/* */ vita graphein/-: The last week...... Finally (graduation and NY)

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The last week...... Finally (graduation and NY)

Time or none, I have decided to write in finally. First things first, I am IN Chicago already as I landed up here last night, which itself was one of the worst experiences, which I shall talk about towards the end.

Hmm...so where do I start? Well, as I had told you before, I was the student marshal once again this (Spring semester) graduation held on May 14 (last Saturday). I carried the grad school flag and once again led the platform party in with everyone else behind. Sure was a wonderful feeling, with all cameras, spotlights and more importantly all eyes following you for the 100 yards or so which I walk inside the Convocation Center. Then we took our seats and the formalities as usual got underway.... singing of the Star Spangled Banner, the Alma Mater and then the National Guard taking salute. Seemed very patriotic (!!)..hehe. My name in the scripts for easier pronunciation when announcing my name was scripted as "laxmi--mara--yun thee-ag-rajun". No changes, I am quoting exactly as it was! Anyways, I am so used to so many different names already, this was nothing too surprising. The event itself lasted about a couple of hours and then I got to lead the entire party out as well with the Huskie band playing along. During the graduation, I had two roles, one as handling the diploma covers to the Dean who in turn hands it out to the graduating people and another as catcher.

Once it was done close to 1630 hrs, we had to straight hit the road to New Jersey which was about 850 miles away. We had rented a Nissan Sentra 2005 model so was really powerful and smooth car. We were to be traveling through 4 states (Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania) and all was smooth for the first 3 hours or so, then the worst happened. Since I do not yet have a license, my two roomies had to do the whole drive by taking turns. They had just made the change when we hit Indiana and were just admiring the Prairies as we had just heard or read them sometime back in the 8th or 9th class in Geography. While we were driving here, we of course did not care to hold on to the speed limit and were doing like 75-80 mph on a 65 mph highway. What we DID see of course soon, was a cop tailing us and in the panic that set in, did not really get the speed down else could have escaped. Instead, he did catch us with his speed gun and started flashing his lights, by which time it was too late and we had to pull over. We just sat in tight without missing a beat for like a minute (which seemed like eternity though) by the time the cop got out to come and talk. Well, talk he did, and slapped a ticket on my roomie, without divulging how much it was worth as we had to call some number and find out (which later happened to be just under $100 but the record remained, else close to $200, if you wanted the record erased). Well, this offset plans a bit and we did 65 mph(exact!!) for the next 3-4 hours and seeing every other lucky f****r zip past us at like 80. Just our luck to get caught I guess. Anyways we drove on till a little over midnight and the initial plan was to drive non stop straight to NJ and then rest, but we changed plans and pulled into a motel like 0200 hrs on Sunday morning and slept till about 0700 hrs. Got back on road like 0800 hrs and Pennsylvania was probably the best drive we had. Really scenic locales and NO cops at all as far as we could see, so we chanced and did almost 80 throughout this stretch (limit 65 mph.. standard). When we hit NJ, people were driving more crazy than ever, and we sure were impressed?! Its such an old and industrial city that we could see a lot of black and old buildings all over and those by lanes and circles where like 4-5 roads meet put us off and we wasted about 45 minutes figuring how to get around (to my cousin's place). We did reach close to 1300 hrs and after a quick lunch and armed with maps and schedules, we set out to see Statue of Liberty (Wiki Link) and a little of Times Square (Wiki Link). While I was just checking some stuff, I came across this (some cameras live stream 24/7 what's happening there. Real neat way to visit it virtually...check it out.

