Monday, 30 June 2008

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost

To travel from Rochester, NY to Kent, OH, by road, you get onto Interstate 90, a long straight road that runs through flat green countryside, punctuated by tractor-trailers, truck stops, and road-kill, for about 4 hours, and then get onto smaller state highways and keep driving for another half hour or so. If you haven't punched in the destination address into your dinky, little GPS receiver, you also call up any Mallu family friends you know approximately every 5 minutes and ask for directions. At least that's what my aunt and I did, my last weekend in the US. I landed in Rochester late Friday night, and we set out early next morning - 4 AM - aiming to get into Kent by 9 for some kind of orientation program at my cousin's university. Having driven through bucolic, white-dominated, 'fly-over country', it was surprising to land up at the university and see the number of Indian/South Asian and Asian parents with their kids at the place. But then again, my cousin is studying medicine, so I suppose I shouldn't have been too surprised.
Kent had limited options by way of entertainment - a cheap, single-storied multiplex where we watched 'Get Smart', a chipotle chain and a random white woman with mottled skin who was very vocal in admiring my cousin's tan - and having exhausted them in a day, we headed out again the next morning back up the I-90 to see the Niagara Falls and then get back in time for my flight to New York and thence to Boston. This time, the GPS receiver was suitably set up, and we made it to the falls in good time. While the city that's grown around them is a complete tourist trap with, among other things, sari- and salwar-kameez-clad women walking around all over and cheap, vegetarian, Punjabi thalis prominently advertised, the falls themselves are really quite spectacular. I too joined the throng, pulling on the souvenir bright plastic raincoat and yet getting drenched, both at the Cave of the Winds and on the Maid of the Mist. By this time I was perilously close to missing my flight back from Rochester, and so we sped off back up the highway, stopping only to pick up gifts for the people back home and making it to the airport half an hour before the scheduled departure.

Things started going awry at this point. I was told that my flight was an hour late. Then two. Then indefinitely delayed. Apparently New York had been hit by a storm which had disrupted all air traffic along the east coast. I spent the next few hours navigating the JetBlue interactive voice response system trying to figure out if I'd be able to catch my onward flight to Boston, or if I ought to cancel and fight for a refund, until I finally found a woman - a real honest-to-goodness, human being - who told me I ought to try my luck and fly to New York and see if I could catch the next flight out to Boston.

My luck, unfortunately, was not very good. I landed at JFK at 9, only to find that my flight to Boston took off at 8, and the next flight that was supposed to leave at 10 had been canceled. I got a ticket on the next flight - at 7.30 the next morning. At this point, I thought to myself, only partly in irony, "What would Ragupathy do?". My next thought was, "I ought to put that up on the blog". I considered trying to take a train or bus back, and even got to the nearest subway station, before I realized it was rather stupid and pointless.

And so it was that I lugged myself and my 2 bags into the Arrival lounge of Terminal 5. There were already a few people there who seemed to have made peace with the fact that they would be stuck there for the night, and had sprawled out on the floor or across a couple of chairs to sleep as best they could. The coffee shop upstairs had shut, but there were still a few people sitting there trying to last the night, most noticeable amongst them a man of possibly Middle Eastern origin who wore a long black faux fur coat that stretched from his neck down to below his knees, who sat up straight in his chair and dozed, and a another figure, possibly a woman, possibly of Sri Lankan origin, looking a bit like Ranjit Fernando with Albert Einstein's hairdo, who wore a shapeless white shirt and black pants and thumbed through a book, determined not to sleep. More people seemed to trickle in through the night, clustering at the various tables, talking softly, rearranging themselves amongst the furniture till they could find a position where they could give in to their weariness. Half asleep, I couldn't help thinking of 'Tokyo Canceled'. I wondered what stories we would all have shared, if we had spoken to each other. Instead, of course, we shut ourselves off from each other and our predicament as best we could. I looped the straps of my bags together and under the legs of my chair, briefly considered brushing my teeth in the men's room, put my feet up on the chair in front, and slept.


  1. You bet. Do you remember a blank call to your cell that Sunday night? That was me trying to call you from a broken pay-phone...

  2. "What Would Ragupathy Do?" -- that could become a bit of a catch-phrase!

    How was Tokyo Calling/Cancelled?

  3. So, how's it like being back in bang? Withdrawal symptoms any?

    I found tokyo cancelled a bit annoying really. I never read the whole thing, but I do remember reading one really pointless tale about a tailor and a prince or something. A bit too jataka tales redux. The cover looked cool though.

  4. Sorry - I meant 'Tokyo Canceled', of course. Was damn sleepy by the time I wrote that line. Corrected that now. As you can see, it didn't really make enough of an impression for me to even remember the name correctly. I stopped reading half-way through. The Jataka tales were much better frankly, at least the Amar Chitra Katha illustrated set.
    'What Would Ragupathy Do?' should indeed become a catch-phrase. I decided I didn't want to make this post too link-heavy, so for those who don't know who he is, click here. Han, I'd link to your write-up too, only it's a pain trying to find stuff on your blog by flipping through the archives.

  5. I see you have adopted the custom of thinking everyone in the world knows what "NY" and "OH" mean...

    this sort of thing happened to me as well...was giving out my phone number to someone not in USA and didn't bother with the intl dialing code.

    A minute of silence followed.

    "So..are you going to tell me the dialing code or do you like all americans think I should know it?"

  6. I see you've adopted the custom of taking personal anecdotes and extrapolating them confidently into broad hypotheses to apply to the world... :-)

    If I took myself more seriously,I would claim that I wanted to bring out the essence of a road-trip, which is the realization that the end-points are in themselves immaterial, it is the journey itself that enriches the traveler, and using abbreviations thus de-emphasizes said end-points. Honestly speaking though, considering that most of my regular blog readership seems to be either in the US or on the way there, I figured I didn't need to expand the initials. And in case people are really curious, they can always refer to Google Maps.

  7. Ah. I didn't realize my archive might be worth searching through. I've added a search feature.