I was standing at Customs in IGIA…..my suitcase relaxing in the aircraft’s belly. The officer looked at me, scrutinizing and trying to find similarities with the photo on the passport(The pic is almost 8 years old, pink chubby cheeks and all, he was bound to be surprised) . Relax dude….I am from your country , I felt like saying. The flight was pretty long, with no stoppage at Frankfurt or London like the good old days. To add to that, the seat besides me was empty, which of course is a nice thing from comfort point of view but keeping quiet for 15 hours was something new. An aunty sat with me for sometime. I have this talent of hitting off immediately with middle aged women. She was an English teacher in DPS RKP who asked a lot of questions. Why are you going there? Where do you study? Oooooo….you are the IIT category..nice nice. We in general discussed the CBSE curriculum, high school education system blah blah. Meanwhile, I saw her alpha male getting red with fury. Is my charm a gift or curse?
The flight landed on time, exactly 5:15 am at O’Hare Airport, Chicago. Flight to Champaign was to leave at 11 o’clock, which left me plenty of time to wander around. I went outside the terminal building to look for cigarettes. I asked a guy as to where can I find them. He didn’t have a clue, but offered me one of his own. God bless him ! Then went on to look for a telephone card to call mom and inform her that I am okay and in good health.
Champaign reminded me of some place familiar, where I spend 8 months of my life every year…..yaa….kgp. It is a university town, with nothing much except that. Chicago plays the role of Cal, being just 2 hours away. But of course it is devoid of any dirt, bad roads, places like cheddis(sad huh) etc. It is like those small American towns, with green avenues, wooden houses and country music that we see in movies so often. I dumped my luggage in the apartment, met the roomies, and since it was like a long weekend, decided to go to Chicago. The railway station was at a walking distance and there wasn’t a soul there. The reservation counter was empty, and when the dude arrived, he seemed elated...like seeing someone after a very longtime. The train was as expected vacant, with more staff than passengers.
After disembarking from the Union Station, I took a cab for my uncle’s place in downtown. Usual queries about the flight, time of stay were asked and replied to immediately. It seemed like a recorded message. After freshening up, my next stop was somewhere in downtown where I saw a red double Decker open bus. I don’t remember the exact location as the bus was sufficient to divert my attention. I took one of those city tours, full of Chinese tourists with digital cameras. We saw many famous houses, mainly those of Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan etc. Oprah’s house seemed out of place being a bungalow amidst high rises…..portraying her image as someone who is down to earth and sensitive. Bullshit !!! She lives in a huge penthouse on top of a 100 storey skyscraper!! Another great thing to see was the old office of Al Capone.
Downtown Chicago is like the opening statement of modern architecture(gotta thank MB for that funda). Everything from neo-gothic to slick glass and steel showcased itself. The most wonderful place was surely Lakeshore drive. Lake Michigan on one side, with luxury yachts and tons of greenery. Enough of tourism….I sound like a guide !!
I also went on top of the Sears tower and heard all its praises like how it “used to be” the tallest building in the world and still in one category out of four, it IS the tallest building etc etc. Be happy guys....it still is pretty TALL :) The top was disappointing because they had a stupid gallery surrounded with glass instead of the open thing. After all that, and a lot more, I went back to Champaign to finally get started.
Roomies were nice…pretty and helpful (I wanted to write “pretty helpful” but after adding the “and” by mistake….it still is a true statement :P). My abode was all stripped down with nothing besides a futon frame, but there was a slick attached bathroom, so considering the hierarchy of spaces in terms of importance, I didn’t complain. On May 28th, I went to meet my prof. Now this guy looked cool, wearing three quarters and moving around on a cycle. He showed me the lab and introduced me to everyone. He then started discussing what I was supposed to work on with another guy. Tricky questions followed:
“What do you plan to achieve out of your stay here Nihkill ?”
“Have you worked on energy simulation programs before?”
I gave some middle of the road general replies, and they concluded that I should start learning TRACE 700, an energy simulation program with the help of a 400 page manual. Hence, my future was decided :D
The program was interesting and I used to get breaks from it when Ben(my boss) gave some other work like preparing spreadsheets or streamlining electrical, water supply data to plot graphs. After office, I went to the downtown in order to try a new restaurant every day. On the third day, I went to this place called “The Bombay Grill” to get some Indian food. But this place served the stereotypical crap, with loads of butter,curry and every gora asking just one thing,”1 chicken tika masala please" :) A chaotic incident took place at McDonalds the day after. Now guys I am a shudh shakahari. I have alwways been...untempted to jump on the other side. Hence I looked at the menu and ordered the safe sounding Double Cheeseburger. I concluded that if they have mentioned a minor ingredient like cheese, surely cheese is THE only thing it has. After having ¾ th of it, I just looked at the covering paper which said “100 % pure beef I’M LOVIN IT!”. What a smashing debut !! This can more or less sum up my first few days here.