In continuation to my earlier post in another blog, I recount my experiences on the trip I made to the wonderful city of Minneapolis.
Mumbai-London Leg and Beyond
So there I was sitting comfortably in the plane and literally feeling amazed by the turn of events. I enjoyed the Johnny Walker, had the reasonably good dinner pulled up the blanket and slept. The flight was uneventful. We landed at Heathrow as per schedule. I was sitting in the middle seat and there were vacant window seats nearby. I could have wangled a seat there, I suppose. So I did not get a very good view of London as we were landing. I disembarked and wandered into the labyrinth that is the Heathrow.
For international flights, as we all know there is the transit terminal with shopping and stuff. To enter that, one must again undergo a security check. Many passengers, no doubt from the various flights, made a rush for it, I was slightly puzzled at this because Western airports are supposed to be quick efficient and the people disciplined. Hence this gentle rush was not expected. Still, I went on with the crowd and at at a certain point got a bit confused as to where I should go. Of course there were overhead signs and gut instinct told me to follow the herd. Still I went to an exit where I asked the way to the transit thing. The sharp woman at the counter told me the way, it was of course the route taken by the crowd. I also quickened my pace a bit and saw that the queue had stretched quite a bit. There was a elastic ribbon kind of a thing to separate out two queues and one of these seemed empty. I thought I would stand at the empty one but thought it better to confirm with some employee. I spotted one moving with great bustle and stopped him or rather stried to stop him with a humble “Excuse me Sir”. He rushed on nevertheless and I followed him. He condescended to stop at a door in the corridor and asked me to be quick as he was in a hurry. I then asked him about the two rows and he asked me to join the longer one. So I did.
Security check was marked with incidents where the terminal authorities took a pleasure in being rude and impersonal. As we were standing and awaiting our turn, I saw a airport terminal employee walking down the queue and announcing in the typical British accent “One bag only, please join counter X for transit”. So, the people in the other queue made a rush for our queue. Then he spotted an elderly woman with two bangs and a handbag. She had started stuffing one bag into the other and had managed the feat and had a handbag and a big bag. He stopped and said in the same monotone “One bag only please”. The lady said that it was a standard ladies handbag and was allowed. The person continued on blithely “I can see TWO bags, one…two. Only one bag allowed.”, pointing out the bags one by one as if the lady was an imbecile and could not count. She protested or rather bleated again and the person repeats the same set of antics “one.. two.. I can see two, only one allowed, please move out and take only one bag”. So she went out and I do not know how she managed but she did turn up later. Of course, my contact lens bottle, a brand new one got pinched during the security check. I had carried a brand new one and a used one. Funnily, the new one got pinched; I was expecting the used one to be confiscated. Anyway, that could not be helped and I went to the ticketing agent and got my seat. I confirmed my food, apparently its called Hindu non-vegetarian. It makes me wonder what Muslim and Christian non-vegetarian fare would be like. Then I went to the shopping area and roamed around. I had started to ponder very seriously about where I was to stay at Minneapolis.
I had made a search of the low cost hotels in Minneapolis and saved it in my email. However, I did not have a laptop but I was fairly confident that I should be able to get some Internet terminal somewhere, after all this was Heathrow. So, I made a leisurely stroll across the terminal, admired and coveted a Porsche vehicle kept as the prize for a lucky draw. Then, I spotted the welcome signs, Internet connections and phone booths. The cost was extortionate, a pound or so for 10 minuted of connectivity. One needed to put in a coin. I had dollars and no pounds, so I bought a coffee which cost around 4 dollars and a pint of my blood and sweat. Back with the change, I occupied the seat when it got empty. Logging onto my GMail account, I saw Vivek online. I searched around for some hotels again in case I got something cheaper. Nothing cheaper than the one I had seen earlier. No avail, one coin went in and so did another. This was the cheapest place and seats/beds were available. Now I had to do the booking and I had no credit card with me. I was getting a bit sweaty then I spotted the Hound from Hell aka Vivek Krishna online. No doubt he was justifying his out of the world salary at the world’s leading software merchant by surfing porn and chatting with friends. I pinged him and told him I was in Heathrow and I wanted him to do a booking for me at Minneapolis. To his credit, he did not think I was pulling his leg, for there was no reason for him to suspect I was no at my usual seat in Mumbai. I forwarded him the link and he set about doing the needful. I was at the last pound and waiting for his reply. The clock was ticking and I just got the message from him that he was waiting for the credit card site when I got disconnected. I hoped that his credit was alright and that the booking would go through. However, I made a major blunder and did not take the address and phone number of the hotel. I was hoping that I would be able to do that at Minneapolis airport. The rest of the wait was uneventful. However, I felt a ticker of unease at the lack of confirmed accommodation there. Moreover, I was reassured by the fact that there was a person, a coauthor, also headed for the same place. At the worst case, I felt that I could stay with him; this he had already mentioned earlier. However, despite my repeated mails after getting the visa, I got no response. This was a bit disappointing. I must here express my unreserved gratitude for the Hound who promptly did as asked. As a blessing, I hope that his marital duties may forever remain fruitful.
