Thursday, January 26, 2017

A journey in a taxi

Off-late when I arrive into Chicago I always am undecided if I have to take a taxi or an Uber ride back home. Today I was just so driven towards the taxi stand. There wasn't any one waiting for a taxi when I reached there so I jump into the first one that's available. On a normal day the airport guys would just direct me towards the taxi I need to get into but it was so unoccupied that one opened the trunk and the other was ready with the door open. Couldn't ask for more . So, the moment I get into this taxi, as usual I tell the address and pause for a moment. It was an old guy driving the taxi and he confirmed if the address was in downtown. We start our ride with the usual greetings and lead into a conversation about how his day was and then he reciprocates with how my flights was and the weather in the city I was flying in from. Then driver (Luis) begins to tell me about his family. I was abacked when he began talking about his family without notice but I  slowly started to pay attention as it tended to be interesting. I decided I would take it as a challenge to remember things he would talk and act as an active listener.

This is the reason that drove me to write this post today after a long time. So, Luis who may be in his late 60's  virtually introduces me to his family of 8, him being the youngest kid. He has roots in Puerto Rico and his brothers moved to Chicago when they were in their 20's which I believe would have been around 1950-60's and they were working in the steel industries. Most of his family moved to Chicago in the later part, actually when Luis was 5 and his mother was already separated from his Dad. Luis was so young that he had a nephew of his age. Luis's dad also had an affair with another woman in Puerto Rico and has a step brother from the other family. He painted a good picture of his childhood, of his beautiful countryside life , his childhood days when they had a cow for milk and chickens at home.  That reminiscences are very common to all immigrants and we all miss our life back at home where it's simple and close to nature than how actually things change when one moves to the US. He then goes on to describe his life in Chicago and how one of his elder brothers became rich, his businesses in New York (grocery stores, real estate) and his kids who landed in jail because of their involvement with drugs. His brother was so disappointed with his kids that he told the entire family that none of his kids would inherit his earnings, that was a little sad to hear but also helped me imagine how families break apart as one chooses to delve and live the wrong way. We slowly move on his taxi career, he tells me that the taxi licence (medallion) cost him 50,000 USD and cost 400,000 USD at one point. This brings us to the current situation how Uber and other ride sharing services have dramatically changed the landscape of transportation.  The figures in New York blew my mind as they were at 1 million at one point. Can't imagine what things technology can do, we were always told technology was meant to simplify lives but when I introspect it appears that we choose to complicate our lives by living for technology than it easing our way of lives. 

Then, the story why Uber is striving in Chicago, this was interesting as I would always hear this from many taxi drivers that it's the Mayor Emanuel's  family that encourages this business, can't comment on it unless we have something solid to verify. It seems that the Mayor is the one backing the ride sharing business and causing trouble to the taxi drivers who dream of earning money from this profession, the benefits they had in borrowing money from banks and what not, they can't avail those today because there isn't any guarantee that the borrower would be able to pay it back.
This part was interesting as we digress to talk about Mayor Daley who played a key role in Chicago's development. Luis suggested me to read a book called Boss to learn more about the contributions that Mayor Daley has made to the city.

When Luis said he was Puerto Rican, it rang a bell in my mind about a talk I heard on the radio last weekend and it was on Young Lords. He was quickly able to associate himself when I took that name and started to recall those days when the gang had an impact on the local community and crime that happened then. He told that he lost many friends of his when the group was active and the Police would crackdown the folks associated with the gang and how people died in the shootings. Luis told me interesting facts about the church that was raided and occupied by the gang to run their operations. This landmark site it seems was demolished recently and has a Walgreens store constructed at the same site. He added that Walgreens always does this and they always love to occupy such sites. Then he comments on the Puerto Rican population in Chicago and says that Mexicans currently lead the number of immigrants followed by Puerto Ricans and then come folks from Venezuela. I remember from my walking tours in the city that Polish and Italian were early immigrants that settled in the city and had run great gangs that became to be popular and one important figure one would have heard was Al Capone. I got to learn that it was also the Irish that were the first settlers in Chicago, way earlier than many other immigrants that had moved here.

