Saturday, 24 November 2007

Experience-junkie heaven

this may be longer than ur attention span :)

And I finally got to travel around in america. On thanksgiving, when the rest of this place was sitting in their homes with hot turkey and drinks to wash it down, i trudged around in the snow. but then it was worth it, i think. at least from an experience-junkie's point of view. the journey was weird, scary, funny and gratifying at the same time. and it was also one of the best, the craziest experiences i have had in my short life so far. so i thought i might as well share it, without omitting anything.
the first leg of the trip was by car, from kansas city to chicago. we started out at noon, when it was freezing cold and there was a drizzle which worsened progressively as we headed to chicago.the drive was rather uneventful, except we stopped for a coffee and a smoke in between and nearly froze to death cos we underestimated the cold. anyways, i sure wouldn't make that mistake again.we reached chicago at 9 30, which was in good time given the rain, snow and traffic. if you think roads in india are bad, well you wont miss them here. while they do have an excellent road infrastucture, there are places where you feel you're on bannerghatta road in bangalore.
i spent the night at an apartment close to downtown chicago, where some friends of my travelling companion were staying. they were students, so i guess i felt right at home. it started snowing at night, and i was extremely thankful that i didnt have the extra hassle of looking for a cheap motel. and the rice and sambar they cooked for us was, in warmth of spirit if not in taste, the best meal i have had in my stay here so far.
next morning it was snowing. there wasn't enough for a slushball yet, and i could hardly wait. i made the mistake of taking off my gloves to feel the snow in my hand, and later nearly got my hand frozen stuck to the gate. we set off from home about ten o clock, and the plan was for me to split with the group and explore chicago while they headed off to detroit by road. we had breakfast at dunkin donuts, and let me tell you, everything you've heard about american cops and donuts are true. we sat amongst tables full of cops and quietly ate donuts and had coffee to wash it down. I got dropped off at union station, which was were i had to catch a bus to minneapolis about twelve hours later. while my hosts had taken great pains to explain the area to me, i had forgotten most of the busroutes in my excitement, and couldn't make head or tail of the instructions i had written down. if there was a moment in my life when i regretted my handwriting, this was it. so i decided to see the place on foot, lugging my huge backpack around.
first on the list was sears tower. not so much that i particularly wanted to see it as the fact that it was right across the road. i was told that the john hancock tower would give a better view, but i couldnt be bothered with instructions right then, so i paid $13 for the trip to the skydeck on the 103rd floor of the tower. only to see white windows fogged out by the snow. but it was worth it, cos a little later it cleared a bit, and the view was breathtaking. after that i walked to the millenium park, and reached there more by luck than anything else, though i did have a vague sense of direction and could locate it using its relative position to the sears tower. that tower sure is good, you can see it from pretty much everywhere, and can use it as a directional beacon.
there was a skating rink there, and people were ice skating. i badly wanted to join, but there was no place i could leave my backpack, so i was left as a spectator. which sucked, so i decided to walk further. there are a lot of interesting buildings and museums in that area, and i visited most of them only to find that everything was shut for thanksgiving and that the people were all probably back at home with the aforementioned turkey and drinks. so there was no option but to keep walking, making the occasional stop at cafes with wi-fi to come online and see if there was anyone around, only it was night in india and you guys were probably snoring in warm rooms. some friends y'all are :D.
by now, boredom as well as the adventure bug had well and truly kicked in, so i decided to check out this underground station cum parking lot. which was my first weird experience of the day. i must have made a wrong turn somewhere, cos i reached a place where there were a lot of homeless people, drug addicts apparently. from the brief glimpse i had of the place before i beat a hasty retreat, i saw an entire different life there. they were eating, drinking, having sex, lying around in stupor, all in that cavernous underground space. i found my way back up, and made a mental note to keep further explorations on or above the ground. and kept walking, looking at parks buildings until it was late afternoon and then decided to hit some bars. by now it was getting too cold to walk, so i decided to take a taxi (the cabbie was an indian and waived a dollar off the fare saying he missed home and was glad to hear hindi) to go to the Hard Rock Cafe.

