Chronicles of New York: The $192 Taxi Ride, the $16 Rava Dosa and the $218 Lion King Ticket

It’s a looooooooooooooooooooooooong blog post marking my return to writing again. Might I recommend a hot beverage before you sit down to read this blog post?

I have taken my first step into the dangerous and addictive world of official on-site trips. And as much as I hate to say this,’ I like it’. I was deemed deserving by the higher ups to be part of the team going  to New York to launch the  new product for our company.(PS: The product was the prime reason for the drop in the frequency of blog posts… I spend all day writing scripts and content for digital media, I had not an ounce of energy to write a blog that did not start with ‘what the **** am I doing with my life?’).

Yours truly is now an RRI (Not NRI…. RRI – Recently Returned Indian). I am trying my sincere best (though unsuccessfully) not to be one of those annoying Indians who spends time drawing comparisons between foreign cities and Indian cities. But it’s just so hard to get rid of the hang over called New York. Pubs are open till 7 AM, you can sit by yourself at the bar and drink and not feel awkward, cab guys talk jazz and blues, they have Broadway, comic books store guys actually know about comic books, so many varieties of food….the list is exhaustive. And my dear Bangalore doesn't have any of it. (There I said it… its tough not to when the last order at pubs is at 10:45 PM)

Our trip to NYC started with us getting ripped off. Oh, what a lovely experience that was. I arrived in the evening with the VP of the product I was launching. He offered to drop me off at my hotel. We decided to take one of the black SUV cabs (you know, the ones celebrities normally go in). We arrived at the fancier hotel (you know, VPs stay at more plush places than us ASS-IS-tant Marketing Managers) and the cab guy whips out a bill of $192. A part of me died. That was about 4 times what my daily allowance permits me to use. While the VP was perplexed too, we had to pay because you don’t mess with a Jamaican dude who is three times your size. My VP was kind enough to pay the entire amount. It must have been the ghostly white expression on my face that would have allowed him to take pity on me.

The next few days were fairly uneventful in comparison to the $192 heist that was handed to us. I was so in awe with the city that my jaw kept dropping at every turn looking at the buildings, the people, the food, the stores and obviously Times Square. I was a complete tourist going ‘Ooooh, look… Empire State Building’,’ Oooooh, look…. Grand Central Terminal’ and whipping out my camera to take photos. I had not built an itinerary until I reached NYC because the priority was work and I had to constantly keep reminding myself that I am not there on holiday. My boss kept asking me on a daily basis, whether I had booked a one-way ticket or a two-way ticket. Clearly, the drool at the side of my mouth scared him that I may abscond and not return to India. I’m not saying that the thought did not cross my mind.

Infosys Office at Rockefeller Center...fancy!!!
Before I continue talking about the places we went to, I need to talk about the food in NYC. Thanks to the city being one of the major hubs for immigrants, you get a plethora of food choices; Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian, Thai, Mediterranean, Italian and more. One of my goals before arriving was to sample as much food as possible. However, my colleagues had other plans and wanted to feel at home by going to only the Indian restaurants if given the choice. On one such evening, I don’t know how I ended up in a restaurant called ‘Chennai Garden’ and was eating Rava Dosa. And it wasn't just any Rava Dosa…. I paid $ 16 for that. OUT-frickin-RAGEOUS!!! And it wasn't any good either. And for some reason, our American counterparts in the marketing team took us to…guess what…an Indian restaurant for dinner. But junior employees who are getting a free meal must keep opinions to themselves, so I played along, but don’t expect me to get overly excited about a samosa. I was overjoyed when these guys chose to go for Pizza the next day.

For those who don’t know, pizzas there are to die for. It’s not your standard pizza. It’s sold by the slice and each slice is as good as having a regular pizza in India. I nearly died when I saw the pizzas. Enough said, picture speaks a thousand words. See below and drool. I am…

By the end of the trip, I managed to have Chinese, Thai, Italian, Indian (on way too many occasions that I was comfortable with), Mexican and a rather large beef steak that proved to be my nemesis. I am sure I chocked an artery. I still don’t understand why someone would go half way around the world to have food they get back home. Anyway, I am not one to comment on personal choices of people considering I’m generally the odd one out in most of the circles I hang out with.

Real Hot Dogs....
Okay, food aside, one of the most memorable parts of the trip was my very first (and hopefully not my last) show at Broadway. I went and saw ‘The Lion King’. A ticket cost $218 (roughly Rs 13,000… sorry, tourist habit)…….. Okay, welcome back to those of you whose heart had skipped a few beats. But I was the one who paid for the ticket, and I am still alive. While this took a significant chunk (read ‘almost all’) of my new guitar savings, it was completely worth it. The sheer scale of the production is one of those things you will rant and rave about for a life time. The entire play was executed way better than most top Bollywood movies.  They had a huge elephant puppet, real size; walk through the audience, same with the Rhinos and the Hyenas ….. I’m going into Janice mode here and screaming ‘ Auooooooooooooh myyyyyyyyyyyyyy Gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawd’

At my current pay, worth more than the golden ticket to Willi Wonka's factory !
I cried at the start of the show because it’s not every day that you get a chance to strike something off your bucket list. To all my friends living in the US, please do save money and watch a show at Broadway… and don’t go for the cheap stuff. The problem with watching such a grand show is that henceforth, all plays will seem pale by comparison. (Sorry, I’m doing that whole RRI thing again, but I just can’t help it)