We then moved on to Puerto Rico and he would tell me that he recently read a book on HISTORY OF PUERTO RICO and learnt that the country was discovered by Columbus and was part of the USA after the war between US and the Spain many years ago. Many folks in Puerto Rico had fought against the US government for their rights and wanted to be separate. He told me that many people turned into rebels and killed US senators to express their grief. That's when he mentions about Oscar Lopez Rivera. Obama recently commuted the sentence for this popular Puerto Rican nationalist who was given a life sentence for the crimes he had committed in the past. Luis told he was imprisoned sometime in the past and that was when he got access to this book that details of how the country came into existence and how US would recognize it as a state. He told me that the first governor of Puerto Rico did try his best to bring employment to the island by setting up industries but a wrong choice of having plastic and low profit making ones that didn't survive much given the pace of the economy instead should have had steel mills. The current economic situation of the country is dire and is struggling to cope up with the debt.

To digress the topic I decided to talk about the food and Puerto Rican cuisine and he said his mom was the best cook he had known in his entire life as she made savory rice and beans with pork. An interesting fact he pressed was the native folks don't depend much on sea food though they have access to abundant sea food in their vicinity. They mostly prefer rice and seasoned beans. He quickly compared it with the Mexican cuisine and told me that both taste different and Puerto Ricans cook the beans differently than Mexicans and his dishes taste better.

We did talk about President Trump early in the conversation and it was about the federal government deciding to send support to the local Chicago administration if they wouldn't be able to handle the killings and crime in the city. The city reported record number of incidents in 2016 and has become an unsafe place for residents.  I too wonder why the Obama administration paid a blind eye to the worsening situation. We also discussed about the library that Obama plans to build in Chicago.

As we were approaching the downtown he made reference to the city's landscape and how the apartments and condominiums had come into existence. He said that the real estate companies had initially built numerous sky scrapers in the city thereby increasing the taxes for the residents early in the day and pushed them out. While the city expanded they also realised it's time that they constructed apartments and open stores for people to live in the downtown. Here's the part that I didn't know, it happens that every new property needs to set aside 10% of the property for the low income community which is mostly the African american population. So, he told that there are folks that used to live on the south side of the city now get to live in beautiful homes because of this arrangement.

Well that's what I could remember from our short journey from airport to downtown but it was definitely a trip to remember. I felt as if I was talking to my grandad and had learnt a lot of interesting facts of the city I currently live in. With the changing lifestyle and preferences that we make I don't know if I'd be able to meet more people like Luis and know more things. I guess now you'd understand why I used the title "a journey in a taxi".

