Sunday, April 29, 2012

US Trip : April / May 2012 (Day 1)


We arrived in Atlanta from Frankfurt at 3.30 pm, about one hour ahead of schedule. The early arrival was offset by the delay at the airport arising out of a very irritating security procedure.

Atlanta airport is The only airport I have seen, where there is a security procedure AFTER arrival. There is a personal security screening. The checked - in baggage is collected upon arrival, and once again put on a belt for further screening. One has to then take a train, and arrive at yet another terminal (at least 5 kms apart from the one where we landed), to collect one's baggage. All of this, after a half hour at the immigration. (The immigration officer this time, was a friendly type...)

The good thing about Atlanta airport is the ground transportation. Taxis are abundandtly available, a stark contrast to other airports like Chicago O'Hare, where there is complete chaos, and the wait for a cab is endless.

What surprised me also in Atlanta, is the weather. It was 34 degrees C, and needless to state, very warm. We felt a bit foolish, carrying a jacket for cold weather.

The Hitlon, where we are staying, is reasonably priced, yet good. Check in was smooth. The rooms are spacious and absolutely clean, with a grand view of downtown Atlanta. The Hotel has a nice gift shop (which I had to visit - to shop for neckties which I foolishly left behind at home), where the items sold are reasonably priced. Also there is 'Starbucks' for a good coffee.

Its past 7 pm here, and there is broad daylight.

Its been about 29 hours since I stepped out of the home. The travel involved an 8 hour flight to Frankfurt, a 5 hour wait before I caught the connecting flight to Atlanta, which was of 9 hours duration.
Time to rest now. Tomorrow we leave at 9.30 for a trip to Gainesville, Georgia, and from there, straight to the airport, to catch a flight to Chicago.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Tour of USA - 2012 (Day 0)

And so - here I am - once again at the Lounge, in Terminal 3 of the IGI Airport, waiting to board my flight to Frankfurt, en route to the US...

My flight to Frankfurt will take 8 hours and 15 minutes. After an approximately three hour wait at Franfurt, I will board my flight to Atlanta that will take 10 hours to get to its destination.

By the time I reach my Hotel and check-in, folks in Delhi would be waking up from the slumber - to start getting ready for the first day of the new week. It would be about 5 am in India - Monday morning.

I plan to be here till the end of the week, and begin my journey back home on Friday evening. The tour in the US entails visits to Atlanta and Chicago, and their suburbs.
Visitng the US is always fun. You meet old and new people related to business, and catch up with some friends from School and College. The only dampner to the thought, is the gruelling 23 hour journey....

The Lounge seems more crowded than I've ever known it to be. I guess lots of people who finished business on Friday and are headed back home in the Western hemisphere. Or, people like me, who plan to reach the US by Sunday, to start their business right from the beginning of the week. Almost everyone peering into their cellphones, or laptop computers. Good opportunity for the single travellers to catch up on some exclusive moments alone and punch away into the keyboard without anyone around to nag...

With the help of a nice cold drink I brace myself for the long journey that will transport me to another part of the globe. And I hope and pray that the days fly, so that before long, I am back home

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Europe & US: Day 11 (May 19, 2011)

Akron, Cleveland & New Jersey

After two quick meetings in Akron, Ohio that finished by lunch, we drove to Cleveland, to catch our flight – the last domestic flight in the US, to New Jersey.

The drive from Akron to Cleveland took about 45 minutes by road. When I thought about Cleveland, I was reminded of a very dear cousin of my Dad – Hariarj, and his wife Sneh. Hariraj to us kids was a very successful business executive with a tire company in Mumbai, India. His wife was a Doctor. Then he got his big break in the US, and came to work for Goodyear. Hariarj and his wife together with their children, settled in Cleveland. Life was good.

One day the family went out shopping for a bicycle for the little son – I think his name was Manu. A few blocks short of their home. Hariraj and his son got down from the car, and asked Sneh to drive back the rest of the way. He wanted to help his son get on to the bike and start peddling. When his son struggled to get on to the bike, Hariraj decided to demonstrate how. He himself got on to try and peddle the little cycle he had bought for Manu.

No one really knows what exactly happened thereafter. In all likelihood, Hariraj lost his balance and fell (from that little bicycle), and his head hit the pavement. He became unconscious and there was blood from his mouth. His son panicked, and knowing only what he thought best. he rushed home, and informed his mother who was just unlocking the house.

When they reached back in all of five minutes, Hariraj had already been taken in an ambulance. For the family, life would never be the same again.

After two or three surgeries in the brain, to remove blood clots, Hariraj remained in a coma. The hospital did the best they could, and after a prolonged period of stay, he was brought home. A few months later, Hariraj lost his job.

