Saturday, August 13, 2011

(Mis)Adventure

As some of you might know, I went to Mathematica Summer School held at Perimeter Institute, Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. Here are the photos to prove that. Getting there was an adventure but not as much as getting back to Stony Brook, which was more of a misadventure.

Here’s how that fated day started: My room mate & fellow school attendee & fellow traveller & colleague & batch mate & etc. – Lets call him PILC – asked me (at 7AM) if we are taking the 8AM bus to the airport. I said I thought we agreed to take 11AM bus (which would reach the airport at noon) since our flight is at 2PM. He agreed and went back to sleep.

That’s that. Fast forward to 11AM. The bus is not here. 11:15AM, Bus Not Here. 11:30AM, Bus Still Not Here. There were about a dozen people waiting for the bus, none had any serious issues with bus being late apart from us (me & PL). We (I mean he) phoned the bus company – no answer, Perimeter (they’d organized the bus service) – no answer; Because it was a Sunday. Hunt for the emails/phone numbers of the organizers started. Hunt was successful, Connection established by 11:45AM.

PL is now in full-on chatting mode with the organizers and they are in full-on info-gathering mode from the secretary who arranged the buses. And we learn that the bus company claims, “The bus was there from 10:45-11:05AM. Nobody showed up. The bus left.” How the Hell is that possible when I (& others) had a full-view of the parking space since 10AM and a Yellow bus standing there for 20 minutes is not at all possible to miss. (The same parking space where the bus at 8AM parked!) This reminds me of this anecdote:

Confusion, Misunderstanding and so on…

Sorry for the interruption. So, PL ‘convinces’ them to send another bus for others who didn’t have much to worry about and to take care of our taxi fare. By this time, it’s more or less noon. Let me remind you of something. This (noon) was the time we were supposed to be at the airport or to put this in PL’s words: “We board the bus at 11. We reach the airport by 12. We check-in and I eat a hot dog there while waiting for the flight. This was the plan I made in my head in the morning!”

Anyway, I (by this, I really mean ‘I’) ask the guy (A) at the reception desk (of Ron Eydt Village; you’d recognize this name if you’d watched the photos linked above) to call a taxi and he does. A taxi arrives in 5 minutes (~12:05) and someone gets in. OK, Let’s wait for our taxi… We’ll get in another taxi… Hell, there’s no taxi coming; It’s 12:12 already. I ask A to call a taxi again; he does and one more taxi arrives by 12:20. We get in, PL swipes his card and by 12:24 we are moving towards the airport.  Let me repeat something: A taxi arrived within 5 minutes of our calling one and SOMEBODY ELSE got in! (In PL’s words: “What an ***####!”)

Now, by a straightforward calculation, we’ll reach the airport around 1:25PM (if the ‘traffic cooperates’), a mere half-an-hour before the flight’s STD – to put this in perspective, I once again use PL’s words: “Mission Impossible”!

The driver was ‘fearlessly’ driving the taxi at 120 Km/hr. As we were nearing the airport, We had to choose the terminal: 1 or 3. We missed the boards that displayed the terminals corresponding to the departing airlines. We (by that I mean me) chose 3 (that’s where we’d landed a week earlier) and that was the right choice. We did make it to the airport terminal in an hour. We got out of the taxi, ran inside the terminal and in a dazed search for the check-in counter, fell flat on the floor (just me not PL).

After a quick recovery, we break in a line and ask a lady ‘officer’ to let us in for a flight departing in 33 minutes. We are bluntly refused with a ‘fact’ about 1-hour cut-off and are asked to get in another queue for a later flight. This is the sort of time & place where an Indian can complain to no end and I’ll just put in PL’s sentiments (which may sound very much Indian to those who’ve never met PL): “We could’ve definitely made it to the flight in half an hour. If I’d talked to the lady in Spanish, we’d definitely have boarded that plane. But, what can we do now? Just complain!”

So, we stood in another queue to get on another plane. This queue had all sorts of people trying to get to all sorts of places, like Dallas & Miami. The line was shrinking faster with everyone in front of us & behind us taking a flight. Just Not Us. After an eternity or so, we landed on the check-in counter (wo)manned by the same ‘officer’ and she put us on another flight at 5:40PM (by giving us seat-less boarding passes) without asking any ‘dumb’ questions. We filled the forms, security checked and immigration checked and sat down to wait for our second flight. It was ~3PM now.

Fast Forward again to 4:30PM, we rose from our seats and went towards the Gate B6. PL got some food for himself and after finishing his sandwich (I guess he didn’t like the hot dogs there), he went and asked what should we do with our seat-less boarding passes. The lady officer there asked us to wait for a moment while she checked for empty seats. After ~15 minutes, she came back and called us to say that the 5:40 flight to JFK, NY seems full but the flight going to LaGuardia Airport, NY at 5:29 has at least two seats available. PL without losing a moment said we’ll take that offer. His reasoning: Once we get to NY, we can figure out how to get to Stony Brook.

But (there’s always a but) he had a checked-in baggage so he asked her about it and she said she knows about it. She asked someone from her walkie-talkie to locate a green bag (How did she know the colour of the bag? I can not get my head around that!) with a tag number, which she recited on the phone. Then we moved nearer to the gate for the 5:29 flight and they gave us new boarding passes.NXM023Over the walkie-talkie, they confirmed that PL’s bag was located and transferred from one flight to another. We were asked to hurry and get on the (third) flight (of the day). This transition went smoothly and we were headed to LGA. As PL pointed out, we were impressed with the coordination of American Airlines’ Ground Personnel: “Do you have the bag? Yes. Get it to another Plane. Done. Hurry & Board the plane.” YOOO…

The LGA is bordered by water (on some sides, see the map below) so it felt like the plane was going to land on water until the last moment when it hit the runway on land. A great scene to remember. Since we had already went through Immigration in Canada, we were headed directly to the baggage claim and outside the airport after deplaning the plane. PL had been at this airport earlier and knew that we’d  to take a taxi to Jamaica train station – the same station connected by AirTrain to JFK, which would cost $ \$ 5 $ each but the taxi cost us $ \$ 10 $ each. So overall, we lost 3½ hours and $ \$ 5$. Not bad for jumping two flights! We took the taxi and it seemed like we were on another mission impossible in trying to catch the 7:46 train to Stony Brook. This taxi driver was also good and we were at the station by 7:42.

We ran around trying to figure out the platform, went a little too far, traced our steps back: It’s platform #7. We ran up the stairs and saw a train whizzing past us. It was 7:44. We sighed and saw another train slowly coming in the platform with words ‘Huntington’ lighting up on its side. PL exclaimed ‘YES!’ and that word resounded deeply in my brain too as we had made it… we’d made the Mission Impossible Possible. (Huntington is the station where we change to another train to SB) It was 7:45 when the train stopped, 7:46 when we settled on the seats and 7:47 when the train started moving. At that moment, PL said, “We could’ve been 1 minute late!”. Well, that (being late) is something I’d had enough for a day and am never repeating it in the near future.

LaGuardia Airport