A short recording of our conversation is here

Monday, July 18, 2016

Pokemon Go and our first road trip to the music city

Bunch of bad a**es on a random road trip for 10 hours each way, that's the best I can shortly describe about out trip. The Blackkeys, Paul McCartney, Joe Rogan, Aziz Ansari and Bill Burr (that's the music and stand up we heard our way). Well, most intriguing part was the instances when we lost our ways and kept adding couple hours to the trip each way was a funny moment when both of us tried to find whom to point the fingers at. We tried so hard that we gave up and continued to drive each time it happened. Jays hard attempt to get the Pokemon Go's on the highways was a little frustrating as he couldn't get what he expected out of the long drive, the game would only show him few tiny and trivial things which he had already gotten. But he wouldn't give up and kept trying though. Our unintended route through Evansville helped us go by Henderson and on our return trip we got to drive by Bowling green (both are places where Jays grandparents lived and where his mom graduated). It sounded similar to the way I or my dad would keep discussing the places we pass each time we go through a town when we travel in India. As his family is from here (the US) he had stories about the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. After our victorian attempt to make it to Nashville, Jay abruptly decides not to knock on the door of our aunt. I was shocked as it would personally be ok for me to knock (Indian culture thing) at any time, but, my bro was American. Couldn't start a war (of words) now (it was 4am and we were both tired anwyays), so I said I'll text her and he agreed with that plan (I was a little relieved that we at least informed them that we arrived). Then my guy decides to sleep in the car and he was so tired that he started roaring (I mean snoring). Oh man, it was such a thing that I couldn't put up with in a short time, tried bearing it, but, gave up and told him I'd drive to the downtown to use the time to take few pictures (time for my crazy adventures). God sent, he agrees (which was a blessing for me). We drove to the downtown, but, well as I said right at the beginning, he got down to playing his game and I was down to finding the spots to get my desired picture of the downtown that's all over the internet when one searches for Nashville.
To get such a wonderful sight early in the morning was surely a pleasant gift in the entire trip I believe. We were debating about walking around the town for some more time but decided to leave after walking for few miles.

 I made my bro take the photographer role for a moment and see what magic he's done.

And I too returned the favor to him with a good pellichoopulu picture for him.

So, finally we make it to aunts place (she would surely beat me that I called her aunt, she actually is sister in law to me and aunt to Jay) and crash for a good next five hours. On our way to their place we decided to wake up in three hours (but only realized later that it was a distant dream). But, it was a true test for me to see how long I would be awake and I proved to myself that I can be awake for a straight 24 hours at once.

Our cousin was such a sweet person, she actually made few Indian sweets which I proudly finished by the end of our trip and she prepared lovely pooris and aloo curry to satisfy our famished inner soul (tummy I mean). I happily went back to bed after confirming that we would have another feast that night at P.F.Changs and a movie of the Indian Rocky - Sultan (Jay and I liked the ShitGuy episode). While I was asleep after lunch, Jay and my little cousin got busy playing Pokemon on Nintendo DS (I was just thinking that these gaming companies just know how to keep people engaged but in virtual world and not in the real one).

My little luck from the fortune cookie, (don't exactly know what I actually I desire for)

Our little cousin's face brightened up as he was busy with his iPad (the moment I saw this picture on the camera I felt as if I was looking at the Buddha of 21st century)

As, it would have seemed, it surely was another long day that continued to early hours next day. I was active yet again and as I had mentioned I still had good amount of charge left in my batteries (I suddenly felt I was carrying a bunch of Duracell's inside me), else, I'd normally be yawning if it were to be in the past. We decided to drive to the downtown again to see the night life and by the time we reached there, to our surprise the bars already had people leaving, so rather than for us to peep into the bars to see the gorgeous and pretty girls, we actually had all of them waiting for us on the either sides of the street that added more beauty to the Broadway street.

As anyone could imagine, both (of us) lazy night owls ended up waking at around 12pm the next day. Time for a light breakfast followed by a sumptuous lunch again. Our aunt was busy preparing our favorites to make sure we had the best home cooked food. After lunch, we managed to fix a plastic holder for the bird feeder my cousin had at her place and we think we were able to fix the way what they actually thought of having (fingers crossed, I'd only know until it rains this season if it can withstand the water). Both Jay and I tried to apply our rusty engineering skills (electrical and information technology, just for your information) to see if we were able to use them practically.

Then it was .... picture time ... realistically nobody can escape this event,when I'm around and especially with my camera. Few beautiful family portraits of the sweet family we met at Nashville.

After a splendid two days at Nashville, we bid good byes to our cousins and started our voyage back to Chicaaagoo.

Our inquisitive minds suddenly decide to visit Cracker Barrel where we happened to realize that both of us were true geniuses. It took us good 1400 miles and a stop in Kentucky to know how smart we were. If you've already been to Cracker Barrel, you must have played the Peg game that's what I'm talking about (we didn't actually trade anything or smartly escape with bourbon). That's my dinner with the peg board showing off my genius skills (of serendipity).

