Firstly a big sorry for not being able to come up with something for long as quite a number of things were happening together. But as it goes, better late than never, I thought of concluding my long awaited 3rd part of the so called travelogue. I ended the From the United States of America: Part 2 with days in Bemidji, Minnesota from where I came down to San Antonio, Texas. Well days at San Antonio was much busier than Bemidji as here I had to stay all alone for a month and carry on my work, vehicle validation and emission related activities @SwRI, Southwest Research Institute, one of the oldest and finest Automotive testing facilities of the the country and I thoroughly enjoyed the stay along with work as it’s rare you get a chance to visit the United States, isn’t it? :-/
Precisely I had to take care of one R&D test vehicle completely, which used to run 24×7 in a mileage accumulation dynamometer and I had to look after it like my baby, make it shit; err service it, listen to it, download data from it and analyze it’s behaviour etc etc. Well in short it became my prerogative in a way. All these are necessary to get the certification to launch a vehicle in the US. I know these terms would sound weird when they come to people outside the industry, frankly speaking same was my case before I came here, but then I discovered this to be one of the most interesting stuff I’ve ever done. I mean can anyone imagine a vehicle never stopping to run? But there it is, and I got the taste of success when the vehicle completed the target 1,20,000 miles of running continuously, meeting the emission regulatory legislation of EPA (Environment Protection Agency) of the USA. After that as days went on work pattern and workload both changed. Most interesting part was the time pattern there, just opposite to India and hence all my meetings with bosses were in Indian morning i.e. US night and work was in US morning i.e. Indian night. So drawing the balance between the two was quite interesting :P
On the weekends I sometimes planned small 2/3 hrs outings, mostly to the downtown San Antonio. Hard to describe, the downtown was so very different from the city. Where in city every moment is so important & fast resulting in adrenaline rush; in downtown it’s so beautiful, calm and quite, altogether a different place. It would feel at once like you have come to some kings Island amidst all sorts of extravagance, colors, beauty and historicism. One hand the spic-and-span-ness and merchandise gave a feel of aristocracy and on the other the punch of Latin music and mexican beauty (yes I’m talking about Lass; remember Barbara Mori from the movie Kites!) brought altogether a different taste there. It felt at once I’ve reached Venice of the US. Maybe some two or three times I have visited that side but it was simply awesome.
In US what you will find most amazing is the personal care the government takes of the people, may be that’s because of the limited population but I would say that’s an excuse. It’s a worldwide accepted fact that whatever happens in any part of the world an US citizen would be backed and protected by the embassy or the government, the strategy may run till an eye-for-an-eye in extreme cases. As known to the world there’s hardly need of public transport in the states as most people won personal vehicles and I also had the chance to enjoy travel in many of world’s best in class vehicles. But sometimes I traveled in public buses while going downtown; the service was so up to the mark I cannot describe. in a ticket of $2.5 you can travel round the city that too changing 2 buses.All buses have call centre helplines and they reach all destinations exactly on time. Like I said about personal care the bus driver would get down from seat and help a handicapped passenger to take his seat. Still a few number of people would travel in bus specially the ones financially retarded. I remember once a person was having some kind of nauseating feel and health problem while he was driving on the highway and he immediately called 911 and the police and ambulance was there within some time and he was was taken to the hospital.
