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

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