The next few hours which actually or normally were something I supposed would be so normal, until which time we encountered a heavy flash flood during our drive through Indiana. We suddenly were hit by a heavy rain and I was behind the wheel at this time. I never rode a car through a heavy rain, but, what I only remember was it was safe to drive into an exit to avoid any incidents of drowning (a mere exaggeration to what actually was the situation though 😜). But, my partner in crime was actually giving me logical reasoning to not enter the exits guessing that they normally would be low lying areas which are more riskier to enter and rather recommended to continue driving.

What happened next was something we both will remember for days to come and will surely be a story for us to discuss in future (hint: girls and marriage). Don't worry we were having an enlightening conversation to realize what perspective each of us had on a variety of topics.

And, finally a selfie that we took with the lovely family that hosted two crazy bachelors over the weekend.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Fairy tale from københavn (Copenhagen)

The journey began from Holstebro on Friday evening. We were four and travelled in the DSB express train that reached Copenhagen in about 4hrs. We had great time enjoying the countryside view of the country and great wifi connectivity on the train ( anyways we got to sit on first class coach) throughout our entire journey made it more pleasant after a busy day's work.

Day1: Started our tour of the city with a boat tour followed by two wonderful free walking tours (classical and tour of Christianshavn) that covered the markets of the city and few historic places such as the Round tower, University of Copenhagen (I was reminiscing my classes at school reading about the famous physics formulas when we reached the statue of Neils Bohr at this place). The city has history dating back to 16th century and has many places that still restore the happenings. The tour ended at this wonderful eatery market where we had spelendid time eating hotdogs, Mikkeler & Friends, a Cinnamon Roll and a lovely carrot cake.

After our first tour we spent a couple of hours visiting George Jensen. Right in the middle of the market place was this beautiful women in a gorgeous attire, ended up getting few flying kisses.

Then we did the next free walking tour that took us to the parliament, christianshavn church, the tower representing the city of Copenhagen on the Danish currency. The most interesting part was our visit to Christiania / Christianshavn. Things that I remember from our guide was that this place is exclusive in terms of how the residents get an entry and still don't follow the constitution of Denmark. There were signs all around to not take pictures or run (running meant that there's cops around).  After a long stroll in the city we decided to have some South Indian food for dinner, which turned out to be a wonderful one as the food was delicious and was prepared to satisfy our palate (as one of my friend described, "a deepam dinner", as it accompanied a candle).


On our way back to our hotel we got a taxi, this one seemed to be one of the funny experiences. All the while we took advantage of Uber and suddenly one of my colleague was so tired she just decided to call a taxi. The driver, an afgani, started making fun of bicyclists from the moment we asked him about the cycling culture in Copenhagen. He seemed to be so frustruated with the bicyclists in the city, he compared them with mosquitos and infact was telling us about this fat guy he saw the other day and called him a mammoth who covered the seat of the cycle between his a**. The way he described this was very hilarious and tickled our funny bone.

Day 2: We began our day with a short tour to the international food market by Nyhavn, we got to see a variety of stores from France, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands and UK. To enhance our treat we had this belgian waffle with nutella spread which was amazing.

After our little trip to the market, we continued to walk towards the palace and to the famous little mermaid. If you're thinking why this post begins with "a fairy tale", it's because of H.C.Andersen.

And, now begins our 1 hour tour to the city on the most preferred transportation in copenhagen. So, my friends and I turned into mosquitoes to explore the rest of the places we wanted to. As our trip was approaching its end, we decided to visit the Rosenburg castle.As I mentioned earlier, the city has history as early as 16th century and these structures were very well restored despite the city undergoing few fire accidents few centuries ago.

Our lunch at Nyhavn was a fabulous treat after having spent a long afternoon and were almost winding up the tour. This was when I took some time to visit the Lego Store in the town as I wasn't sure I if would get a chance to visit the Legoland (more about this in my post on Billund). 

