Saturday, 2 March 2013

TWTW: The Week That Was!

"Buy the ticket, take the ride" Hunter S. Thompson 

The Run Up
Friday the 4th of February, I planned to watch the movies  Hyderabad Blues Part 1 and Part 2. What happened between the two movies is a story to tell.

With hardly a mail or two (mostly spams) hitting my inbox a day, checking mails is not up my priority. But one mail from my Professor in Germany was waiting for me to be seen, giving me the news that if I can arrange for myself to be at the conference of the Transportation Research Board at Washington DC in 8 days, I would be sponsored for it.
Chennai Images: The Train to Velachery
It doesn't take much for the human brain to accelerate itself from a relaxing mode watching a movie to hyper active one thinking about visa, tickets, hotel reservations, currencies and so forth.

Weekend was to be followed and the US consulate at Chennai was soon to be entered into festive mode with Tamil Nadu. The chances were slim and I had to take it.

The United States Visa for an Indian Citizen is definitely not the one to be taken for granted, if you are interested in knowing more, and should do it.

IIT Madras features: The Spotted Deer
A little document gathering from my employers in India and sponsors in Germany and a helping hand from a friend in Chennai got me through the first hurdle of visa, followed by the last minute air ticket and hotel reservation.

While I was doing all this, the helpful parents of mine were running around to get me winter clothes and get the poster for the presentation printed.

I would travel from Chennai (needed to take the passport) and travel back to Bangalore.

IIT Madras was my host at Chennai on both occasions. I saw the posters of Shaastra while I went to the visa interviews, the crowds of Saarang were making noise when I was about to leave for DC.

The itinerary quickly made itself up. Sunday through Thursday noon attending the conference, a bit of sight seeing till Friday night and back home by Sunday morning.

My view of DC
In no time I was on a real long flight to the other side of the planet. The journey was tiresome and to be followed by a big jet lag and more. The delay in landing at Heathrow airport, London meant I had hardly any time for transfer, had to run between terminals and later my baggage was received in Washington DC two full days later (Thankfully, I had an extra set of essentials in the carry-in bag).

The cold, damp Dulles airport at DC welcomed everyone with the "free wifi" posters every where. It took a bus and a transfer to the metro (all under wmata) to reach the hotel sitting in the centre of the city next to the White House. A quick run to the conference registration and attending a welcome sort of a session ended my day on Sunday with a little drama with the bags, a tired body and a bit of networking with transport professionals whom i bumped into in a restaurant. While checking in, I scared the room service lady as I remained silent while waiting for her to finish doing her duties. It all ended however with my first proper conversation in America.

The Conference
Monday and Tuesday were the happening days. I was having my first "TRB experience" so to call it. With poster and lectern sessions happening in parallel and a huge Bible sort of a book containing the details of all the events the day went mostly with me trying to discover what the conference is all about and bumping into old mates from Bombay and Karlsruhe while doing that. TRB is one big conference where all the names in the transportation world come under one roof, share ideas and discuss over the future of the industry. It felt like a room full of celebrities in one of the committee meetings I happened to attend. If transportation was film making, I was at the Kodak Theatre, Hollywood.

The Drama never stops
I had a poster to present on the earliest session on Wednesday. Like it usually happens something had to interrupt my presentation. Usually my computer crashes. This time however, the metro services got stopped for a while. To reach the conference venue, about six miles away, I quickly switched to a two bus transit plan and realized in a couple of minutes, with all the traffic from metro on to the streets, I wouldn't make it to conference in time.

I have a Dream
I had a companion in a sinking ship with a girl having the presentation in the same session in the same bus. One more instantaneous decision, we both got off the bus to wait for the taxi. Tables do turn and after waving at couple of taxis (only to get a wave back) we finally found our savior for the day. With soothing Jazz playing in the background and the driver sharing his knowledge on India and China promptly as he intricately drove us to conference venue through a building traffic in time.

I welcomed my professor as I put the poster explaining the other missing students and their posters ending with a "Aber Ich bin pünktlich!" (Thanks to the taxi guy, I could say that!). Soon I met Shruthi and Digya, familar faces presenting alongside me.

Due to unavailability of the reservations, I had to book a visit to The Capitol  in the midst of all this. It turned out to be quite a pleasant visit with the guide making some cheeky jokes and trying to learn Kannada from me. He had a great memory with nations and presidents and although I never studied American history formally, I knew more than I thought I did (Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy, Nixon, the famous and the infamous).

For those who don't know it, the US has three things: The Presidency, The Congress and The Judiciary. The White House, The Capitol and The Supreme Court are home of the above respectively. The other visits were due on Friday.

The evening was a breather as I bumped into the Bombay folks of yesteryear's and heard a lot of stories from the pre-historic ages. Thanks to Dr.Mishra from Memphis, for the first time in DC I had something somewhat close to authentic Indian meal at Bombay Club with the help of yelp. Not that I was craving for an Indian meal but most restaurants in DC have this fluffy bread which they call it Roti and that speaks how the food really is in those places. Same is the case with cuisines from rest of the world.

Thursday seemed to be a formality as most people went home and most conference halls were empty. Sadly I couldn't meet any of the people to to bid a goodbye. The evening went in shopping the electronic gadgets. (Electronic stuff are cheaper in US than India and friends back home made sure they got their money's worth!)

The must-see stuff
There is a great deal of debate over the difference between a tourist and a traveler. Some say there's not much of a difference, some say there is. I personally like to sink into aura of the city than go see the must sees (For example, Life in metro was one of the things I liked in Paris).

Since I was having the DC life already for four days (Peak hour metro rides, reading the DC newspapers, wearing a suit, attending meetings), I was more than happy to do the must-do sight seeing on the last day.
To add to it, the city was getting itself dressed for the Obama inauguration!

Media Media: The Obama Inauguration
The must-dos:
1. The Government: The Capitol, The White House, The Supreme Court, The library of Congress
2. The Museums: The Smithsonian Complex with a dozen museums and a dozen other non-Smithsonians spread across the city
3. The Memorials: Of all the presidents and all the wars (It's America, there are a lot of them)

DC is a Disney Land if you are a student of American history. (Well, I'm not!)

Drama, Part 2: When it snows, flights get cancelled
It snows in London and like one-fourth the flights heading into and out of Heathrow, my flight gets cancelled!
Thanks to my early arrival at the Dulles airport and one last seat in the United Air, I get to arrive in India at the scheduled time without any delays, albeit taking two airlines instead of one.                                                                                                                                                              
Snow Covered London from the airplane  

Into the future back to home:
The long city bus journey from the airport to the Bangalore city in the early hours of Sunday made sure that, I had a small sleep with a quick play of the entire set of events that had happened since two weeks before. The trip was one to go into the book of memories which I'll keep visiting.

To all the people who made it happen, Prost!

“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen” ~  Benjamin Disraeli

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