Sunday, December 11, 2011

Thanksgiving Travelogue, Part 2 - What happens in Vegas, comes on my blog!

Thanksgiving in Vegas? Something a bunch of morons or an ultra cool band of merry men would do. Well none of us are married, that means we can’t be the latter which leaves us as the former.
This was supposed to be Santhosh’s bachelor’s party and the Bevel Devils (Nikhil, Nishant, Santhosh and me) took the party to Vegas. I was a little bummed as no one had thrown me a bachelor’s party before I graduated with a masters degree.

We made a list of things to do. Gambling and other sinful things were so passe. This had to be different. How about jogging on the strip, or reading in a cafe, or visiting museums, or sleeping at 10pm, or black friday shopping, or Occuppying Las Vegas? Nah, because everything that is passe or fake, is the in thing in Vegas.

Ok disclaimer, please read further only if you are in Vegas because what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, or maybe Google has saved this blog on a server in Vegas, then you are fine, go ahead read it. The one thing that literally hits you in Vegas are stripper calling cards. Four guys walking in Vegas attract stripper agents like moths to a flame. One even stopped us to explain how it was a family business for him as his father owns the business and his grandfather drives the limo. At least he stopped short and didn’t elaborate on how the strippers were related to him. No, we didn’t check out any girls, we only checked out of the hotel when we left.

We decided to go clubbing! Lots of weirdos around. I wished I had my earplugs to keep the noise out and an oxygen mask to protect my lungs from I-have-no-idea-what. At least it was quite dark inside, I had no idea what was going on around me. Ignorance was bliss. And then there was gambling. I made a few dollars and lost more than I made. I have no idea how slot machines work, and I think no one ever makes money from them. I also played roulette, where at least I knew what was going on. I don’t know why people spend so much money on that game in which the chances of losing are higher than winning in a very obvious sense. I lost my money and stopped playing. Someone suggested I needed to give it more time. I knew better, the more you play a game with a negative mathematical expectation, the higher the odds of ending in the red. Simple math. But then math and logic go out of the window in Vegas.

I liked the posh hotels along the strip. The Venetian took the cake. Canals and boulevards, complete with a fake blue sky, inside the hotel. Amazing! The Cirque Du Soleil was awesome. Some incredible acrobatics and sound and light effects. The stage was mechanical engineering masterpiece with respect to hydraulics and precision.

Vegas is checked off my list. I think I had the best possible group of friends to help me experience and navigate through the awesomeness and weirdness that is Vegas. Vegas is not my cup of tea or shot of tequila. I learned the grass is not greener on the other side (in Vegas it is fake anyways). Sometimes you have to go to the other side to make sure, which is what I did. I am happy with my boring life!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Thanksgiving Travelogue, Part 1 - To SoCal, by train!

Two weeks back I took the train south to SoCal. I arrived at the station just half an hour before departure. Unlike at an airport, there were no TSA agents waiting to pounce on me and everyone at the station was in a relaxed mood. A perfect start to my trip. The train chugged around the bend and so began my first train journey in the US. I found my seat and kept my luggage there. This Amtrak train had sightseeing car, where I hung out for most of the time and a restaurant car, where I had my lunch. The train meandered through the farmlands of the central valley, along the sweeping curves in the Lucia mountains and along the coast where the setting sun over the Pacific was picture perfect. At some places, the train was barely a hundred feet from the ocean.

I sat in the sightseeing car and read the book “To Kill a Mockingbird”. A nice slow paced book for a slow paced journey. One of the many beautiful quotes in the book, “they're certainly entitled to think that, and they're entitled to full respect for their opinions... but before I can live with other folks I've got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn't abide by majority rule is a person's conscience.” The good thing about the train journey was that you could move around and talk to people. I chatted with a couple of fellow passengers who had some interesting stories. One of them had travelled by train in many other parts of the US too and felt the Pacific coastal route was the most scenic. The other had some fun stories and practical advice about bike touring!

The words from Dido’s song Life For Rent came to mind, “I've always thought that I would love to live by the sea, To travel the world alone and live more simply”. I remembered my train journeys in India. This journey was definitely more comfortable. But I missed sitting at the door with the wind in my face, where I could admire the scenery without having to squint through a hazy glass window. I missed being connected to the passing scenery through sound and smell in addition to the sights. It was tragic not to get a whiff of the ocean along with the sight of the setting sun.

I visited Santa Barbara where my old pal Neeraj hosted me. I had crappy weather most of the time I was there. I guess when you travel enough, the law of numbers eventually hands you a bad weather day, even in California!
But Neeraj was game to take me around to explore Santa Barbara - The American Riveira. A beautiful town with a Mediterranean feel. I then traveled to San Diego, where big guy Alekh put me up for a night. I remember lying alone on the beach at La Jolla, long after the sun had gone down, staring at the inky black sky dotted by twinkling stars, listening to the waves crash against the sandstone cliffs, taking in the crisp smell of the ocean. I was chilling. Everything was far far away.

I was an urban backpacker for a few days. I went the good old fashioned way with a guide book and compass for direction and some very kind strangers to help when I couldn’t figure things out. People are very helpful and chatty when you look like a backpacker I guess. The chat about life with a guy who smoked pot/weed (whatever) and ate nutella at 8am will always remain etched in my memory or at least in this blog.

I began to plan my next trip as the plane rose above the clouds on my fight back. Life is journey, what’s next? Spoiler alert, Las Vegas!