Selfie time at the postcard scene of Copenhagen (that picture with the cycle cost me 5 extra dollars as I just missed the 1 hour limit, but was worth I believe),

Few more pictures from the trip,

Sunday, April 17, 2016

A night in Nashville

A bunch of old friends with no plan just end up meeting in this musical city. I was in St.Louis at my uncles place for the weekend, and my childhood mate calls me and tells he will be visiting me in a couple of hours to leave to Nashville. We had no clue what we'd be doing there. I heard from someone in one of my conversations that this city has a great history to country music.

We started driving to this city in the afternoon and reached by dusk. The first thing we did was to visit the hindu temple which has one of the biggest installations of lord ganapathi, the picture below with Indian Graffiti / Rangoli was taken at the entrance of the temple as they were busy working on the 50th anniversary of the temple. We met another friend here and it felt great meeting two old school friends after many years. Now it was time to visit the city and experience all the stories I've heard. We stayed at midtown for the night and after a slight break we all changed our attire as if we were ready for the Hangover experience (I had this song "Right round" going in the background). It's funny at times that I recall my favorite songs to the occasion and just enjoy the flow.

We drove to the Broadway street which to our surprise was a short alley of bars. But, we slowly began to explore the streets and realized that we were wrong from the first sight we had. It such an amazing experience when you listen to music every few feet you pass on Broadway. I lack words to express what music is capable of doing to a human mind (especially me). I almost have a hangover when some tunes strikes a chord with me.

Our excitement was incremental as we kept looking at the crowd in the bars and we weren't perplexed to see the energy and confused in deciding which one to enter. It was a mere chaos and as a happenstance we enter a cowboy style bar - Tequila Cowboy. On our way to this bar we hit few spots for us to pose with Elvis and watch a street side magic performance. Many funny moments on the streets and limitless white girls to add more treat to the eyes.

We were all having fun at Tequila Cowboy for such a long time that we lost track of time and left at around 3 to see a woman a funny spanking streak on the street. As I mentioned earlier there is music all over and few designated spots for
bands to perform their music. I happened to stay at many places just amazed at the impromptu / live music performances. After a long night we decided to return to our hotel to wake up to a lavish breakfast buffet at the hotel were staying (perks of working at a consulting firm - gives you a great rewards).



Then we continue to drive to the downtown again to see the morning view and towards the capitol hill. My aunt recommended us to visit the Opryland resort, which was a beautiful space in this music city. Though it isn't a preferred place for bachelors (unless for a private bachelor party). We saw only married couples (old and young - no barrier to age I believe - simply married ones / may be people who've come there to date). But, we did happen to take advantage of the place and took few photographs (that's my way to enjoy the sight, for people who know me personally, they can quickly associate to what I'm talking about).

After a long day, we drive to this Indian restaurant called Bawarchi (don't be surprised, it isn't the off shoot of the Bawarchi in your town, this name is common for a restaurant which claims to be a specialty in making Biryani ; Hyderabadi style in many cases). We were so famished that we didn't quite realize the quantity of food we ordered until we saw the dishes arriving to the table. We literally didn't have enough space to accommodate the well cooked and delicious treats at this restaurant.

After a special lunch and a morning at Opryland, we decide to drive back to St.Louis with a great collection of classic Telugu music that one of my friends had with him.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A long stroll in two hours @ DIA

This journey begins from the Wild Wild Mid-West Wichita. It was a Friday afternoon after an eagerly awaited weekend to meet my cousins at Philadelphia. I had mixed feelings when I made the reservation because it was a five hour journey including the layover at Denver. Wasn't sure how I would pass my time. Made my preparations the night before by downloading a couple of playlists (Best of 2015) on Spotify to accompany while reading "the devil wears prada". It's as usual, reading a book eases me into a comfortable nap. 