But again as boons, banes are also there, in US you won’t find local people coming to your help immediately, I mean people are self centered with their families and lives, not socializing like in India. Also the fact remains regarding the bank policies of giving loan to a citizen or usage of credit card or labour laws. For instance I had discussion with most of the on road drivers of our testing vehicles and came to know they were paid a tiny amount of $7.5/hour which made to a total of $60 a day and &600-$1000 a month. Now point to be noted is this money is not to be converted into INR :D, so to lead a life with this money is really really tough. This rate is a fixed one and not a company decided one. So if a cheese burger and associated lunch would cost around $10 for a driver, I don’t think I need to explain their condition any more. I think most of us have seen the movie Pursuit of Happiness casting superstar Will Smith. In another such discussion I came to know one of our drivers bought house taking loan from a bank. Now the interest rate was so high that at the end of a month she was able to repay the interest only and not the principle and after long years bank confiscated the mortgaged house. This is one of the main reasons many young girls choose the path of prostitution in that country; the other reasons being their religious and social liberty, better to say reluctance which had been like that from the beginning. So ultimately it’s like any other cake with the chocolate sauce topping :P
Some other weekend I traveled to another historic epitome, an ancient Mission, Mission San Jose. The missions of the seventeenth century were not only churches as the general notion goes, they were a complete arena with living place, school, cultivating land, church,playing field etc and they used to do everything on their own. Infact my Alma mater was run by a group of European missionaries and so it was nice to know about their growing ups. Most of these missions were run by Europeans and as it’s said from here only the act of converting the natives and backward classes into Christians started. But that assured them into a proper future altogether. No, I wanna keep this simple and don’t wanna go into religious controversies, hehe !! From some of the pics below you can get an idea about these missions I suppose.
Well one month all alone in San Antonio at the beginning of career was quite exciting an fruitful as I said earlier. After this the last part of tour I spent in a much down the map place called Laredo, the southern border city of the United States, next to which is Mexico. Laredo days were different as there apart from planned activities I had to take care of regular service activities of running test vehicles which is a tough job in the sense as there would be too many issues and too little time.
Let me share an interesting indecent of Laredo days. I reached Laredo one night at 10pm. It was a drive from San Antonio to Laredo by for appx 240miles, @70miles/Hr speed and it took around 4 Hrs max to cover the distance, the highways being great to drive. When I reached Hotel Marriot Residence Inn there was supposed to be a person to receive me. Though he was there he got some urgent work as soon as I reached there and incidentally I forgot to ask him the room number. As destined I went inside and after 2-3 inquiries I knocked some other person’s room. Eventually that person was a big shot of our company who came that day only for some special event and was very tired and taking rest after a long voyage. So you can imagine his mood when I knocked at his door many times and forced him to open the door. The conversation with him didn’t take a bad turn thankfully and later I discovered that he was the person who took my job interview and he’s a Bengali too. huh !!
Nevertheless Laredo activities took it’s pace. The place where I worked was MB Tech, Mercedes Benz Technologies and it was also a good testing facility of US. Laredo as a city was mostly desert, day temperature being around 41 degree Celsius. Most people were Mexican and the ladies were really beautiful :) There I came to learn some Spanish too as most people used to converse in that language only. But this Spanish was a bit different from what spoken in Spain or Europe, it had a American touch. Tour wise one Sunday I visited a far off place called San Marcos which was a complete market place with whole lot of branded and other stores from garments to ornaments and all. I did good amount of marketing there rates being reasonable and having lot of options. The same day I went to Corpus Christi, a sea beach city, but very beautiful where I visited US Lexington ship where a part of the movie Pearl Harbor was shot. While returning I went to restaurants namely Hooters and Bikinis, the description I can provide on personal demand basis :P, but one thing is very true that without company vehicle these trips weren’t possible. And in the same way days went on and the day came when it was time to return.
To conclude, though practically it’s hard to do so, it’s not that Indians are not there in USA, infact there are lots and lots, in all kind of social status, from political to religious to sports, it’s not that they best and we are worst as on today’s date technology wise, social and economic growth wise, thinking wise we are much ahead of them, and maybe India and China would rule the world in the coming thirty to forty years, but somehow the craze remains and will always remain to visit that country because maybe the outlook, the smoothness the the…whatever… !! And obviously the pride of being the only person going to US for company from my batch, is immense. The charm increased more once I was back and I still cherish those moments.
Last but not the least, beware of the Customs of Mumbai International airport, afterall you are returning to India…remember !!;)