To the first world

About a month ago, I boarded an aircraft heading westward. I had to fly to the United States of America to participate in an event for work. It was a three-week official trip, but I had decided to extend it by another week, making it a solo adventure.

When I walked town to the gates at the airport on August 22, I had no idea what to expect except a twenty-hour gruelling plane journey to the other side of the world. Friends had already scared me with stories of boredom, bad food, crankiness, and—worst of all—jet lag. Despite all of this, though, I was excited beyond myself. I’m not the kind of person who’d spend so much money to travel to the US. So though this opportunity came by me unexpected, I was determined to make the most out of it.

The first thing that hit me hard when I landed was how long the journey had been. I had been warned, yes, but even so, the last couple of hours in the aircraft had felt the longest.  In hindsight, however, it was fun. I liked the food, I liked the service, I liked the fact that I had a seat by the window, and could look out at the clouds below us any time I wanted. Overall, it was comfortable flight and there was nothing I could complain about. I’d say Emirates is a good airlines, in case you’re looking for options.

On air to SFO

Once I had overcome the mental exhaustion of the flight’s duration, I had to face the next big thing: immigration, customs, and baggage claim. It’s the least romantic part of any journey. The questions weren’t bad—but the waiting was horrible. It’s surprising how after waiting inside a plane for 20 hours, how hard it was for me to wait for an hour longer to claim our baggages. Funny, now. Hell, then.

When all was done and cleared, we (a party of five colleagues) headed out of the airport into the chilly breeze of San Francisco. We booked a cab and as we drove through the city towards Dublin, Pleasanton, the reality of the first world hit me hard. Unnoticeable to me were the streets. Six lanes of freeway (or highway as we call it in India) was massive for someone who’s seen only four lanes of it. And it seemed sensible, too, to have six lanes because the number of vehicles and the sizes of private ownership were much larger than any I had seen or imagined.

Unlike in India, though, the traffic moved. Perhaps it was the big streets, but our cab didn’t remain stagnant for more than a couple minutes at a time. We spent about 45 minutes in traffic—traffic that was more pleasant than the ones at home. We landed at 3 pm, but by the time we reached our hotel, it was 6 already. We checked in and checked out our rooms. Mine was bigger than what I needed, but it was quite evident from first glance that I’d have a wonderful stay.

Still trying to get my head around the largeness of everything around me, I cleaned up, because we should meet work friends who had arrived earlier for dinner. When I looked through my window, it was bright outside that I had to double check my phone. It looked like four o’clock in the afternoon, but it was seven already. I had to sit myself down to comprehend the weirdness of nature. The sun still wasn’t sure whether it wanted to set.

And while I stared at its dying embers, I received a message saying restaurants would soon close. But it’s only 8! I yelled inside my head. The sky had become darker while I left the room and joined my colleagues at the reception of the hotel. I wasn’t hungry but we had to get food and then sleep, because we had to head to work early next morning. One of our colleagues who had lived in the US all his life, decided to take us to a burger place—almost every other restaurant would close within the next half hour.

That was another surprise for me. Dublin, Pleasanton is a small town. And most of the population was older. There was no active nightlife, and most of the shops shut down at 9 with a a handful of exceptions closing anytime after 10. That’s not what I expected when I travelled to the US. For me, America had resembled fanciness, priciness, and unnecessary vanity. I had expected to walk into a boisterous disco-like restaurant when in fact I walked into an almost empty restaurant.

Burger Fuddruckers-

We ordered burgers—at least that wasn’t unsurprising—and grabbed ourselves some water and mustard. When my bacon and blue cheese burger arrived at my table, I had to take a deep breath before I could even digest its size. It was double the size of whatever I could eat. And that was the smallest burger in their menu.

I managed to eat it without hating myself. It did taste pretty good, after all. But even then, portion sizes in America seemed ridiculous to me. Not only did Americans eat so much food, but they also topped it off with sugar soda or sugar milkshakes.

By the end, I’d had an eventful first day in the US, and was ready to sleep.

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With bated breath

Waiting, for me, signifies expectation, anticipation, and the hope that something big is about to come my way. It’s the thrill of breathlessness and the unsettling uncertainty that makes waiting so much painful and yet pristine at the same time. There’s tension in the air and friction in the molecules all around us, and a mystery waiting to unfurl. That’s what I felt while walking down these Pleasanton suburbs. It was at around 7 am and not a cricket was astir. The entire place awaited the buzz of human existence.

In the distance, behind the shadows of these beautiful buildings stood a woman on her porch ready to scare away unwelcome trespassers. Perhaps I appeared too touristy to her, but she ignored my presence and glanced right through me—as if I wasn’t there. Oh, but I was, and I have this picture as a reminder.

Pleasanton

Jet lagging

I love waking up early. I love challenging the sun and facing it upright just as it shows its face from behind the clouds. But not even I enjoyed being wide awake at 2:45 am.

Well, my preferences didn’t matter, because the day after we landed in a timezone about 11:30 hours away from home, my system was so messed up that at two am in the morning, I felt as awake as I’d have felt at 1 pm at home.

Ah, the miracles of jet lag.

on air

The weird thing about being jet lagged, though, is that for the most part of the flight, my symptoms were different from the rest of my colleagues. Sure, we were all up by 3 am, but while they were all hungry at odd hours and remained jet lagged for over three days, I was in and out of jet lag in less than 24 hours. Apart from being jealous, to everyone else, I was the elephant in the room—the only one comfortable with the drastic change in time.

