Monday, May 28, 2007

Cubbon Park, Ulsoor Lake and MG Road

What started out as a Sat morning light run ended up being a 14 km run with Doc, Athreya, Manoj and myself. Ended up expending myself at a 8:30 pace for the entire run. Was good fun.



It is a little tragic to see that most of Bangalore's green cover has disappeared. Even my previous post bears this out.

What to do?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Lalbagh


Here is the place I love most in Bangalore.
I have also marked out my running route.
Of course, utter coolness is due to one of my recent possessions, the Garmin Forerunner 305

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Brewhaha Open Quiz

Someone once asked me what my typical Sunday is like.

Well, I run in the morning, attend a quiz in the afternoon and read a book in the evening. Today was more or less the same.

After the disappointment of the half marathon I had hoped for some salvation from the quiz. It didn't disappoint, despite the fact that one of my team members spent more time reading a book I was carrying, than in listening to the quiz. Not that she didn't answer questions. She did, but I feel we could have done better...

We did end up worthy 3rd with WALTWO and the MetaQuizziks coming 1st and 2nd. We did come close to coming 2nd at some points, but then it was not to be.

Not a bad day.

And now, here is something about the coffeeshop. Brewhaha is a one of a kind coffeeshop with a unique proposition of some zillion board games available at the outlet. It has been founded by one of my juniors from RECT. Good luck to him. Spread the word. Have some coffee. Have some fun.

Bangalore Midnight Marathon

What was proclaimed to be the world's first midnight marathon did happen y'day in Bangalore. Yours truly ran in the half marathon.

Dismal performance at 1 hr :53 min which is the level I was at more than a year ago.
For the first time, I had stomach cramps when I was doing well :(

Although I did pace one of my club's star runners for almost 3 laps, I broke down in the 4th due to the cramps.

Worse still, I ended up feeling nauseous post race as all the fluid I had taken in the last two laps. Further, since I had had a late lunch at 5 pm on the previous day, I had skipped dinner and had an energy bar instead with bananas as food before the race.The nausea eventually resulted in my puking all the fluids (and thankfully fluids only) post race.

Guess I did a good thing by staying off the full marathon. But I still need a lot of strength training to make sure my shoulders don't hurt again. Also I need to be able to sustain strong starts in the future as I try to reach for my target.

What can't kill me makes me stronger. Hope so. My average HR for the race was 185 bpm!

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Bibliomania

If this month were a season in book buying, this would be the monsoon in Meghalaya ;)
Thanks to credit card points and some assorted winning at a quiz, the following strutted onto the table today.

A History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters by Julian Barnes
India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

from Crossword.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

from Premier.

Total outlay Rs 262. Books worth Rs 1357. Not bad eh!?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Going Postal and I am a Pterry!

I finished my first book by Terry Pratchett and am some way through Terry's 1st in the DiscWorld series "The Color Of Magic."

I have read most of Guards, Guards! sometime ago and didn't finish it since I didn't know where I had stopped!

But here is the deal. Terry is the most amusing, inventive and wickedly humorous author I have read since Douglas Adams. Only Jasper Fforde in recent times comes close on inventiveness and he does not write for humour.

Going Postal is a must read for Pterries and a delight for people like me who take refuge from real life in fantasy fiction, especially laughing madly in the middle of the night (My mom actually comes up and checks if I am ok. She recommends that I should drink some water!) and generally love a good tale.

Going Postal is the story of a criminal without hope, Moist Von Lipwig who's given the choice of death by hanging or reviving the Post Office. The humour will just make you disintegrate. Too many comic setpieces. Too delightful to miss. Please read and enjoy and spread the joy.

Terry is the man.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The Perfect Distance

Steve Ovett, one of the two people the book is about, sums up the book for me, “I think people don’t understand failure, and not just in sport. It’s naïve, because they think winning will go on. I don’t think there is failure as long as you try your best. True failure is not even bothering to try.” He is referring to his defeat by Steve Cram at Helsinki, who succeeded him and Coe as the top notch British athlete in the 80s.