which was the second weird experience. on one level it conformed to its name, in that the ambience was hard rock, and the scantily clad tattooed and pierced goth waitresses were definitely hard rock. On the other hand, people were coming there with kids, and that seemed kinda weird. I had to wait 20 mins for a table, and in that time i waited outside i was talked into sitting for a 3 dollar portrait which looked far worse than my own self portrait in nid foundation, and i was bad at drawing then. i guess i could make a living as a street artist here. anyway, i was finally seated at a table close to the bar counter, with a family with two kids to the right, and a coupla guys to the left, and three girls on a ladies night out right in front of me on the bar. they were in their mid to late thirties from what i judged. and they were putting back shots at an impressive rate, which was probably why no one was standing them a round of drinks. one of the guys from the left table approaced them, and made a quick retreat. and as they got drunker, they were getting louder and well, the clothes were disappearing. much to the consternation of the family to my right, they were swearing loudly, and one of the women kept flashing her breasts whenever anyone produced a camera. this was getting really uncomfortable for all of us in the tables around. they wanted a pic taken with all of them in it, so one of them asked me if i would take the pic. i said ok, and just as i was about to click, they struck a rather, um, provocative pose and i must not have done a good job maintaining a straight face cos they cracked up giggling, and the tit flasher flashed again.
anyway, i was alone at a table for four, and they piled on without invitation. and it was embarassing to no end, being seated at a table with three loud, rather obnoxious older women, looking kinda helpless. and of course, one of them started getting a bit too comfortable, and it was time to excuse myself. so i pleaded that i have a bus to catch and that while i would gladly go home with all of them (eurgh.. !) i have to get to minneapolis, its life and death etc, and hightailed it. anyway, the whole episode had left my plans in a mess, as i was to have sat at hard rock till it was time for my bus, and i still had over three hours to go, and it was cold out. so i got out and started walking aimlessly looking for the next place to shelter in.

and i almost ran into the same group of women again, as they were apparently bar hopping. so i quickly stepped into the first neon sign door that said 'open', and it was blues bar with a live band. the music was beautiful, beautiful. i could've sat there forever, but in another move that i still cant figure why i made, i got out and took a cab to union station where the bus was due in two hours or so. as i reached the place, some guy opened the door for me and stood there, and i figured he was homeless. anyway, i decided to give him a dollar. there was a group of black guys standing a bit further away who saw me do this, and while i dragged my luggage to the station door, they came over and said ' u made no mistake brother, that money was given for a good cause' or something like that. i did feel a bit scared when they approached me, but they were quite friendly and talked a while to me, and then came the third weird experience. a cop car turned the corner, and they all ran while i was left standing alone. and seeing this i was a bit confused whether they were good or bad in intentions.
i went inside the station hall, and sat down on the benches there listening to music while waiting out the remaining two hours. and for the first time, felt really alone. i dunno when i fell asleep, and i woke up when someone tapped me on the shoulder. it was a cop, who wanted to know what i was doing. he thought i was a homeless guy, cos the rest of the crowd there, both white as well as black folk, all seemed to bee poor people. i had to show him my passport and bus ticket before he moved on to chasing away some of the others. i decided to stay awake at all costs, since getting arrested was the last thing i needed. they switced off the main lights in the hall, and then it got really scary. you had to sit there seeing only silhouettes, not really knowing who was who, not really having the means to understand if someone was approaching you with good intentions or not. and thats when this brightly painted woman in a pink dress came and sidled up on the bench. she was a hooker, and told me there were places behind the halls huge pillars where she could do a quickie. i told her a rather plain no, but she wouldnt go away, and i got nervous because again, 'soliciting' prostitutes could get me into trouble with the cops. i told her i had no money, and she brought her fee down to $20 till she figured i was not gonna budge, and so she left to pester someone else in the darkness. by now it was a bit too much for me to handle, and i decided it was better to spend the remaining 45 mins out in the cold rather than in this cavernous scare-house.
anyway, the bus finally came, and the motley group of passengers, all minorities like blacks, indians and latinos, plus a coupla white kids that looked like emos. the bus was a double decker, and i was thrilled. i went up top, which was a bad move. even though the bus was half empty, i had to spend the first half of the trip battling with this black girl who was stretched out on the two seats across the aisle, and who had her legs on the seat next to mine, preventing me from stretching out in a similar manner. i was determined to oust her from my territory and get the well deserved sleep i needed after my day, and the quiet battle ended up with my legs on her seat as well, with our legs intertwined in the most unsexiest manner possible.
and in the final leg of the story, the bus which was to have reached at 6 30 am in downtown minneapolis, dropped us there two hours early. so, there was no one to pick me up, and it seemed that no one knew much about the place i had to get to. the rest of the passengers were all happy in sitting out the two hours in a dirty transit building nearby, so i decided to venture out and see if i could get a taxi. and that was my worst mistake so far. first, i realized that the bus had dropped us in the seediest part of town, and the neon signs read sexworld, sinners, the gentleman's club, etc. i also realized i stood a good chance of getting mugged, but then i wasnt preapared to sit two hours in that transit building. so i walked around, in freezing cold so low that there was dry snow lying around. in ten minutes, there was frost on my cheeks, and no taxi in sight. one taxi played around with me, disappearing around nearby corners twice. and i nearly mistook a cop car for a taxi, though that drove off as well before i could ask for help. by now i was far away from the transit building, and the only place open was the sexworld porno theatre and strip club. i decided to risk and, yes ladies and gentlemen, the first place i visited in minneapolis was sexworld. only to ask for a phone though. i guess the girl that met me was one of the, um, employees there, and was fully dressed and sweet about letting me use the phone. and she hunted out a cab phone number as well. and ten minutes of uncomfortable pointless conversation with a stripper later, i was headed for my friend's place.

and this adventure continues

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

On gaming names.