Well, we took the train to the ferry pickup point to go to the Liberty Island, and guess where we have to get off... World Trade Center station. In fact the train made a circle around the very spot the WTC towers stood some 4 years ago and I thought it was some construction site. Only when I got off and saw people taking photos and a big fence around the whole site, describing a minute by minute occurring of September 11, 2001, I knew this was THE very spot..Ground Zero. Was very heartening to see it and I really cannot describe what I was feeling look at the site, which we saw so much on every form on media. I just could not imagine how on that day, just like the day I was there, must have been going through any other day without having an inkling that the world was going to change in a few hours. Was very surreal...and I could not sense anything for a moment. That apart, we carried on and walked to the Ferry station where we had to board the ferry to the Liberty Island. Got on the ferry and everyone went crazy on the first visual of the Statue of Liberty. Sure was very impressive and very majestic structure. I was a little overwhelmed by the situation itself, as I was seeing this for real, something which again was so ubiquitously mentioned or referred. The ferry was about 15 minutes and we took a lot of pictures. Once on Liberty Island, we could see the towering statue and was very very impressive and no wonder its considered a symbol of America's freedom and America itself. Of course we again got a lot of snaps till one another bad point on our tour, my contribution this time! Just as we were about to leave the island, we wanted to take some last few snaps and taking my friend's digital camera from my pocket, I drop it flat on the (hard, concrete) ground and before I can even gasp, I see some 2 parts rolling off. I gather it quickly and trying hard to keep the tensions and the words to flow, we start trying to figure what screwed up (lenses, screen, circuitry..or what not!!) Of course, it did not work and I was preparing to calculate how much I owed. Well, this proved to be such a damper, that I could not do anything else on the ride back on the ferry apart from thinking what I had done. Got off the ferry and I embarrassedly propose getting a disposable camera for the rest of the evening, as I did not want to lose an opportunity to get pictures in Times Square. Went into some shady shop and after bargain fighting with some old Chinese couple, got a camera, which still was some 3 times what we buy elsewhere. We took the train, the system by the way is called Subway, and again with the help of maps landed in Times Square which is on the (legendary) 42nd Street. Another pointer here, similar to Chicago as well, NY is basically a set of Avenues and Streets intersecting each other. So every point is designated as 'X Avenue and Y Street'. If you understand that and know where you have to go, figuring out your way is not too hard, but of course a lot of walking to do, which by the way I figured is the fastest way to travel in NY. No kidding, with the traffic, honking and the mad and crazy crowds, (very similar to back home in India), it sure was overwhelming how life went on here. Some things were very funny, like the way people called for a cab..went right across the road and signaling for a cab and even more ridiculous was the way the cabs stop dead in the center of the street to pick his customer and all the traffic behind held up and honking and some trying to work their way around. But, yes life goes on here and very fast. The 100s and 100s of people weaving in and out of traffic and the 100s and 100s of vehicles weaving in and out of crowds is something to look for here and see the way life is out here. Trains come and go every couple of minutes and if you never knew which train to go and which direction and where to buy tickets, you may never know. Keep moving with the crowd make your decision fast.. as there is NO time here. Phew!!

We had to collect our New York City Pass in Times Square, which by the way turned out to be the best thing we had done and sure is the first thing any of you coming to NY should do. It saves you so much of time and money, which we realized later. Got it, walked through Broadway, the legendary art and theatre street and this city surely never sleeps. Wanted to stay longer, but we drained from the drive and the walking all day, so we left for home and reached about 2200 hrs, looking very much ahead to the next day where we had a whole lot of plans.

Next day was up like 0700 hrs and had to leave for a long day ahead and the weather did not seem too promising and was threatening to pour any minute (lucky it never did whole day). First on the agenda was the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum which was basically wholly on USS Interpid. Very impressive indeed and we also took a flight simulation ride in the museum itself. Wasn't worth the money we paid for the simulation but a good time nevertheless. The museum tour was over quicker than we had estimated and had gained valuable time. Here in the museum is housed the Concorde AD, the very same Concorde which so far has crossed the Atlantic the fastest. Since we were done soon here, next on the trip was Madame Tussaud's museum (of course all of you know that) and sure was stunned at the collection. Got some nice and sleazy snaps as well!! Name him/her and we saw their wax models. Of course, Indians right now, only Mahatma Gandhi's sculpture is there to see and Amitabh Bachchan who became the first living Asian to get his wax sculpture is I think housed in the museum at London (Madame Tussaud's is at London, NY, Las Vegas, Amsterdam and Hong Kong). American Idol (for those who follow/hear/read) too has been to the museum and there is a stage setup for the same with Simon's bust near it.