Anyway, after the waiting period of 2.5 hours approximately, we were called for the security check(again!) for boarding. I was naturally screened aside for special patting down and here my smelly shoes came handy. While patting me down, the agent asked me if I had any inflammables with me and I replied that I sincerely hoped not with a smile. He also laughed and while checking me down, he got a whiff of the good old Indian smell at the knees. He caught his breath and motioned me to move on while he recovered his breath. “Heh, heh” I thought! A funny incident also happened. A couple of middle aged or perhaps slightly more aged British ladies had also been selected for special screening just behind me, no doubt to assure me that it was not me alone they were selecting. Anyway, the ladies for really irritated by that and after the checking was over and while we were waiting for the boarding call, they took turns in imitating the American accent. All very droll.
The flight itself was uneventful. I had got a window seat and was seated next to a young female. I was the only non-white in the plane and people tried not to stare, or at least that was my feeling. My height, unshaven look perhaps did not inspire confidence, The only saving grace was that I was alone. Otherwise, the captain might have deplaned me! Anyway, I got into the seat and watched some movie. I tried to make some eye contact with the not unattractive young woman beside me but to no avail. The food was atrocious, though they had taken the special pains to prepare a Hindu vegetarian meal. Compared to the food on the Jet Airways, this was pathetic. However, hunger beckoned and I ate off everything edible. There was a collection of some peculiar leafy stuff, which I deduced to be lettuce. I looked at the regular meal served to the above-mentioned young lady and was aghast at the variety and the quantity. The lettuce was more there!
Now, I must come to a part which some might consider to be a bit racist, however these are just observations and nothing need be implied from it. It is regarding the body odour. Indians are notorious for their body odour and especially infamous in the West. Now, I am sure that after the flight to London, the wait there had turned me into a horror for the delicately nosed. However, I must defend myself and possibly fellow Indians that even the white woman beside me niffed to heaven. I am sure that other whites do not notice it and may on occasion find it stimulating and amorous. However, I could barely turn my face toward the lady when the smell would hit me like a wall. No doubt the lady felt that I was a mobile spice merchant and I can assure that I could smell raw meaty odour emanating from her. Well, perhaps this mutual exchange of noxious fumes served as a dampener to any conversation.
I did talk to her before we were landing when there were some forms to be filled and I had a doubt. We were landing at Chicago O’Hare and I had to take a connecting flight to Minneapolis. Once we got started, we made nice conversation and she told me that she was coming back from some kind of missionary work from some country in Africa. I do recall that she was from Arkansas. I offered her my email ID in case she came to India, she was planning to she said. However in the hurry of going our separate ways, I forgot to give her.
Chicago O’Hare was big! It was wide big and spacious. I fell into the queue and promptly was jostled by and an attempted to overtake me was made by a veiled woman of Indian origin. I told her to get back in line and she gave the preposterous explanation that there were two lines for immigration. I muttered that even after coming to the US, some people thought it was the local train entry. She got miffed and asked to get ahead which I did. I had about 1.5 hours to catch the connecting flight to Minneapolise. 40 minutes later I realised that I had no chance of catching the connecting flight if I remained there. I waited for some more time and then I cut across the elastic separators and requested the agent directing the queue to let me in for I had a connecting flight in 30 minutes or so. He looked a bit irritated but let me in. I was a bit surprised by his reaction to what I thought was a legitimate reason; however contrasted to the behaviour at Heathrow(to come in a later installment) this was nothing. I was directed to a counter, the lady there asked me the reason for coming and on being told that I was coming for a conference to present my work, she asked with a smile whether I was nervous. I told her that I had presented earlier so not unduly so. She waved me in with a smile. Wow I thought. Pleasant people and a warm welcome for someone who has no one over there in the US. I would here like to mention special thanks to her, for she might have checked hundreds of people and yet gives mme a smile!
So I was in!! However, the time for the next flight was almost over and I rushed toward the domestic terminal for O’Hare. One has to take a
train. I duly boarded that and found the domestic terminal. That was a shock, for it resembled the slightly more disciplined railway platforms if India. People, people and more people! On reaching I found that my flight was delayed by at least an hour. I took the opportunity to go to the toilet and wash my face at least. People were barely using the wash basin and one or two weer puzzled at my face washing and a horrible towel. One peculiar and funny situation was that the urinals was just an elevated stand. There were no “cubicles” ot the walls to separate out people, which meant that every person went on his business with a skewed position!
Anyway, after the usual delay of two hours, I boarded the flight, greeted by plastic smiles and welcomed. What I had begun to dislike was the extreme false nature of the welcoming smile, perhaps toward me. I felt like telling them that I had paid for the seat and was happy to have it without the false welcome. We landed in Minneapolis at 9PM and I collected my baggage.
Now, I was dead tired and had dropped off a number of times on the shoulders of a kindly man who did not seem to mind a smelly and unshaven Indian! He had also pointed out the Mississippi river. However, I did not know the address and at 9PM the airport was deserted and people thinned out after collecting their luggage. I looked around for some Internet connectivity and found no computers. Staff told me that Wi-Fi was there but possessing no laptop, it was useless for me. I asked an Indian who had been on the same flight if he had a laptop. He replied in the negative and said that he himself was headed to a friend’s place quite outside the city and went his way. Now, I was panicking. No address at all with no idea where to go…