The book has definitely been one of my most enjoyable reads in recent times. Must read if you are a runner. Recommended if you are a sports buff.

P.S.Another book,"The Secrets of Happiness by Richard Schloch" joined our collection this week.

Dhammerica – Day Fifteen

Once we return home, we have our customary cereal killing breakfast.

Today is also the day we create some history. In the first week of our arrival, Anti, an old friend had bemoaned the lack of quizzing in the US, ever since he had arrived a few years ago. In a burst of enthusiasm we had recommended the starting of a quiz club a la KQA (or QFI or for that matter K-Circle) and offered to do the first event. This resulted in a mail to quiznet and over a dozen responses including one from Portland!

And thus, all the participants arrive. We assemble in the barbecue area and aided by the MacBook of another of our dear buddies, conduct the first quiz of the New Jersey/New York Quiz Club. May it grow to bigger things.
By the time the quiz is done, it is afternoon. We have some frenetic packing to do.
After what is our last coffee at Starbucks for this visit in some charming company, we decide to leave for home (this time, our actual shelter in India).

We have three hours – which we think is enough. By the time we get to 33rd street, we have 2 hours 15 minutes. We opt for a cab to JFK and get stuck in traffic. After some frantic checking with our Blackberry owner about jams along the route, we reach the airport 90 minutes before our flight to be told by the booking clerk, that there are no seats readily available. Then some lady who heads the booking desk releases some seat into the system for us and we are well placed. We hug our chums and bid goodbye.

When we try and place a call to our buddy, the f&^% pay phone behaves true to character. He can’t hear us, but we spend a dollar on hearing his voice!

Once the flight is in, it is all smooth flying back to homeland.

First trip to the US: Several Hundred Dollars

Running Gear: Several Hundred Dollars

Total: Goodbye to Annual bonus and leave

Value of the memory of a fabulous experience: Priceless

p.s. contributions are invited to "Save Dhammo" fund ;)

Dhammerica – Day Fourteen

Our chum wakes up promptly early in the morning and drops us off at the airport. On our way we see the melted down portion of the freeway, which had been news a few days before we arrived. He is a little amused by our anxiety for arriving early at airports.

We arrive at Portland and are picked up our genial host, get ready and are off again on another tour of Portland.

Today is the day that we finally visit the Powell’s City of Books – one of the major reasons to visit Portland. The place is really worth the expectation we had nursed for a few months and we do pick the biography of Twain, the fantasy work by Clarke and the book on Karnazes. We also pick up several fascinating bookmarks, which contain the entire list of Nobel Prize for Literature winners, Booker prize winners, etc.

After we get handed over from the care of one our hosts to the other, we head to town for lunch. We go to this fabulous Lebanese place and order a platter - 7 plates, one each of Hummus, Falafel, Grape Leaves, Baba Ghanoush, etc. When we finish, we can’t but thank our host for her choice of the place. Outstanding food. We also order Turkish coffee which is decoction with the powder. We need it.

Next stop is another small bookshop with yet another really pretty assistant. We realized that all the bookshops we visited in the US had several pretty women at work. As if, the books wouldn’t draw you to the place.

We pick up Buckley’s work from this one for $4. Still a good deal, we think.
We then head for the Rose Garden and the Japanese garden – both fascinating places if you are naturophile, especially so, if you have a green thumb.

The Rose Garden is home to a few hundred varieties of roses - most prize winners in an annual contest, including some, named for celebrities. None named for Nehru though. Nice place, even if it is not the flowering season, its honour partially salvaged by millions of rhodonderons which are making the most of the absence of their more glamorous neighbours.

Next the Japanese garden – which is actually a set of gardens. . This is a clearly well-planned place, like most things Japanese. Each themed garden has its own unique lantern and landscape. One of them is predictably named Natural Garden and it is just that – a normal garden! Further details in the pictures. However the rain tried its best to dampen our enthusiasm. But we were determined to make the most of the $8 entry fee to the Japanese garden and we did. Earlier, the guy who drives the free shuttle to the garden had tried to make small talk with us and we were quite amused by what a day in the life of a guy who drives a shuttle to a garden is like. Like he said, mostly uneventful.