Next stop after this was lunch, as we were fricking hungry and hopped into the nearest place we saw and grabbed a quick bite and on our way again. We had NBC Studio Tour next on our agenda and on the way caught some snaps of the Reuters building in Manhattan. 30, Rockefeller Plaza is probably one of the most famous buildings as it houses the HQ of the National Broadcasting Company Inc., which now of course merged with Universal and called NBC Universal. The studio tour we had was one awesome experience right from the fact that we had a really 'nice lady' showing us around. Anyways we had an inside view of the very same places where Saturday Night Live is shot, where Dateline happens and where the NBC News is read. Yes the very same sets where night after night it shows up on TV. They even showed us small tricks they use on TV to make believe certain things they wanted the viewer to believe...like in Dateline for those of who watch it, the background seems like they are on the 80th or 90th floor and the view is of Downtown NY. Its not true, its just an ingenious 3D wallpaper, and more over these guys are in one of the bottom floors, so there is no way their windows have such a view. There is one other flaw if you look clearly. Their building (the one they are housed) too is in the background (with the letters GE written in bold on the top clearly) and if the background is real, how can it show their building also?? Was a truly brilliant and worthwhile tour and saw their media rooms and how news and stuff is edited. Also got a glimpse of their Sports broadcasting studios. Totally impressive!!

By the time this was done, its was close to 1500 hrs and we had time for the Empire State Building, which, believe it or not we had plan to ditch due to lack of time. Anyways, we did decide to walk to it and then go up to the famous 86th floor observatory to get a view of NY in all directions. Another important landmark we got to see clearly, was the very same site where the Titanic would have docked had it made the trip back from Southampton. We also got a picture of that site (which happens to be very clearly marked by a fencing, and we got a clear shot from the 86th floor). Also by means of an audio commentary service, I came to know of the very street where John Lennon was shot some 25 years ago (by Mark Chapman) and got a picture of the neighborhood as well. Surely, a lot of history associated with this city. Did not have too much time on our hands, hence had to rush. Right after we came down to the Ground floor (or 1st as they call it here in America) in the 60 second ride on the elevator, our next and would be final stop was the United Nations building.

The UN building is one landmark which is on the other end of the city unlike all other landmarks which are in and around each other. We took a Subway train again and landed on Lexington Ave. and E 43rd Street and we were in International territory literally. Was again ultra impressive and to be in the compound of the United Nations sure was again very surreal. We were a little late than their open hours, so we did not get a chance to go through the UN tour, just like the NBC tour. Of course, as they say, we can't have the cake and eat it too. Since there is some construction going on all the flags of all the countries have temporarily been removed and stuck on trees. We did catch the Indian flag too. Was almost 1730 hrs now, and we had to leave for home as we had to get to my friend's relative's place for the night which itself was an hour away from NJ. We finally had to bid adieu to this city. As Wikipedia aptly puts it as,

It (New York) is at the center of international finance, politics, communications, music, fashion, and culture. New York City is among the world's most important global cities, as it is home to a nearly unrivaled collection of world-class museums, galleries, performance venues, media outlets, corporations, and the hundreds of international embassies associated with the United Nations, which has its headquarters in the city.

You probably should read the full description...

Yes, we did get back home like 1900 hrs and by the time fixed our stuff and hit the road to this place called Succasunna, NJ to stay for the night. After a good dinner that night, we left early on Tuesday morning like 8 AM, and of course while driving back, it was very uneventful and no more tickets!! Was back like late on Tuesday night and all we could think of was hitting the bed after this whirlwind and wonderful albeit short trip.

So after that, all of the last 4 days I had been getting my shit together to come to Chicago, which I did finally on Saturday by the bus service which was very very shitty. I was told the bus left at 1440 hrs and I was there like 1410 hrs and guess what time I left...1755 hrs. The 1440 bus never showed up and every passing minute I kept telling myself its a bit late, but finally ended catching the next bus as 1740 hrs. A bad experience but finally ended. I am in Chicago now and will be doing something very similar to what most of you guys have been doing over the last 1 year or so...work in an industry. Its new territory for me, but hopefully I will like it and settle in. Its going to be hard work, I can see, as I have to leave home like 0645 hrs and not back until 1900 hrs with travel alone taking close to 2 hours per day.

I hope I have given a decent view of my trip and helped you get a vicarious feel of the whole thing. The snaps I have been talking about shall come through soon and I will host it ASAP and let you know.