I renewed my credentials as a gamer yesterday. Got myself a brand spanking new PSP. That's Playstation Portable, for the uninitiated. While that automatically elevates me to levels of coolness you can only dream about, i decided to shed some light on gaming names, or handles, so that you can at least get a historical perspective into how all this coolness came to be.
Each gamer has a different policy. Some have the same handle for all the games the play. Some have a different handle for different games. And some run through names like toilet paper. Unless you were Sheryl Crow, in which case you would take much longer with a roll. I fall into the second category, I have a handle per game. And i'll tell you briefly about those.

The least dramatic of the lot is the one i'll start with. scarface. yeah, pretty normal, with allusions to violence and gore if you think hard enough. but the story behind that name starts in diu. where sonam kazi and i were trying our darnedest best to play real life NFS on two 50cc lunas. Of course, real life games, as i mentioned in the previous post, have no 'damage off' function, so i crashed and ended up with a cut on my temple (close enough to the eye to be sinister-ly cool). Of course, the game continued, even with one of my eyes swollen shut with blood in it. I started playing Medal of Honor Allied Assault right after that, and decided to honor my partially successful attempt at transcending the borders of gaming by adopting the handle 'scarface', as the scar from the wound was all i had to show for the effort.

Everyone remembers their first time. At multiplayer gaming that is. We had just started on the NFS Porsche version, and no one really knew who was playing with what handle. I decided to take advantage of that, and joined in with the name of mahajan, which was the name of a rather unpopular (then, at least) character on campus. And, well, not to boast, but in ten minutes time i was winning all the races. To add insult to injury, i never revealed my name as long as possible, and the rest kept thinking that it was the unsavoury mahajan that was rubbing their noses in the dust. Of course, soon as everyone came to know it was me, i quietly changed names. To what, i dont remember.

The one that stuck, as usual, is the one thats not really interesting. Unless ur into the same things as i am. 'Marshal Ustinov', the Age of Empires name, stuck. I was mentally protesting the lack of a russian civilisation on the conquerors expansion pack, and since i chose red for my color, i decided to choose a soviet name as well. i had been looking at pictures of russian ships for a model i was planning (eternally, unendingly) to build, and had looked at the marshal ustinov, which is a soviet slava class cruiser. This name somehow popped to my mind. I naturally assumed that the guy whom they named it after must be some great soviet hero named Ustinov, and therefore would be great for an aspiring AoE conqueror like me. Turns out that he never saw a battle, and was a political appointee to the grand post of 'Marshal of the Soviet Union'. My dismal progress with AoE (except as a member of the second floor team that ruled B-hostel) anyway meant that the name was apt. I fared about as well as Dmitry Ustinov would've done in battle. Some later victories in naval battles prompted me to think of changing to Admiral of the Soviet Fleet Kuznetsov, but turns out he was a politician as well, and would've done me no good.

And last, but not the least, was 'Chihuahua'. Those were the days when internet entertainment meant the Paris Hilton sex tape, and she carried a chihuahua... to my credit it got mistaken later for 'che guevara'. But really, thats not why i chose it. While i do admit that it was paris hilton who got me reading up on chihuahuas, i found out that these tiny dogs have no concept of their size. They dont know how small they are, and that doesnt stop them from taking on bigger dogs, and that is cool i thought. But i guess most of you never got past the sex tape comment and are probably googling it right now. Anyway, for the first few days at least, it was easy pickings for me as i could kill people when they were trying to spell my name on multiplayer chat :D

What am i trying to achieve with this post? tolerance. Like i said, i've gotten a PSP and have now transformed into an ultra snob at levels of coolness you can only dream about. While it may take anywhere from days to months for me to return to ground state, i would like you all to read this post and remember that i used to be a mildly amusing chap, and forget the current PSP fuelled asshole-ness.

Monday, 12 November 2007

On gaming - an old one..