When some of my colleagues heard that I’d be traveling over the seas, they all said the same thing: regardless of how drowsy I felt, I shouldn’t ever sleep before 11 pm on the day I land. That shouldn’t be too hard, I thought as I boarded my first plane to Dubai. It was an overnight flight starting at 4 am and no sooner had I gotten on that I yawned far and wide. A few minutes into the flight, however, I was still up. I couldn’t sleep even though my eyes drooped and my brain bored. By the time the sunrise became visible over the clouds, they had served breakfast and I felt active again.

It didn’t take long for me to to doze on an off, but I didn’t ever once fall into proper sleep. It hit me hard only when I landed in Dubai. It was a brief transit, and we spent no time looking around at the massive airport—something I regret to this moment. Our next flight was even longer: 15.50 hours.

The enormity of that flight dawned on me when I felt as if I’d spent 2 days on the plane when we had in fact flown only for an hour. But we made it through, and landed not as excited as I’d hoped I’d be, but thankful beyond expectation. In hindsight, though, the flight wasn’t too bad. But at that particular moment, I was glad my feet found land. I still wasn’t sleepy, though. It was only while in the cab with end-of-summer breeze whizzing past my ear that I realised how sleepy and tired I felt.

To ensure we didn’t sleep, our colleagues sponsored dinner and we spent a long night wolfing down fancy burgers and kickass milkshakes. When we called it a night, it was early in the morning back home. Tired as a log, I had a peaceful nap—until I woke up at 2:45 as fresh as a flower, cursing the colleague who predicted it. That afternoon, the weight of the sleepless nights came crashing down on me. And it didn’t help that I was in a boring meeting with sleep in my mind.

That night, things started falling into place. I fell asleep on time and awoke on time. From that day on, I’ve been one of the few to tolerate the time zone variation without a pill or pain.

And I couldn’t help but feel proud.

A fancy flight

I was aboard my first fancy flight ever. It’s one of the biggest airline carriers in the world, some of my closest colleagues and friends recommended them. Expecting all things nice and welcoming, I trudged along the aisle of what seemed like a highway of airplane seats, to find my own small corner.

It awaited me with a small pillow for back support, a set of headphones to help drain the noisy kids around, and an open window shade to deliver awe throughout the next four hours. I gaped at the mild lighting and fell into the arms of my seat with thankful abandon.

I had stayed up all night walking through immigration and customs, and then sat through a couple of hours at the lounge cranky and headachy just so I could grab that soft violet pillow and snuggle away. As the hands of my clock inched towards the 4 am mark, the captain’s voice boomed overhead, excited and welcoming.

It did seem a little ironic for him to be so cheerful when almost all of his passengers were sleep-deprived and as dull as doormats. He remained unperturbed, and wished fus all a pleasant journey, promising that his crew would serve us to our satisfaction.

After the customary warning messages and announcements, which no one heeded as per custom, the captain set the wheels in motion and we were away. After cruising on the runway for a few minutes, I ascended above, along with three hundred other passengers. Dubai had called and I had obliged. Now all that separated us were time, space, and a long plane journey.

I’m not a first time flier, but every time I step on a plane, I feel the same excitement and the same anticipation as any first timer. And I enjoy the feeling. That’s what made me twist around in my seat, admiring the massiveness that surrounded me. Unlike domestic carriers, international ones accommodate more people — I realised the obvious a little later than usual.

Over my head, the airline hood mimicked the sky outside. Star-like glowy things flickered down at me from a blanket of blackness. In front of me just above the tray table, a complete entertainment system sat waiting to entertain me. Live footage from the various cameras fitted outside of the plane would’ve displayed all that lay below us among the clouds—if only it had been a day flight. Nevertheless, the entertainment system was more than enough to keep passengers occupied. The moment we settled down, my neighbour — a ten-twelve year old by the looks of her — switched on her televised screen and navigated to Ballerina the movie. She ripped open the plastic bag that contained a set of headphones and immersed herself for the rest of the journey. Next to her, her mother settled with an air pillow dozing right off. Frequent fliers, I observed.

Well, I wasn’t a frequent flier and so wanted to get the most I could from the 4-hour flight. Almost hugging on to the window pane, I anticipated the sun rise. Perhaps it was because we flew back in time, but the sunrise didn’t happen for about one hour before we landed in Dubai. In any case, I was awake when it did. It was more of a sunset because I’ve never seen the sun rise over my head — a juxtaposition by itself. Even then, it was a magnificent sight.

By the time the sun had risen in the world below us, on the plane, our air hostesses had begun handing out breakfast. That’s when I realised the rumbling I’d been hearing for a while was my stomach and not the air craft’s engine.

Masking my greediness, I accepted the tray with grateful hands. People complain about airplane food being cold and unpleasant, but I liked mine. Minced lamb omelette, mashed potatoes, and a green pea patty made a decent breakfast. Plus, fruit slices, bread, and a muffin completed a fine meal for a sleep-deprived soul. It was my first time trying such airplane food and I did enjoy it more than others said I would.

By the time I finished, the drooping sensation that had shrouded my eyes cleared up and I felt more awake than ever.

Little did I know that it was the premise for jet lag — a devil by itself.

Excuses

travel

Lacking in word flow

lagging blogger, traveller,

blames all on jet lag.