Saturday, April 26, 2014

Of Ps and Qs

Having spent majority of the Frankfurt - San Francisco leg of my journey thinking about the unsolved riddle, and thanking to God that amidst my woes with Ps and Qs, i.e. pronunciation and queues, I managed with addition of just one more tick off in my list, the landing announcement made by the Captain added to my discomfort, as it triggered another series of thoughts in my mind. "What next?" and "When is the next tick off?" (check here and here for the earlier tick offs) were the questions rattling me.

Keeping my fingers crossed, I disembarked from the aircraft and followed fellow passengers towards the immigration check. My well-rehearsed answers from the visa interview came to my rescue once again, and I was on my way to the baggage carousel in just about fifteen minutes. By now, I had successfully managed two queues (one while disembarking, and the second one at the immigration counter), and was feeling better because pronunciation issues did not get me into any unfamiliar trouble with the immigration officer. This confidence helped me sail through my three days stay, and I was ready for the next leg of the journey - San Francisco to New York.

Driving to the airport, all the while talking to the Indian cabbie in Hindi, was a good break from accents and pronunciation. Missing from the list of suggestions and advises he gave me was the fact that the luggage trolley at the airport needed a swipe of my credit card to come out of the rack. This, I realized, only after failing to get one out with brute force and of course, after getting those "Oh, look at that idiot" looks. Tick tick six! Damn, isn't it so easy in India? After similarly struggling on yet another novelty called self check-in kiosk (yes, they were not so ubiquitous in India those days), I joined the queue for security check. Waiting in the queue, I was so happy to see exactly three more first-timers struggling with the luggage trolley and exactly two more novices learning how to use the kiosk. In close to thirty minutes, I was at the head of the queue, and at the receiving end of yet another, now familiar, stare from the security person. After "politely" being told that I was supposed to "check-in" the bag as well, I was on my way towards the check-in counter. How in the world did I think of taking the big blue monster with me as a cabin luggage? Anyways, my romance with queues continued. Tick tick seven!

To be on a safer side, this time I chose to skip the kiosk, and opted for the manual counter. After three attempts at getting the pronunciation of Newark correct, or so I believed, I was again back in the queue for security check. This time I made it pass the lady, without missing the smirk on her face. After crossing the length and breadth of the airport for next half an hour, I reached my terminal and started waiting for the next announcement. All this while, I was a bit restless, mulling over the series of events till now. I was sure something was amiss. Knowing very well that my pronunciation had already made me drink vodka instead of water (Link), and remembering the exchange of confused looks during my second check-in, I walked down to the airline counter to verify my check-in details. Being assured by the executive that my final destination in the system is indeed Newark, I got back to the waiting area, with a lingering thought still in my mind that all is not well. Even the airport code of my destination on the baggage tag had no mention of New York, or Newark, or anything similar. May be they don't use logically derived airport codes in this part of the world!

Throughout the journey from SF to NY, the restlessness refused to subside. Another new experience, that of traveling with a no-frills airline, hit me when I realized that the meals on-board were not complimentary. To add to the agony, there were only some cookies available in the vegetarian menu, and the flight duration was almost seven hours. By the time I reached NY, hungry as a wolf, I was certain that my bag had not reached the same destination. As if on cue, I happened to see a lost baggage reporting counter right next to the carousel. I don't remember seeing one of those so conspicuously close to the carousel on any of the other airports I have been to. Missing bags was much more frequent in this part of the world it seemed!

Well as luck would have it, my fears came true and I ended up taking the service of the lost baggage counter. After providing all the relevant information, I walked towards the airport exit. The security person, on being asked about the taxi stand, advised me to take the more economical shuttle service to Hilton. Receiving such a warm treatment from the gentleman, when you are struggling in the cold weather and surprisingly wet night, felt nice. On reaching the hotel, my next surprise was eagerly waiting for me. I was told that I do not have a reservation in the hotel. After checking and re-checking the system multiple times, I finally thought of checking one of the multiple print outs I had taken. Only then did I come to know that the reservation is in Hilton Time Square, and I was standing in Hilton Newark. Wow!! Tick tick eight!

The receptionist was kind enough to arrange a cab for me. Here I was, in The Big Apple, with missing luggage and empty stomach in the middle of the night, with a slight drizzle and temperatures unexpectedly touching the lower single-digits, sitting in a cab driven by a dangerous looking, unknown person. To my relief, there was no more surprise for me till the time I reached Hilton Times Square. The cabbie, perhaps reading my mind, drove me through Times Square around 12:30 AM, and managed to bring a smile on my face. Who says dangerous looking unknown people are not kind?

Next two days were full of follow-up calls. Needless to say, getting through the IVR system was an exercise in itself as it didn't understand the way I pronounced my name. Having finally got the pronunciation of my name right (huh?), I was inadvertently directed to someone sitting in India, with the executive talking in a "known" accent. I finally persuaded her to speak in Hindi, which made things easier for both of us. Finally, they were able to trace my bag to, guess where, Las Vegas. Having worn an almost rugged looking jeans (well any jeans will look rugged after wearing them for more than 48 hours) and a round-neck t-shirt to the office on a Monday, it was such a relief on seeing my blue champion sitting nicely in my room, having spent one night in Vegas! By the way, did I forget to mention that I was not having any carry-on luggage, and ...

Recollecting my conversations during the second check-in process, it was another unsolved riddle shaping up - how did Newark get lost in pronunciation to become Vegas? I believe I should connect with Russell Peters in case he is looking for new accent and pronunciation jokes!