Where am I?

Only one word is appropriate for a person who doesn’t write on this personal blog for 5 months. LAZY. Yes, there are several other itsy-bitsy reasons, but none that would matter as much.

I am still in Canada, and still not done with the pilot training. My revised finishing date is May 2008. And it has taken this long because winter really beat down on Vancouver this year, and because I am taking it slow and steady. Over the last 4 months, I have done a lot, and done almost nothing. I am going to split my last 4 months into 2 articles, the first of which is this one, and a rather long one.

My hurt feelings from the much bungled training cross country flight to California were healed when Ruchi didi and family came up to Vancouver for a weekend sometime late July. Those 2 days were just so much fun. For a day, I was rockstar mama for Gaurika. And then they were gone. But California was still calling. And so I went. And I didn’t fly. I took the train, and was that the most amazing train ride ever! My vacation lasted 8 days in all. Besides the trip being so amazing by itself, my being able to write about it after 4 months is surprising too (to me!).

Day-1

It started with an exciting bus ride from Vancouver to Seattle. Exciting because an hour into the drive, the bus broke down. That put a dampener on my spirits because I would miss the connecting train at Seattle, killing the entire trip. Fortunately, another bus on the same route had just enough space to take on the passengers of the broken bus. Unfortunately, we had lost too much time waiting on the side of the road, to make it in time to Seattle railway station. Considering how punctual and proper all of North America is deemed to be, I was visualising myself running on the platform and jumping into a moving train, filmy style. The bus reached Seattle railway station at 09:44 a.m., just in time for the 09:45 a.m. train departure. By then I was sure I was going to be jumping into a moving train. At the platform, there was no train, but there were hundreds of people with their baggage. It was difficult to believe at first, but it was true, the train was 2 hours late. And I used to think that trains were late only in India.

The train, called the Coast Starlight, in 24 hours, would take me from Seattle to San Jose, where Naveen and Monali live. This train takes a beautiful scenic route, along the Pacific Ocean shoreline, over snow covered mountains, through forests and valleys, through small towns and big cities. It has a dining car (popularly known as pantry car in India) that is like a restaurant, complete with cutlery and waiters. The menu is fixed, like in an airline, and they also serve alcohol. The biggest attraction on the train is the sightseer lounge that has floor-to-ceiling windows, giving a magnificent view of the scenery as we move.

I travelled in the coach class that has sitting only accommodation. The price of sleeper coach was 3 times more. The seats weren’t bad at all, huge seats, plenty of reclining, loads of leg room, tray table, much like an airplane business class seat. I was comfortable, and I have high standards. I also made a new friend on the train, Diana, who was my co-passenger. She was also travelling from Seattle to San Jose. I think now that without her, the journey would not have been as enjoyable and fun.

Day-2

The train reached San Jose 3 hours late. Naveen picked me up from the station. From San Jose, Naveen and Monali drove me to San Francisco, visiting enroute the famous and historic Golden Gate Bridge, downtown San Francisco, the Fisherman’s Wharf for crab at a street-side seafood joint and finishing off the wonderful evening with fabulous seafood at the Bubba Gump Restaurant (remember the movie Forrest Gump?).

Day-3

The next morning, we packed omelettes and toast and were on the road, driving to Las Vegas. The drive was long and tiring, with all 3 of us taking turns to do the 9 hour drive, averaging nearly 100 KMPH. Naveen said that there was too much traffic due to the holiday weekend and that we could have gone much faster otherwise. Talk about life in the fast lane. The drive was fun though, with some breath taking scenery, and much bickering between Monali and me over my burping. I learnt that it is rude and unmannerly to burp. How in this world are you supposed to swallow a burp? We drove through orange mangroves, vineyards, lakes, mountains, and the desert. Las Vegas sits in the middle of the desert. For nearly 200 KM from Vegas, there is only barren land and bald hills. And then, all of a sudden, this vast city with bright coloured buildings emerges from behind the horizon, like a mirage. As we got closer and closer, it became clear, Vegas was real. The biggest show on earth.

What can I say about Las Vegas? Jazzy, flashy, sexy, lavish, attractive, romantic. We drove around for a couple of hours, getting a glimpse of the various casino-resorts on The Strip. The Strip is slang for the one road that has all the glitter and glamour of Vegas. It is all of 2 miles long and these 2 miles could take one from rags to riches, or vice versa.

The first attraction was the Bellagio Musical Fountain. If you have seen the musical fountain at Bangalore, then you could say the one at Bellagio is about 10 times bigger and jazzier. And then it was time to gamble. Naveen was an instant hit, raking in some moolah from the word go. I on the other hand experienced the pain of losing money, much due to my lack of knowledge and experience. Dinner was a quick stop at a crepe store inside one of the resorts. And then, some more sight seeing, some more gambling, some more sight seeing, some more gambling.

After all the gambling, we decided to head to the mall with aspirations of grabbing some bargains at Best Buy, one of the biggest technology stores around. Naveen wanted to get himself a GPS and a laptop. It was Boxing Day, and the day of the biggest bargains anywhere in North America. When we got there at 2 in the morning, we found over a 100 people in a line snaking all around Best Buy. People were battling the cold to save a buck. We were too beat and decided to retreat to our hotel.

