flying non-stop to India in coach
Thursday, December 19 2019
location: rural Hurley Township, Ulster County, New York, USA
I'd packed most of my stuff last night, but this morning I did a few additional tasks, failing somehow to ever put European-style mains adapters in my pack. But I most certainly did not forget the 100 mL bottles of vodka (four this time, using a wider-mouth less, leak-prone type of plastic bottle bought on eBay). Unusually for this vacation, Gretchen had arranged to pay Liam to drive us to the airport, which would save us lots of money and considerable logistical grief. This also meant the dogs would accompany us all the way to the airport, able to see us off in the middle of a long exciting car ride.
This all made sense in theory, but Liam was not my ideal type of driver. For starters, he was only 25 years old, and most of his experience driving took the form of "riding," a term he didn't initially define. Later from context we figured out that this meant getting from place to place on a motorcycle. These days, for example, he "rides" from his apartment in Yonkers down to the East Village, where he manages some sort of restaurant-style place. As he drove today (in a little Hyundai hatchback) he did a lot of things that make sense when one realizes that his automotive experiences come mostly from motorcycles. He tended to make changes (such as steering corrections and braking) very rapidly in ways that could affect the placement of one's stomach. And he also tended to keep the right side of the car a little too close to the right edge of the lane. Since he mostly just drove in the left lane, always at whatever speed he had the lane freedom to go, this meant that I was often mere inches from large lumbering trucks bristling with bolt heads and rivets. Once I had Liam's driving style better internalized, I was able to calm myself, but it was still a harrowing two hours.
Liam told us that his "riding" goes back to when he was a young teenager, and that he kind of likes the disconnect between his diminuitive size and the toughness of his preferred method of transportation.
Our vacation would consist of a couple weeks in Rajasthan, India, and to get there Gretchen had chosen Air India. As we stood in line to check in, we looked to be the only gringos using this particular airline.
Security at the terminal was amazingly efficient, at least compared to how it had seemed in the past at this very same airport (JFK). All three of our bags were put through the scanner twice for some reason, but this hardly made for much of a delay. We had plenty of time to check out the food options in the terminal. Unfortunately, the vegan options were terrible. Eventually we found an ethnic food court where Gretchen could get a spicy Asian noodle soup and I could get a pita falafel sandwich. But my sandwich was a real disappointment with respect to flavor. And the white sauce was probably yogurt, not tahini.
The plane would be flying nonstop from New York to New Delhi, a distance of over 7,300 miles, so the plane had to be big. In this case, it was a Boeing 777 with an economy class having two aisles separating three sets of three seats. On a crowded plane with this arrangement, one of the best options for a couple is for one person to be on the aisle on one of the middle cluster of three seats and for the other person to be in the very middle of the plane, one seat in from the person on the aisle. This means that the person trapped on the inside can come and go without requiring the indulgence of a stranger, and the other person can come and go whenever they want, only every being asked to move by someone they know. The airplane had a somewhat run-down lived-in quality of the sort one doesn't see much, at least on large airplanes in America. Still, every seat had its own little flat screen entertainment system, and the bathrooms were about the same as they are on American airplanes. Gretchen looked around the plane (which had nearly 500 people onboard) and saw only three other people who looked to be obvious caucasians (though I suppose Gretchen, being an unapologetic brunette, could pass for a very light-skinned Indian woman). On my left was Gretchen but sitting next to me on my right was an Indian-looking woman who turned out to be completely American; she was on her way to India with her gringo husband and half-Indian children.
I'd snuck a small amount of 2017-vintage marijuana into the airport, and I'd eaten on the unscreened side of security. It began to kick in while the plane taxied across the airport to the runway. At first I didn't know what the strange feeling was that was creeping over me, but then I remembered: oh right, that marijuana. I wasn't so sure I liked the feeling it was giving me (mostly because it seemed inappropriate to being trapped in a public space), but it definitely made the waiting around for the takeoff more interesting.
Once the airplane was in the skies heading northward on what I assumed would be a great-circle route through Greenland, I started watching programming on the janky entertainment system. There weren't a lot of choices, and, though the live map seemed to work on other people's systems, it didn't work on mine. The first thing I saw was a very basic show about the chance of alien life in our galaxy. It was so basic that it never once mentioned the Drake Equation and it spent a lot of time helping us visualize the number of stars in our galaxy by representing them as grains of sand, which it used bulldozers to heap up in a great pile. But the show was narrated by Stephen Hawking's robotic voice synthesizer, which gave the show a post-human vibe that my marijuana-altered psyche found intriguing. The show was one of a series entitled Genius by Stephen Hawking. Later I tried to watch the animated movie Dog Island, but I was distracted by the liquor service. It was a real liquor service, with Teacher's Whiskey, Heineken beers, and bottles of wine made in India. I went for some sort of red, and though I thought it was great, Gretchen took one sip and reacted with horror. At some point I took 100 mg of diphenhydramine and watched movies hoping it would kick in. One of these, which I only watched about 20 minutes of, was an absolutely dreadful zombie flick entitled Maze Runner: Death Cure. It was full of fresh-faced white teenagers ernestly giving voice to cartoonishly phoned-in dialog. I also started watching the Lady Gaga/Bradley Cooper vehicle A Star is Born, mostly because its big song "Shallow" is the most inspired song on pop radio (think 98.5 the Cat) in months. As movies go, A Star is Born is pretty weak tea, especially as bowdlerized by Air Indian (every "fuck" was rendered as a "frick" or a "hell" and there was nothing close to a sex scene). It had a few clever passages, such as the idea of sourcing the nascent star as the only natural-born woman in a night of drag performers. There also seemed to be some self-awareness as Gaga's star character performs hopelessly poppy songs for her A-list producer (I was reminded of Miley Cyrus in that episode of Black Mirror). Well before seeing the end of that, my janky entertainment system rebooted, losing my place in the plot. I was able to find it later and resume, but first I allowed the diphenhydramine to pull me into sleep. This wasn't easy, given the discomfort of the seat I was in. It helped that I had one of those inflatable crescent-shaped pillows, but I needed a lot of drugs to overcome the discomfort of being so upright.
The new Tappan Zee bridge.
Manhattan Skyline these days (from somewhere in Yonkers), click to enlarge.
The huge Boeing 777 doing a direct flight to Delhi.
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