And when we are done with the garden, yet another jam on the bridges on our route home. But then this is the home of the GPS - the same brand as our watch, Garmin. In fact, after 2.5 days in its company, we still wake up at night with a voice in our head, urging us to “Turn Right and Then Turn Right!”
Phew.

When we return home after yet another packed day, we are amused by the kiddo at our hosts.

She can dance really well for her age. And she does understand how to entertain the audience. While we are being amused thus, we are also made aware of a rather peppy number by Paul Simon ("Obvious Child" off the album "Rhythm of the Saints), the one our talented kiddo is dancing to.

Before we leave, we play hangman, teach her a few boxing moves and amuse her with some radio show voice over imitations.

Finally its time for us to take leave of our brilliant, magnanimous hosts and the kiddo reduces us to speechlessness by giving us a big tight hug before we leave.

Dhammerica – Day Thirteen

Our chum makes oatmeal for breakfast for us, while we polish off a bowl of cereal. We do a quick tour of the Berkeley campus and then head to the street.
Since it is exams week, Wrigley’s is doing some promo and handing out notebooks, gum and a pen. The gum is supposed to help you tide over some of the tension.

There are 2 good bookshops amongst several (including the local B&N) in Berkeley. One of them is called Moe’s (short for Moskovitz) set up in 1962. Fantastic place for books. Only trouble is that there is no database search. But then the charming lady at the counter knows where everything is, more than making up for the lack of a database. I can’t remember the name of the other bookshop. There is another one called Shakespeare & Co, which is not bad either.

Once we shake off the bookshop fever, we head for lunch. Our chum has decided we shall eat at three places – starting with Sunrise which makes great hummus and falafel, Slurpy’s which has oriental food and then a crepe place which makes the best crepes we have eaten in life. We can’t but agree with our chum about Sunrise being the best hummus place in the Bay Area.

Now that we are fully loaded, we head to SFO on our own – resulting in some time delays and utter confusion. After using BART to get to the city, we end up Golden Gate park (thanks in part due to our chum’s direction) which is more than 10 miles away from GG bridge, which is where we wanted to go. After some negotiation with some bus drivers – including a curious situation when we didn’t have exact change (a lady offered to pay for us!) despite having a lot of money. The bus driver finally acceded and ferried us for free and got us to the bridge.

We must also thank a friendly hotel which gave us a map of the city while we were at Golden Gate park.
Finally, we arrive at the modern engineering marvel. This is a must see even if you are not an engineer.

Just like its cousin in NY, this one also allows tourist to traverse its entire length through a walkway. While we reach the vista point, it begins to rain. Oddly, there are also boards advising you against committing suicide and offering phones for help. We don’t remember seeing something similar at NY. Anyways, it is raining like nobody’s business when are trying to walk back. We have taken quite a few pictures of the city, including some of the Bay Bridge in the distance, which our chum likes more than the GG.

Dinner is with a few friends again. 4 guys – three of whom have been classmates at various points in life. In fact the three of them have been from the same institute (IITM) as well.

We are yet again at an Italian place. Not so great for vegetarian diners, but the really hot waitress convinces to eat all the veg pizzas they have and we do!

We head to some nearby place for coffee and then the time for us to part, is here.

Dhammerica – Day Twelve

One of the most striking features of American life (atleast it struck us!) is the public library system. This was driven home to us when we visited this bookshop called Title Wave – a nice word play designed to sound like something which can knock one off one’s feet. There are some really good deals if you are a bargain hunter like us.

We picked up 2 of Lance’s books (both hardbound) as well as Seabiscuit from here, all for a grand total of $4!!! Incidentally Seabiscuit is the most prevalent book in the American used book scene. One wonders who printed so many copies or why.
The bookshop is run by volunteers – mostly old women, some of whom must be way past even retirement age and has some good deals even on audio books, CDs and DVDs.