Day-4

It turned out that Naveen got this discounted 3-day package deal for us by signing up to attend an investment property seminar. And this was the day. So we went into it thinking it would be a 10 minute deal. It took us nearly 3 hours instead. And Naveen blamed that on me. He had gone in with the simple purpose of listen to them and walk out. I unfortunately couldn’t resist the temptation of throwing in questions, spending unnecessary time at the demo unit, asking the guy for more finance options and what not. By the end of it all, I must have made friends with the property agent, and was telling him how we Indians needed a lot more time to decide on important long term investments like property and that was the reason why Naveen was not able to make a commitment. I even promised him that I would come back some day. We later went to the mall, had lunch, and indulged in some shopping. And then, back to the sight seeing, and the gambling.

At night, we watched the American Superstars show at the Stratosphere. It was a great song and dance show, with lookalikes of Elvis, Britney, Michael Jackson, and others. I later learnt that Monali had imposed a no-nudity condition on any show we went to; else we would have had a wider choice on how we spent that evening.

Day-5

This was going to be a very long day. We started at 5 in the morning, taking a bus to the Grand Canyon. Naveen and Monali got into the front seat that was incidentally reserved by someone else, and pissed off the driver. Trust Naveen to say that the driver was rude to him! I had to go to the back, sitting through a long bus ride next to a Japanese tourist who spoke no English. We stopped at Hoover Dam, once for food, and once again at a gift shop, and finally reached the Grand Canyon at 2:30 in the afternoon. It’s this freak of nature that has a strange attention grabbing view. I mean, it’s not the Taj Mahal, or Mount Everest, or Niagara Falls, and yet, I looked at it, and I kept looking at it. The vastness of this ravine was amazing. No picture I took captured the depth of it in its totality. As if the canyon was not beautiful enough, the brilliant orange color of the setting sun reflecting off the stone was absolutely breathtaking. And if that was not romantic enough, the moon rising from behind the edge of the canyon would have anybody fall to their knees.

At a height of 7000 feet, it became very windy and cold, and Naveen and Monali being residents of sunny California, were just not able to take it. But having come down from Canada, I found it a tad easier. Eventually we made it back to the bus, and were on our long ride back to Vegas. On the way, we stopped again at Hoover Dam to get a view of the dam lit up at night. Back at the hotel at 9:30 in the night, a quick wash, and we were back in action, sight seeing and gambling. It was our last night in Vegas, and nothing could hold us back now.

Day-6

The big attractions that we missed out on were right there, on our hotel rooftop. There was the observation deck and the two jaw dropping thrill rides that protruded out over the edge of the 1150 foot high tower. Naveen and I enjoyed the observation deck. The mid morning view was fabulous. And like always, I was trigger happy. When we got to the thrill rides, I didn’t have the stomach to get on them. Those who take the rides must be fearless humans. We got a coffee at the observation deck, and then headed back to the hotel room to pack up and get on with our long drive to San Jose. It was noon and the desert sun was upon us.

Answering my hunger pangs, Naveen first drove up to IHOP just across from our hotel. There was a 30 minute wait for a table. Naveen and Monali decided not to wait for a table, and start driving instead. They said we would stop enroute for food, against my wishes and repeated requests. And what do you know; the traffic on the highway was unbelievable, and we crawled for an hour before we found the first McDonalds. Thank goodness for that, for I know that when I’m hungry, I’m hungry; but when I’m starved, I get cranky. There was so much traffic that it took us 13 hours to get to San Jose instead of the planned 8 hours. We had our own little topics of discussion to while away the time. Monali and I had the longest debate on burping. She was all too grossed by my burps. I couldn’t control them, after the big lunch at McDonalds and the big coke. If I have to burp, I burp. Better out than in I say! How do you expect me to control my burp, or subdue it, or make it artificial, and if that’s not all, apologise for burping in the company of my dear friends! What’s happened to this world? Anyway, I burped my way through, driving her nuts. Naveen was of course smart enough to stay out of the debate. I drove the last leg, like a maniac, fighting sleep and fatigue to the very last mile. Naveen was knocked out cold.

Day-7

Husband and wife were obviously too tired to go to work, so they worked from home. I watched a movie, lazed around, and packed my bags. In the evening, Naveen fried some frozen samosas and made tea for us. At 6.30, my cousin Shachi and her hubby Srikant picked me up and took me to their home. I met her in-laws, and we hit the road again. They were taking me out to dinner, and then to the railway station. We headed to Pasta Pomodoro, about 1 mile from the station. After a wonderful dinner, we drove to the station, only to find that the train was 30 minutes late. According to Srikant, that was enough time for us to get some dessert. So we headed back into San Jose. Now I don’t remember the name of the place, but it was all lit up and decorated for Christmas, and it was beautiful and romantic. We got our choice of ice-cream and headed back to the station. There was excitement again, because we were running against time, and my mind was once again throwing images of me desperately rolling behind the train pulling out of the station.

Guess who I saw at the station! Diana! She was returning to Seattle by the same train. How many times in your life do you face such coincidences? Like before, she was a life saver, else I would have been bored to death on that train. The 24 hour journey from Seattle to San Jose starts in the day and the return journey starts at night. The scenery by day this time was mostly of the mountains, all covered in snow and mist, enticing none the less. The train reached Seattle an hour late and the bus that was to take me from Seattle to Vancouver was waiting. I got off at the first stop after crossing the border, and my friends picked me up from there. And what a happy ending that was.

Cheers
Mayur Poddar
@ poddu.com
@ www.67knots.com