'The Lion King' at the Minskoff Theatre

On another note, dear future Mrs. Murthy, please note that your husband to be will turn into a gleeful 8 year old at a toy store. And an even more obnoxious 8 year old when at the Toys’R’Us store at Times Square. He will drool over every toy, especially in the sections labeled Star Wars, Marvel, DC and Dinosaurs. He will even buy some action figures to put up on display back home. Please note these are not for playing with and are not to be given to any child unless the child has a death wish. And it is perfectly normal (read ‘geeky is the new sexy’) for a grown man to own action figures. On his recent trip, you’re husband-to-be added Hulk, Gandalf the Grey, Iron Man and Yoda to his collection. Once again, please note, these are NOT FOR PLAYING. Please find pictures below

I also loved my visit to the Hard Rock Café at Times Square. I met the most interesting couple there at the bar. They were this old couple, probably in their late fifties, who were wearing ‘The Who’ t-shirts. When the band came on the screen and the song was playing, the lady in that couple told me that she and her husband were travelling along with The Who during their time in the US. The couple came all the way from Bradford in the UK to tour along with the band. Now that’s a couple I really understand and that’s the kind of couple that gives me hope regarding marriage. There’ll be nothing cooler if the missus to be is equally crazy about rock music like me and enjoys going to shows. I picked up a really cool t-shirt for my birthday (quite a few months away) and added to my HRC beer-glass collection that now has Bangalore, Seattle and New York. One small step at a time I say.

Hard Rock Cafe, NYC at Times Square

In front of the wall of guitars
Another highlight of the trip was my visit to the two comic book stores. After Lion King, visiting an authentic comic book store was next on my list of things to do. And I was not disappointed. Every time I watch ‘The Big Bang Theory’, I’d envy the guys who had access to a genuine comic book store. Unlike the weird book stores here where if you’d ask for ‘The Spirits of Vengeance’ series, they point you in the direction of the DVD section, making you face palm. In case you did not get that, ‘Spirits of Vengeance’ is an epic sub-series in the Ghost Rider series. However, it is easily confused by the highly disappointing sequel to the even more disappointing Ghost Rider movie starring Nicholas Cage. Cage as the Ghost Rider…. Don’t even get me started. He’s not even fit to be Aqua man. Anyway, it’s this kind of peeves that normally get me worked up at Indian book stores.

Bangalore needs a comic book store
 In the stores there, I asked the owner what I would want to take back with me. We got talking and he was surprised that an Indian (not settled in the US) knew so much about Ghost Rider, Dare devil, Green Lantern and so many other comic book heroes. It turns out that normally, the Indian tourists walk in and pick up the first Superman or Batman comics they see without knowing its value and walk out. And here was a geek who knew so much more. The guys at the store and I were talking for over an hour after work hours where they went about  pulling books from shelves to show me inflection points in comic book history. These guys were subject matter experts and were absolutely inspiring in helping expand my comic book universe. Sigh! Another reason for me to move to NYC. (Sorry, RRI syndrome again)

All this aside, the biggest joy for me was spending the weekend with my friend from forever, PeeVee (that’s the name we gave him). From two guys sitting in beer smelling café’s in Bengaluru  talking about music, arguing about football, getting drunk together to now roaming the streets of New York, there was no better way to acknowledge that we’ve done rather well for ourselves. Yes, we could always do better, but right now that was cool. A few years ago, it was the HRC in Bengaluru and now it was the HRC at Times Square, New York. Now, that’s going places. I must admit, I was quite sad on the trip home, not so much because I was leaving NYC, but more because I was leaving behind a friend who got me and accepted for all the quirkiness that is yours truly without question. While it was clear that we’ve both changed a lot from the people who “wasted time” in Purple Haze almost every weekend, I guess we’re still the most comfortable when we’re with anyone from that gang. At least I know I am.

PeeVee and me at Hard Rock Cafe, NYC

Besides, all that the standard trip to Wall Street, The bull, Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, American Museum of Natural history to see the dinosaur fossils happened. 

Cliched tourist photo at Times Square

With the T-Rex at American Museum of Natural History

Punching the bull....another cliched tourist photo
The last place I do need to talk about was my visit to Strawberry Fields memorial. For the unacquainted, it is the memorial from the city of New York dedicated to one of music’s most influential figures, John Lennon. It’s located at Central Park, right opposite the Dakota Hotel. And no, Dakota Fanning does not own the hotel (PeeVee’s joke).

Strawberry Fields Memorial , with the Dakota Hotel in the background
The place has a mosaic with the words ‘Imagine’ written. You can’t help but have a Beatles song run in your head when there. For me, the moment I set my eyes on the place, I had ‘Across the Universe’ running in my head. I really don’t have any words to describe what all emotions were running through my head when I was at both the memorial and in front of the very gates where Lennon was assassinated. Anyway, pictures…

Strawberry Fields forever

Overall, the trip to NYC will probably be the highlight of the year 2013. (Unless I get married, in which case I will have to fib) It was a trip out of the blue and I did not expect to be sent abroad so soon right after joining the new company. I guess some star alignment went well for me. Unfortunately, like a man-eater I now have the taste of foreign soil and have been longing for it ever since I got back. I really enjoyed the place where I could just roam around by myself and had so much to do and so many places to see. I still missed out on a lot of places. But if the fates have it, I shall return for another quick trip. I’m thinking San Francisco right now… dear company, are you listening?

Last night in New York... the red stairs at Times Square

Right now I’m in a Tony Stark sort of mood… Nothing’s been the same since New York.