental’s Customer Service Desk. The staff there, made their exit in a few minutes saying their shift is done, that the airline cannot provide any more accommodation to affected passengers as all their partner hotels were full, and handed out some pillows n sheets to them to lie down there at the terminal till the next shift started at 330am. There was a courtesy phone at the desk using which I called up Alex and asked him to inform Kamesh to effectively ” take light ” and that in all probability ours would be canceled too and that I would make my own way out to home if at all the situation arisen.

Our captain was yet to arrive and so we just stayed there.The passengers were getting itchy, clearly venting out their frustration, but in a very controlled manner. ( Pressure cooker with valve types ) . There were these two Caucasians, one of whom was drunk who started making small talk with us. After some time the drunk guy got out of control and we moved away. His friend and later he too apologized to us, but after some more nonsense from him, he was reported to the airport security personnel by the airline staff at the gate for a warning.

The captain finally arrived at around 115 am and the flight was scheduled to leave at 130am. Boarding eventually commenced at 2am after some more confusion as regards to the working hour schedule of a crew member who did not want to work after his previous flight as he was supposed to go home after the same. Manjari , who was to join RIT got a seat as well and flight took off for Rochester at around 215am.

From my minimalistic flight experience I have decided on a thing. I will try to fly only at nights. Its so scenic , watching a city filled with lights all over it from the top. It got pretty chilly in the flight, more than what it was ever before, even colder than when we were at heights of 38000feet, but may be that was because of the superior air conditioning of the Boeing-777 at those heights which made me feel so. Landing was a breeze and in a breeze. It was quite windy at the airport which made us shiver.

We three had decided that since it was pretty late , we would wait at the airport till dawn and then take cabs to our places. Santosh and Manjari had to go to the same place, me another. We moved to get to claim our baggage and while we were waiting Kamesh came along with Ankit, a Delhiite. It was heartening to see those guys at that time of the hour, but as I later learned it was due to a combination of their will to pick me up and misinformation/lack of communication on Alex’s part who had just informed them that I had called and not that I had asked them to take light. Whatever the reason I would go home soon I thought. Much of the baggage never made its way to Rochester as the ones checked in well before the departure of our flight were scheduled to fly in the earlier flights which were eventually canceled. One bag of mine and all of Manjari’s baggage didn’t arrive. We had to file a claim and were informed that the baggage would arrive to the address filled out once it arrived at Rochester. Santosh and Manjari were to make their own way to Rustic Village and I joined these guys and Kuldeep, who had the patience to stay up so late with his Accent, waiting outside to pick me up.

We drove home and then Kuldeep left. Ankit was staying here at 51 Crittenden Rochester( my address ) , also called India House on a temporary basis. Its called so, supposedly, because of the fact that any new student at UR coming from India first checks in at 51 Crittenden. The place was a mess( still is , but a lot of work was done about it yesterday ) and these guys said that it was a lot worse when they turned up, with no space to place your foot leave alone luggage.I was informed that the other roommate staying is a Malaysian Chinese American named Fook. Kamesh had prepared a bedding for me to crash into, in his room and thats exactly what I did before being told that there was a lunch party that we were to host later in the day and we were cooking for about 10 people.

So that was the end of a very small beginning to a significant portion of my life. A lot more happened later in the day involving food and cleaning and roaming and getting to meet a lot of people. But thats a tale left to be told another day.