Its one of those afternoons when I had gone out to eat. I was at Wendys. Its kind of ‘okay’ place – not as good as Subway and Burger King, but far far better than McDonalds. There is a pretty long queue. As I wait for my turn, I take a look at the wall displaying the different varieties of non-veg burgers, that I will never be trying. I reach towards the counter and I suddenly see this lady.

Our eyes meet for a moment and both of us have this “oh-no-not-this-person-again” expression on our faces. You cant figure out how old she is - she could be a teenager, a middle aged woman or an old lady. She looks like an alien who has missed her spaceship and failed to adjust to this strange planet. If you don’t believe in mutation, you have definitely not seen her!

I reach the counter, a little bit uncomfortable, knowing what exactly would happen in the next couple minutes.
“Hello, what would you like to have sir?”
“Hai, I’ll have a veggie burger, without meat”. Quite redundant information – ‘veggie burger’ and ‘without meat’, you might say!
“A wha’?”. She goes blank, as if I talked to her in Sanskrit.
“A veggie burger, you know, just the bread and vegetables in that, no meat”, I try to manage a smile.
“We don’t have a veggie burger”, she still seems to be wondering what kind of a person she was talking to.
“Umm, well, umm”, I feel totally embarrassed, not knowing how to explain her. Am I supposed to say ‘Give me a chicken burger without chicken’ ;)
Suddenly, she seemed to remember the burger they had prepared for me the last time.
“So, what do you want, just the bread?”
‘Yes, give me half a pound. Parcel!’, I said to myself. “Yes, the bread, and the vegetables”
“Tomato?”
“Yes”
“Onions?
“Yes”
“Pickles?”
“Yes”
“Cheese?”
“Yes”
“Thats it?”
“Yes, thank you”. What more could I ask for?
“Heres your bill sir, $3.20”, she gave me the bill. “Marie, a burger with just tomato, onions, cheese, pickles…no garlic”
I thought of telling her that garlic is not non-veg, but kept quiet.

As I waited for my burger, I started memorizing what I need to order the next time – “Gimme a burger with cheese, tomato, onions, pickles, and no meat…”

Arches

The alarm started ringing. I switched it off ‘temporarily’. It rang again after 5 minutes. I hate these snooze alarms. Well, to be honest, I don’t hate them that much – they give me enough buffer time to get out of the bed, also ensuring that I don’t sleep till evening. I looked at my watch. Oh no, its 4.30 in the morning!

Most of the Saturdays, I sleep at this time. Whats wrong with me, why am I getting up so early? Oh, I remember now! I am supposed to go to Arches National Park today. Pramod gave me a call to make sure that I had not tricked the alarm to sleep for some more time. By 5.30, I was ready and Pramod picked me up from the apartment.

We crossed the State Street and headed south on I15. It was still pretty dark and I was confused if I was feeling proud or stupid about myself for getting up so early. I took out the camera from my bag and started experimenting with it. All I could see was desert, mountains, and of course, cars. By 10.00, we were in Arches National Park.

We visited the information center, where they played a movie on Arches. They explained about salt beds, flood residues, earth layers – most of which went right over my head. Yes, even now, I don’t understand geology. I am as pathetic as I was in class tenth. All I could understand were simple things like rock, water and erosion.

We took the map and headed towards Arches. Near each viewpoint, there was a board explaining about the viewpoint. One of them was very funny. It said something like this.
There are mountain lions in some places here. So, don’t jog alone and walk in groups.
If you find a lion,
1) Don’t panic and don’t run (What are we supposed to do? Smile and ask the lion, “Here or to go?”)
2) If you have children with you, pick them up (Tell the lion, “Why eat children, eat me. A ‘foot-long’ sandwich is better than a ‘six-incher’!”)
3) Stand tall (How am I supposed to? I need to get at least half-foot high-heeled shoes :))
4) If the lion attacks, fight back. (Yeah, protect yourself, but don’t hurt the lion too much!)