Sneh, totally broken down by this adversity, slowly came to terms with reality, and emerged stronger with a renewed resolve. She learnt that to earn a livelihood, she had to begin practising medicine in the US, and to do that, she had to study to pass some exams. Between tending to a comatose husband and managing two ‘pre teen’ children, she also had to put in long hours of study, and also manage the household. Any ordinary person would have not had the courage, or would have lost hope and broken down. Not Sneh. She passed her exams, and became a Doctor and started practising, thereby opening up a new source of earning for the family.

Hariraj remained in coma for 7 years. Every moment of that time, his wife and children eagerly looked for that one small change in his condition – that one sign of hope. It did not come. At the end of seven years, Hariraj passed away, never coming out of the coma for a second.

I recollected this episode while driving to Cleveland. It was humbling to say the least. And it teaches me a lesson. Next time I  get ‘bogged down’ by minor problems in life, I should remember to be grateful and thankful to God for small mercies. For there are people in this World who have had much much more tougher lives to live.

Our flight to New Jersey  was delayed, as a result of which a dinner planned with a key customer had to be cancelled. So one had to remain enclosed within the confines of the Hotel room, with the exception of having dinner with good old Scot, my colleague from the US Office.

The tour to the US will end tomorrow, after two meetings. Work begins at 8.30 am and will finish by lunch time. The flight to Delhi is at 8 pm. One might decide to travel to New York in the afternoon, for some ‘sight seeing’

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Europe & US : Day 10 (May 18, 2011)

This morning we visited the Goodyear factory in Houston. Goodyear is known as a tyre giant, but few know that they have a very large chemicals business.

The huge factory is located by the side of a water channel that flow through Houston all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. The first thing that strikes you when you enter the factory is the huge emphasis on security, and safety. Each visitor is required to furnish a photo id, and foreigners in particular are required to show their passports. When you enter the production area, you have to – whether you like it or not, wear, ‘hard hats’ (helmets), ear mufflers – they look like big headphones, and plastic glasses over the eyes. Entry is through a turn spike kind of a gate – only one person can enter at a time.

Our flight to Charlotte from Houston was delayed. When we reached Charlotte to catch the connection to Akron Ohio, there were 15 minutes left for departure, and a long, long way to reach the boarding gate. We ran, and we ran and ran. We reached when the gate was being closed. We just about made it. If we had not, there would have been utter confusion, with bags going away, and we stranded in Charlotte, as the flight was the last one to Akron, for the day.

Which brings me to the subject of airlines in America. Their level of customer orientation can be described in one word - ‘pathetic’. Flights are delayed and cancelled, passengers are made to wait for three, four hours in a queue, for some problem at the airlines’ end. Many a time a passenger lands up at a different destination than the one he started for.

Nothing comes free on any American airline – not even water. In flight service is another story. On a long haul flight from Delhi to New Ark Intl. airport, my Boss described the service level as ‘nest to zero’ meaning little or no in flight service. Once dinner is served, the cabin crew’s job is over. Beverages are placed in one corner of the cabin, and passengers are welcome to help themselves, while the air hostesses bunch up together, and kill time gossiping away. And mind you – this is Business Class. One the one hand Americans are friendly, but on the other hand, they can come across as downright snobbish as if they are superior to the rest of the World, and couldn’t care less. The attitude of the cabin crew is a reflection of this attitude.

A far cry from  the Business Class of say Lufthansa, where every once in a while an air hostess will come and enquire whether you want anything to drink. And I am convinced that our good old domestic carriers like Kingfisher or Jet Airways are miles ahead, as far as the overall quality of their product is concerned.

We reached Akron a small town near Cleveland, Ohio. This town is home for Goodyear.  We checked –in at about 10 pm, by which time, all restaurants are shut, we are told. Door delivery to your Hotel room however is perfectly acceptable.

So after a cheese and pepperoni pizza and a coke from the vending machine in the Hotel corridor, its time to call it a day. Tomorrow we finish the last leg of the domestic travel within US. We head for New Jersey. And on Friday, we are out – of this ‘land of milk and honey’ that always provides me with a mixed bag of experiences – some sweet and some sour..

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Europe & US: Day 9 (May 17, 2011)

Chicago / Houston

From the O’Hare airport area, to downtown Chicago, where we had to commute, for a meeting, there is invariable a bad traffic snarl. Long lines of vehicles moving slowly, but all sticking to their lanes, and maintaining a respectable distance from the car in front. Disciplined driving. Not even on occasion, have I heard a car horn.

Up in the air, one can frequently see a helicopter hovering in the air, and monitoring traffic movements. One cannot make out whether its the police, or even a TV channel. The interesting thing is – this helicopter is not actually moving, but standing stationary, in mid air !  And that too – for extended periods of time – 30 minutes or sometimes more ! Must require amazing flying skills.