2 am. abandoned trainyard. gunfire barking all around welcomes the casual stranger as the allied and axis powers face off in on of the many battles that are to decide the dreadlock over europe. only, europe kinda resembles b-hostel in the case in point. cliched start, i know. nothing quite like the d-day sequence of saving private ryan. but this is all that my groggy head could come up with after multiple attempts. groggy because of a night's worth of intense and insane battles ranging in scope from the beaches of normandy in the second world war to the turks and britons of ancient time. Also known as hands-on research for this article, the excuse i've been giving myself for over a week now. also known to som! e (most, actually, but us larger-than-life gamers think we are a majority) with a lack of imagination and an amd machine with an nvidia graphics card as a colossal waste of time. Maybe, but try selling that to a very belligerent panzerpappu patgaonkar who's just had his innards blown out thrice by his own teammate.

The name usually defines the gamer. there are those who keep one name forever and then there are those who change depending on every passing whim. as a result, we sometimes have such absolute gems of death reports generated by the computer as, 'Bal Thackeray was blasted to bits by sir jj thompsons dynamite'. For my part, yours truly is the improbably codenamed Chihuahua. (improbable, i suppose, because wonders like paris hilton werent known to modern science at the time of the war). Im a sniper extraordinaire (even if i say so myself, heh heh. oh yeah? whose article is this anyway huh?) and like all snipers extraordinaire i have an arch-nemesi! s, the impossibly codenamed Bellente.(impossible because its been impo ssible for all of us, including bellente himself, to comprehend the meaning of the name). The two of us wage our personal feud oblivious to the grand scheme of world war two unfolding around us, much like the vassily zaitsev and major konig we idolize from 'Enemy at the Gates'. And then we go for chai and the post game de-briefing session. dont be taken in by the fancy words, the de-briefing session is where the winners can continue rubbing it right into the losers. since you win some and lose some on a regular basis, you're virtually assured of your fifteen minutes of fame here. even though we are all firm believers in the adage 'Its just a game, guys' the frayed tempers that are often seen are part of the deal. when you win, grin. when you lose, grin and bear it.

there is an old gaming lore that says : the game never dies, it just moves onto another level. ok, i made that up, but it applies very much to the night fighters of the b-hostel. For them, the crazies, life is just an extension of the game. so much so that gamers are often seen contemplating about possible sniper sites on the hostel building, taking secure ingress and egress routes to and from the institute with the primary objective of staying undercover from co-ordinators and faculties, dreaming of setting up giant working trebuchets on the main lawns and actually building model sniper rifles just for a better feel of that virtual kill at night. people discuss in full earnest the possibility of having live-fire wolfenstein-style combat games with amazing disregard for the complexities involved in such a misadventure. those are but trivial before the eyes of the believer and i have personally met people dreaming of a pellet gun version of the game. sometimes you even have groggy heads from lack of sleep and a brain that tells you that you're being forced to write all this under gunpoint and that namrata rai and suneel chenamaneni are actually federal agents after the enigma code.

the key to the fun, for the information of the skeptics, is in believing. its a world of instant gratification, and any of the night fighters, regardless of whether they play wolfenstein, or age of empires, or need for speed or grand theft auto would swear by it. life as a drag race is a lot more fun than life as a rat race, even though the Divine Server sometimes ditches you by turning ON 'pedestrian traffic' and 'accident damage' as i found out the hard way in Diu while burning rubber on the streets there with a 40cc rented luna. Diu was nurburgring, the luna a hayabusa, me valentino rossi, and the real world eats my dust. s'long, suckaz, grin and bear it

Sunday, 4 November 2007

have fun. wtf?

y'know what pisses me off? when people say, "have fun". now this is a multi-faceted piss-off weapon, mind you. On one level, it's dumb. I dont know any human being who doesn't want to have fun. Sure, the definitions may vary, but everyone has fun in his or her own way. i mean, even psychopaths do, cos cutting people into kheema might be their idea of fun, even if its not necessarily yours. Manic-depressives are also having fun cos their twisted idea of fun may be to not be happy. So its like saying "breathe", cos you're going to anyway.
Another thing is abuse of this phrase. While it is inherently pointless, people take it one further level by using it whenever and wherever possible. whether you're going to work, to watch a movie, or to get an amputation done on a gangrenous limb that has three bullets embedded in it, people say the same ol' stuff. "have fun".
Now this is a code-red 'wtf?' situation as far as im concerned. it always leaves me with a question for the user of the phrase, that starts with wtf. like 'wtf has this guy got for brains?' or, 'wtf is mother nature smoking?'and wtf situations have only one cure. turn the tables on them. so the next time someone says "have fun", just say :

"No, thanks. I have other plans."

That was a public service announcement aimed at improving office environments in midwestern america. Thank you.