I wake up suddenly when my subconscious mind tells me "Dude you better be reading the book or watch the view from the window seat". So then I begin multitasking to comfort myself and take pride in accomplishing two things.

As usual I don't plan things in advance as I enjoy the moments that happen randomly. There is a lot of happiness that comes from randomness because you end up realizing that you have achieved something you haven't dreamt of.

So,finally we start approaching Denver airport and many thoughts in my mind of how to spend the next two hours. So, about ten minutes away from landing at DIA I start observing the beautiful landscape around and I become a kid. My reflexes are pretty quick when I see a beautiful landscape. The book goes into the pouch and the iPhone comes out to capture the moments as we pass through.

Now begins the collection of pictures that I started taking after I decided to spend my time differently at the airport. More to come after a couple of pictures.

I wondered for a moment if I were looking at the farms or polka dots on the land we were passing by.

A serene cluster of clouds that we passed by.

Far in the background are the valleys and it was a wonderful sight I could get from my seat.

Not sure what this could be, but, I saw an airplane on the field, may be that's the next plane to Mars 😜.

A beautiful view of the evening sky as we entered the skies of Denver.

A view of the Denver international airport from the runway.

This is just the part until I entered the airport. So, I started thinking what do I do for the next two hours, a. Continue reading the book, b. Look around the airport. Then I google for "Interesting things to do at Denver airport" and the official webpage for the Denver airport 
appears atop the results. That's when I see a couple of things to do. Of all those were listed two things interested me a lot. They were a. A great view of the Colorado valleys from Terminal C and 
 a great way to complete a good walking exercise walking through the three terminals. So, with no hesitation I start walking towards the terminal C. First things that attracted me was the statue in the below picture.

Then I follow the signs to terminal C on my quest to make it to the place that was described to be very scenic and I stumble onto the following bird that was at display. I leave it to the reader to carefully observe each picture as I made sure I captured all the details to build the story and imagine what I would have seen.

Here comes the bird a.k.a Cablevision Tool,

This was totally unexpected but I ended up spotting a new thing at the airport. That's not the end, you know I'm on an adventure. It was just close to 30 minutes
and I take another decision. What if I cover all the terminals within the next one and half hour. It felt amazing. Now I continue towards the gates in C terminal where I could get the view that was described in the website. As I approach towards the gates I see it started to rain heavily. This was a total bummer to me. 
But I settle looking at the view and droplets that settle on the glasses by the gates. It did leave me with a good feeling of looking at the outdoors in a better view.

Rain or shine, I keep walking under the roof, enjoying the stroll. Now, towards the other end of terminal C. There wasn't much to the other corner. It's time for Terminal A. I continue towards the train and exit in Terminal A. First thing that strikes my attention here, raise your head and you'll look at these sculptures placed.

I found nothing much to learn about the structures that were in the above pictures, but, I can tell few things about the ones coming now.

This is a view of the airport from outside. 

Same thing here nothing much to learn what this bird is for.

But, I remember faintly about few innovative lights placed in terminal A that could be controlled on an app or with the music on the device. Not sure if that the thing but that's what I remember.

And, it was almost time that I travelled to the other terminal else I would be putting myself in a difficult situation if I arrive when the boarding begins.So, I now decide to go back to terminal B.

Back to terminal B, and I still continue walking but in the opposite direction as I was a little confident back in my mind that I wouldn't miss the flight.

And, now I kinda get I was looking for. A view of the valleys, I had a good view of it with my naked eye but had a tough time capturing it with my camera. I still think a minute part of the valleys appear in the background.

Though this is the last picture of the two hours that I spent at the airport, I got a fantastic view of the showers somewhere far from the airport and dark clouds over the city.

It's time we saw what the step count is... Wohoo, yes I could log a good amount of them, no kidding this is for you to see...

 Wow, what a way to end the short still at the Denver airport. Glad to have visited the DIA and hope this post helps you relish the same memories I had.