The journey into downtown took an hour, whereas the return trip less than half the time. Driving in America is so organized that one is tempted to take over the wheel and drive oneself. On an earlier trip, we learnt that an Indian driving license is valid to rent a car and drive around, for a maximum period of 3 months. One day, one has to garner some courage and take the plunge. Will save a lot of money that is wastefully spent on taxis.

We arrived in Houston, Texas after a long flight from Chicago, at about 6 pm today. Scot, our colleague from the US Office is a bug help because he rents cars in every city and commuting therefore is easy.

DSC04674 The ever efficient Douglas Scot Mace

We checked – in and headed straight for dinner – at the ‘Taste of Texas’ on the of the most popular ‘steak’ houses in Houston. And proceeded to have one of the finest steaks I’ve ever had, in the US.

 DSC04676 The waiter familiarising us with the entire spread offered by the ‘Taste of Texas’

The next three days are hectic. Meeting in the forenoon followed by travel in the afternoon. We move to Akron Ohio tomorrow and then New Jersey on Thursday evening. And then its the flight back to India, on Friday.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Europe & US: Day 8 (May 16, 2011)

Chicago – Day 3

Today, I saw sunlight in Chicago, for the first time since Saturday. Obviously, it became warmer, but not warm enough for one to feel comfortable. The temperature in Chicago continues to be below 10 degrees and that’s very uncomfortable.

We left for a town called Rockford – about one and a half hour’s drive northwest of Chicago, for a meeting at the Cadbury factory. Travelling always becomes easy when we have our colleague Scot, from the US office. This time he rented a “Dodge” SUV. The thing about American cars is they look strong and sturdy, and therefore feel safe.

Driving on highways in the US is so, so smooth that it’s monotonous. Vehicles moving at unchanged speeds, in one straight line, sticking to their lanes. Many times I have wondered, how do drivers keep from falling asleep, when they drive at those constant speeds along a straight road…

The air for miles around the Cadbury factory smells of chewing gum – mint flavour. Funnily, the people inside the premises cannot smell a thing – they have become used to the smell.

By the time we returned from the meeting, it was past 6 pm, but Chicago was bright and sunny. The hectic schedules, air travel, unfamiliar food and jet lag are now getting to the system. There’s still a fair amount of travel to be done. Fortunately no early morning departures or late night arrivals.

Tomorrow we got downtown Chicago for a meeting with Wrigley – the chewing gum giant, in their magnificent corporate Headquarters building on Michigan Avenue. This is a landmark in Chicago, just like the Coca Cola building is, in Atlanta.

In the afternoon we are off to Houston, Texas, where a much warmer weather awaits us. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Europe & US: Day 7 (May 15, 2011)

Chicago : Sunday

I woke up at 5 am. Early one might say. But you know what? I fell asleep at 4 pm yesterday, all with full clothes (jeans and socks) on, and the TV on…

Had decided to get lay down just for a while. The next thing I knew, it was morning ! True effect of jet lag. But what the heck – it was a Sunday.

The weather continued to be cold and wet. So venturing outdoors was not a plan, unless I was convinced by my Boss to accompany him to downtown Chicago…

The much planned meeting with Ronny Bindra, my batch mate from St. Stephen’s College was also now a big challenge, thanks to conflicting commitments, and the inclement weather. But when the Boss’s flight got cancelled and I knew he wasn’t coming in today, meeting Ronny was now a good opportunity.

Ronny was magnanimous in his offer to drop by, pick me up take me to his home, and drop me back later. Considering his home was a good number of miles away, this WAS a generous offer indeed.

We spent two hours at Ronny’s home, chatting about College old friends, and old times in general. Ronny has done well in his career and in life. He has a huge palatial home in one of the most exclusive suburbs of the United States. He is a dog lover, and has one dedicated car – a Toyota SUV only for his dogs. He uses the vehicle to take his dogs to some place called a ‘dog park’. I got to meet the smaller and therefore potentially less harmful of the two dogs – Caesar –a pug. The other guy - ‘Cash’ a German Shepherd was too aggressive and dangerous, I was told. He doesn’t like anyone on this property –period. Stephanian or no Stephanian… 

DSC04670 Ronny’s beautiful house in Lake Forest, Illinois


The backyard of the house – which extends to well beyond the fence in the background. The fence is for the dogs….


Ronny Bindra with his dogs’ car

Ronny dropped me back at the Hotel in the evening. It was very nice meeting him. Considering the fact that we didn’t know each other in College ! The bonding amongst batch mates extends way beyond personal relationships. Slightly hard to understand I guess.

Dinner’s over and tomorrow is the beginning of a work week. Will sleep early to get up fresh on Monday morning.