The place was very good. It was full of arches, fins, faults – as if every rock is telling a story as to what Colorado, wind and that amazing artist called ‘time’ have done to them.
We reached the Double O Arch and climbed till the arch. (The arch was not too high – a very important information, in case my parents read this :)) Trekking is so different compared to life – so easy to go up, but so hard to come down. Young kids were climbing up and down faster than me. May be they don’t have vertigo! Or may be their parents never said ‘Putta, hushaaru!’ to them anytime. Finally, with sheer determination and some help from Pramod, I came down.

After that, we saw Balanced Rock (I renamed it as ‘Geological Middle Finger’, as per the ‘Name the rock as you see it’ theory), North-South Window, Fiery Furnace and Delicate Arch. And like any other desis, we took some ‘Patel-shots’ as well.

After a tiring day, we had vegetable omlettes on the way (yes, you read it right, vegetables in egg omlette is called vegetable omlette!) and reached Salt Lake City.

Arches ‘rock’ed!

If the last time was full of ‘post-airport-arrival’ adventures, this time was less interesting.
The only problem I faced was the lack of transportation facilities due to the demise of Rajkumar. There were no buses, autos or taxis. Finally, my company arranged for some vehicle and I was in the airport. After checking in the baggage, I got the boarding pass and finished the customs and immigration check. As I was waiting in the lobby, two foreigners sitting in front of me were talking to each other.
“Today I’d been to office. Roads were totally empty. I could finish all my work today. I reached office in 20 mins, which used to take me an hour atleast. Yeah, it was good, yeah. My security told me he would get a printout of Rajkumar’s photo and I’ve to stick it on my car. But, there was no problem, yeah”
“You’ve been to IISc? Indian Institute of Science. Its one of the premier institutes here. The campus is good. Lot of greenery inside. I had been to the IITs also, they are also good, but they don’t have that much greenery…”
It was a good way to pass the time, listening to their conversation. Now, don’t tell me that its wrong to eavesdrop. People who speak loudly in public have no intention of “not-to-be-heard” anyway!

I was traveling by Lufthansa. The air hostess was speaking in German, which seemed to me like she was imitating the sound of firing bullets! I did not know even a word in German. Last time was better. Atleast I knew a few French words – monsieur, mademoiselle, bonjour, and of course lingerie! I learnt a few German words there from the TV though– die, zeit, flug, ankunft. I slept almost the entire journey to Frankfurt.

On the flight from Frankfurt to Chicago, a curly haired fat man sat next to me. I hate sitting next to fat people. They invade the space as well as occupy most of the armrest!
“Lunch illeya?”, the fat man asked me.
“What?”
“Adu vanda, lunch illeya?”, he spoke in a ‘tybbigle’ tamilian accent.
“I don’t know tamil!”
I had no idea if I looked like a tamilian to him or did I disprove his assumption that the whole world knows tamil?
“I am going to Cleveland Music Festival. Its for one week…you are from Bangalore aa? MS Sheela is coming from Bangalore for the festival…I play Mridangam…my student stays in Canada…after this festival, I will visit him…”, he gave a lengthy introduction about himself till I was asleep.

After the immigration check at Chicago, I boarded the flight to Salt Lake City. A blonde was sitting in the seat next to mine. What immediately caught my attention was the “SuDoKu” book in her hand. She used her pencil with eraser, solving the puzzles, as passionately as a sculptor creating his masterpiece. My instant urge was to grab the book from her, run as far as I could, and solve all the puzzles! But, the residual sanity in me stopped me from doing anything like that. I borrowed the book from her, copied the puzzle to my book and started solving it. Karunesh’s “Call of the mystic” was playing in my ipod. Sitting in an American airline, solving a Japanese puzzle, listening to a German playing classical Indian music. Height of globalization!

After solving the puzzle in half an hour, I smiled at her and said “Done!”
She was impressed and gave her book to me to copy another puzzle. “Wow, you seem to smarter than I am. Try the ‘treacherous’ level then”.
To hell with my smartness – I still cannot drive from MG Road to Marathalli without asking for directions!

After a few more SuDoKu puzzles and a few more albums from Karunesh, I was in Salt Lake City. The trees that once were dry now had flowers, making a fashion statement about their summer collection. I entered my apartment and did something I had missed for more than a day.

I connected to the Internet!

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