Others would usually have a lot to say about their first visit to the States but the visit i had made in 2007 seems more or less like a vague dream to me now. I just had to pen down some of the memories so that at least some will remain.
Let me start with the 350 USD I had in my pocket when I left Mumbai on Etihad airlines. This amount is an aggregation of what office gave me and what I had also exchanged of my own personal money. This usually happens when one has to keep up with a stingy boss. He would give you enough to experience but not enough to enjoy. Like a colleague of mine use to say, office support is like liquid oxygen. The liquid will try to drown you but the oxygen will keep you alive. Anyway to start with I had 3 beers on the flight to Abu Dhabi where we had a stopover. I spent two hours roaming around the terminal checking out the different shops and wares finally settling down on a Heineken beer for 6 USD. It was quite educative to observe that all the sales girls and other employees at the terminal were people of different nationalities except maybe for the security personnels who may have been locals for obvious reasons. Boarding another Etihad flight after the brief stopover we flew continuously for I believe 16 hrs? until we landed at JFK airport. Till then I stuffed myself with I think 15 beers. I had to literally beg the stewardesses to give me the beers as they were either afraid of me getting drunk or were afraid of me finishing their stock.
Landing at JFK airport, sooner then I exited the airport terminal, a distant Haitian cousin of Papa Doc decided that I was going to be his customer. He stuck on to me and as I had to unfortunately use his expertise to purchase and use a phone card I left my travel plans in his hands. I bought my first phone card for 5 USD and wasted it by not using it properly. I bought a second phone card for the same price and dialled my office to let them know that I had arrived safely. Unfortunately a not so bright colleague of mine picked it up and instead of transferring me to the right desk wasted the balance by asking me about the weather and other stuffs. My collegaue being a Gujju, i do not blame him as i was then in his definition of paradise. Knowing that at least office would know about my safe arrival I decided to proceed on to my destination using the unregistered taxi van of my haitian friend. Settling for 125 USD till Jersey City he loaded my baggage on to the back. However he had a nice laugh when I went to the front left of the van and bumped into him; I had totally forgotten that in the states the driving wheel is on the left side. Anyway he dropped me at the Hyatt hotel jersey city where I met my host. I was around 150 USD down by then.
Checking in at the reception my host was expecting me to pay the advance bill with my credit card to be reimbursed later. Knowing fully well the time it takes for international reimbursements and the condition of my accounts I patiently waited for my host to take out his credit card for payment. After checking in I went up to my room to rest for a few hours. At about 4 PM I came down and gave my presentation for about 45 minutes. After that I was free as my flight was only in the morning two days from then. To help overcome my Jet leg I went up to my room and had a nap again. In the evening I came down and went out to have some food and to buy some beer as everything seemed to be so expensive at the hotel. Roaming around jersey I settled down at a roadside café which was run by a Vietnamese family. I ordered a bowl of noodle soup for USD 12 for which I felt very happy as the bowl was equivalent in size to a small bucket and had enough content to satiate my hunger. As I was eating I saw two chicks coming out from inside the café but my male antenna was snapped when I heard them comment , ‘ did you see that guy eat’, whether the comment was meant for me or for someone else did not matter then with confidence totally dashed. After I had eaten I went round jersey city, bought a few bottles of beer at a shop run by a Gujarati family and came back to my hotel to sleep.
The next day I woke up quite late and decided to see NY city. I was feeling very hungry and could not help notice a hot dog stand from my window just outside my hotel with a few construction workers lingering around the stand and having some of the good stuffs. I did not want to waste money in ordering food from the hotel and also did not want to upset unwritten protocol by eating hot dogs from a vending stall just outside the hyatt. I got dressed, skipped both the hotel food and the hot dogs, and having bought a ticket for 2 USD took the steamer to the NY side. Roaming around the financial district and after having a look at ground zero I bought a hamburger and coffee for USD 5. I took further rounds around the financial district and then came to the jetty where one could get steamers for the statue of liberty. For a memento, using my camera phone I took a distant hazy picture of the statue interposing my face in between. Having roamed some more I returned to my hotel to take some rest.
In the evening I came out again and strolled around jersey. Jersey as they say is filled with Indians and especially with Gujaratis. I had a brief talk with two gujarati couples who I met at the quay and who had come to visit their children working there. I then went to a roadside café where I ordered some beer. After sometime a chick of Indian origin walked in and ordered some beer herself. She was alone and I was alone, and though her body language was open invite for me I held back. Thinking about it now I just cannot fathom my reason for holding back. If I could kick myself I would do so wearing the biggest boots that I could lay my hands on. Anyway drinking beer and brushing aside the presence of the chick I observed the sights and smell of jersey city. I saw a lot of old and young people just having fun, cruising around in their convertibles and SUVs and even a wedding at a church across the road. I also got a big shock when I saw an old little black lady driving the biggest SUV that I have ever seen in my life. After having three beers i paid the bartender USD 15 dollars and strolled around jersey again. Later i purchased a couple of beers at a cornershop for drinking at the hotel. Back in my room,while sipping beer, I surfed the TV and even came across a channel having a show on the making of a pornographic flick. It was a show on a couple brought up on christian values but who later became big stars and even owners of a production house in the porn industry. By then It was past dinnertime and feeling rather hungry I reached for the menu card for room service. Running through the menu I made an order of the cheapest item on it, which was ceaser salad priced at USD 35. I was feeling rather excited and happy when the room service rolled in a big trolley with a covered tray. No tips and the room service guy went out. Flicking the cover open I had one of the biggest disappointments of my life, the image of which is still vivid in my mind. There were 5 lettuce leaves sprinkled with a little cheese and one weeny tiny anchovy fish which the cook may have caught in the Hudson river just a minute back . I gobbled down the disappointing dinner but along with that came a problem of an impending thirst. As i had finished my stock of beer by then i went to the drawer table to get some water bottles that I had seen earlier. As I was going to open one I saw the label on the fancy water bottle which read “VOSS’ and $9. I placed the bottle back again on the tray and sat across the table trying to fight my thirst. For half an hour I contemplated what would be the risk if I just have water from the tap in the bathroom. If I do drink from the tap would it be ok or would I be down with some sickness from a Robin Cook’s novel in a foreign land?. Having made my choice I finally decided to reach for the VOSS water.
The next day which was the date of my departure, the hotel got a taxi for me to JFK (@ 120 USD) . Arriving at the airport I feigned ignorance by not tipping my latin American driver who had even taken down my bags for me, thus saving 5 bucks in the process. At the terminal I purchased a book for my dad for 21 USD and some ‘made in china’ NYPD and Statue of liberty souvenirs for my friends. At 9: 30 Am I boarded the plane and flew in to Mumbai via abu dhabi in about 16 hours. On reaching Mumbai, as it was the weekend, I decided to go back via delhi from Mumbai. As luck would have it, on the way from Delhi airport to my friend's place , I left my two mobile phones behind in the autorickshaw which resulted in the loss of whatever photos I had of my trip and hence none to show in this post.