We had to drag ourselves away yet again, but not before a visit to Starbucks.
We land in Oakland airport and are picked up by our enthusiastic host, our school chum who has now moved onto to become a post-doctoral Scholar at Berkeley. He drives an old Honda Civic with such abandon while cheerfully telling us that all the ‘slow moving’ vehicles in the outer lanes are driven by tourists. Welcome to the Golden State.

First stop is an gelato place which we must visit according to our chum and sample half a dozen flavours, before eventually ordering one. Next we return home and drive to SFO. Today is the day we experience SFO for the first time – our pal amuses us by taking us to Coit Place for a view of the city of the Golden Gate bridge and then down Crooked Street, while keeping us entertained with events from his life, since we last met in IITM.

Next, we meet some of our other friends for dinner in San Jose. Yet again, it is an Italian place. We are six people – three bachelors and three married women and none of us is related to the other. What curious company we keep. And 5 of the 6 of us are from the same school.

The bartender has a nice sense of humour. When we ask him where the rest room is, he asks whether it is really urgent. When we nod, he says sorry. Then he asks again whether we need it really desperately, but then says, “Too bad we don’t have one” when we respond. Then he points to the actual location of the place. We commend him for his sense of humour and make prompt use of the place.

The dinner is one noisy affair with each of us dying to tell the other some anecdote. Then, one of our cool school chums takes us for ride in her BMW SUV! We part ways and go home.

Dhammerica – Day Eleven

The day was supposed to be a Seattle-only day. Our rather generous hosts drove us down and back!

We drove up* to Seattle to reach in time for the 10 am opening of the Experience Music Project. Only, the EMP was closed on Tuesdays, in spring! Damn! This was the only disappointment of our American trip. Not that there were less things to do in Seattle.

Next door is the Space Needle, a magnificent modern American structure. Built in 1962! It affords every visitor spectacular vistas of the city and its skyline. We took some interesting pics using the telescopes provided at the tower and after about an hour of snapping the city, decided to go down - in 40 seconds as the guides will proudly proclaim.

Next stop – the Pike Place Market. The historic market is home to several curiosities, not least of which is the fish market. One would have heard/seen the fish market in connection with the Fish! philosophy which were a rage not too long ago in the world of management literature.
Even with our usual misgivings about meat, the place is still quite a sight. The fish market guys are permanently on show and do afford some entertainment, while at work.

Then we walk around the rest of the market – filled with various t-shirt shops, Chinese curios, florists, grocers, etc.
One level below are other curious places – Lefty’s which is a one-stop shop for left handed people, selling unique objects such as left handed scissors, tshirts with witty lines about left handers, etc; BLMF - a book shop named for Books Like a MoFo (!) – good place for new and used books. We picked up our Pullman trilogy from here.

Next & last stop in Seattle – the first ever Starbucks outlet. For any coffee drinker, ignoring the lack of potency in most coffee sold by them for a moment, this is a must visit landmark. While we had coffee here (obviously!), we were treated to some free samples of caramel flavoured coffee with cream by some pretty hostesses.

Then we had a brief stopover at the Washington Park Arboretum, where we waited for some friends. Another beautiful place and favoured haunt for runners.
We returned to Portland and went over to Whosong and Larry’s – an excellent Mexican place # by the river. Great Food – really heavy as well.

While you wade through your dinner, there is a nice chart about the potency of different chillis to keep you amused.

The riverside locality (Officer's Row) around which Whosong’s is located is also a national heritage area (part of Fort Vancouver), housing buildings from the times of the beginnings of the Confederation. The restaurant also affords one with an opportunity to take some great pictures of one of the several bridges across the river.

Once we return home after yet another hectic day as a tourist, we must pack again for our visit to the Bay Area.

* Our diligent host corrected us that Seattle is up from Portland, not down! These engineers! :p

# Earlier I had written that they do have other cuisines incl. Chinese. I guess I fell for a nice trap in the name. Whosong and Larry is a Mexican place only!

