Friday, November 20, 2015

A Long, Strange Trip

It had been a year and a half since we had been back to the States, or Western civilization for that matter. We stopped in London for three days on our way back from India and we felt like we had been hurtled fifteen years into the future.

It was soggy and cold in London in November. Not unexpected. After the eleven hour flight from Chennai to London, we checked into our hotel and decided to make the short walk to McDonald's, knowing everyone would be asleep by five--jet lag taking its toll early. We shuffled down the sidewalk, through piles of wet leaves, stumbling along practically, BMWs, Mercedes, Range Rovers, and Mini Coopers with halogen headlights swishing by on the pavement beside us; it seemed as though everyone in London drove a grey-colored luxury automobile, a stark contrast to India, where there was the occasional Audi Q5, idling alongside an ox-cart or cycle rickshaw.

When we walked into the brightly-lit McDonalds, our forward progress was immediately halted by a giant touchscreen menu. Animated menu selections danced across the screen. I demurred, not sure if I was ready to make this technological leap, a touchscreen menu board. After we did place our order with a real-life person behind the counter, she pushed the credit card machine toward me. I glanced at her, then regarded the machine warily, not exactly sure what I was supposed to do. I held out my card, but took no immediate action. I glanced back up at her and over to Elise. Elise knew I didn't know what to do, and when I attempted to slide my card through the machine as had been common practice a year and a half ago, the woman took the card from me and inserted the microchip embedded in the card into the machine for me. What would become even more confusing over the next few weeks is that the microchip is not universal, and sometimes you do still need to swipe the credit card and sometimes you do need to insert the microchip into the butt end of the credit card machine, but one thing you can count on is not to have anyone run the card for you. This, too, is a stark contrast with India, where there were routinely at least four service people ready to help you check out. Every commercial transaction required someone to carry your purchases from the store to the check-out counter, someone to check-you out, someone else to bag your purchases, someone to run your credit card, someone to give you your receipt, someone to verify your purchases against the receipt, someone to carry your purchases from the check-out counter to you car, someone to hold the door for you as you left the store, and someone to stamp your receipt as you left the store. Moreover, I was never allowed to do anything for myself. Now, I have to do everything for myself and I'm feeling a little helpless.

When Elise and I went to the cell phone store to get new U.S. sim cards, there was a guy in the store standing on a moving skateboard, except that you move forward and backwards instead of side to side as you would on a skateboard. We saw a security guard on one, too, in front of Buckingham Palace. I'm not sure what the contraption is called, a Segway without the handlebars. The guy in the AT&T store was using it to restock the shelves, so it seemed to me you could very well go through your entire day without walking or exerting oneself physically at all. At the same time, on TV, I saw two guys "swimming" with jet boots on. The boots are attached to a hose which is then attached to the end of the a jet-ski. The jet-ski somehow propels water through the hose at high pressure, creating a jet of water that propels the wearer of the boots twenty feet into the air like a dolphin. I'd never seen anything like either of these things before; it was mind-boggling.

Our second day in London, everyone was up at 2:30 a.m. After an hour of trying to keep them quiet, I finally turned on the TV and let them watch a British kids show, the Alphajacks, which--with a sentient green blob that regurgitated tiny green boogers--was the most bizarre kids show I had ever seen. I'm not sure if it was because I watched it in a haze or if....yeah, wow! was really freakin' weird! At 7:00, we went down for breakfast. It was the kids first exposure to real food, and we all indulged in the all-you-can-eat buffet. Peter ate his weight in pork sausage, ham, and bacon. Sam tunneled through a stack of pancakes, dusted with powdered sugar and doused in chocolate syrup. I drank three very strong cups of coffee and would still fall fast asleep a half hour later.

When everyone roused for the second time, we took the train into town. We got off near Hyde Park and walked the entire length of the park, drinking in the fresh air and stretching our legs after the long flight of the preceding day. We stopped at a hot dog stand and bought giant weiners for the kids. At that moment, I distinctly remember a new electric BMW driving by, traced in neon blue accents. It looked like something out of Tron and heightened my sense of being out of time, on another planet.

After two weeks, I think I am finally starting to get used to this strange, new world. I'm not entirely sure I like it, but I suppose I am stuck with it for now. I am still getting used to TVs blaring everyone, constantly inundating us with breaking news, stock tickers, and box scores. We had heard about the overwhelming number of choices in supermarkets compared to what we were used to seeing in Chennai. By keeping to the perimeter of the store and avoiding the interior aisles, we find we can avoid the Star Wars-ing of everything.

Now, we are in Florida, a nice place to visit.....well, I'll let you figure out the rest (more on that to come), and the long, strange trip continues......

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