Dhammerica – Day Ten

Several people kept asking right thru our sojourn in the US – Why Portland?
As our pics will justify, Portland, OR and Vancouver, WA separated by the Columbia river are amongst the most beautiful places in the US – very green. Portland also has one of the most popular marathons in the US – We will consider running there, when we return to the US, perhaps next year for another marathon.

We were provided with a room of our own and a laptop. How nice! Lovely hosts.
We start the day with some coffee, fixed up by one of our hosts. Next, we go up to a place called Sunrise Bagels for breakfast of bagels (What else!) and coffee. Next we go and visit HP, which has a spectacular campus. Actually we think it is an art gallery with some very fine paintings and some other art, masquerading as a company, only due to some bright engineers working in the same buildings. And there is a profusion of flowering plants.

We are then taken on this superlative drive across the river, to something called the Historic Highway (Washington State Route 14, in the Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area). This is home to over a half a dozen waterfalls (Horsetail Falls, Multnomah Falls and LaTourell Falls), in addition to being a popular fixture for trekkers. Some of our route was also part of the historic journey of Lewis and Clark. We also got educated on the different types of waterfalls by our host as well as some informative boards at each waterfall.

There was also a wonderful curio shop which we had to drag ourselves out of, since we had resolved to not buy any curios on this visit. In fact the only things we bought on this visit were some collectibles from the Art Institute, some tshirts and a coffee mug from Starbucks. But more on that later.

The West Coast leg kicked off a mad frenzy of photography which was limited by the capacity of the camera’s memory card. Twice, we had to delete a few “not-so-important” pics from the 512 MB memory card due to some improper planning.

Lunch was this place which had an “Indian” (the American Indian) setting. Here, our host saved us from potential dharm-bhrast-ing by letting us know that even normal burgers contained meat, except for the garden burger.

We then went to town to this place called “The Lucky Labrador Brew Pub” which is a fine pub-ish kind of place, except that it is well lit and that several families go there with kids, rather like an Indian Coffee House (as our host who had experienced the latter) put it. We had some nice dinner with some Organic IPA (Indian Pale Ale) which is a house beer.

And then we headed home.

Dhammerica – Day Nine: Race Day

Woke up at 4:30 am. Got ready. Breakfast of honey and bread. Bananas. Some Gatorade (which we had copious amounts of, in the previous week).

And we are ready.

The traffic lights bang opposite the apartment complex refused to turn green after about 8 minutes or so. Another dear friend had offered to drive us down to Long Branch along with my other buddies who were there for cheering.

What had seemed like a routine drive for about 45 minutes went berserk and my race didn’t almost start on time. First we encounter slow-moving traffic, of which we had been warned off. The no. of cars headed towards the race start was a few thousand. Since the half marathon also started on time, there were literally thousands of vehicles headed in the same direction.

Our whiz who had gone to sleep wakes up, twenty minutes before the race, by which time, we had resolved to run all the way to the starting point if necessary, except that we didn’t know how much to run. He whips open his Blackberry which proved priceless as we discovered an alternative street which was comparatively empty and when we were about a 200 m from the venue, I got off the car and ran. My heart rate which is usually about 60-80 at rest was at 143 already and I wasn’t even running!

The rush meant that I forgot to take my mobile phone and apply jelly! This would come back to haunt me post race, but would not be a concern for the next four hours or so, which was all that mattered at the moment.

Am at the starting point (a little off, actually) but have managed to find my pacing group for 4 hours. I look around and for the first time in my running history, see more people with GPS watches, heart rate monitors and mostly fit people, not people who are just out to run and have fun. These are serious runners. Most are discussing the qualification for the Boston and NYC marathons. Some are discussing whether to swap pace groups. And then of course, there are some who are there for a cause. There are some marines, fitness instructors and other assorted members of the New Jersey population. There are a few like me, who have flown down from locations across the US. One striking fact was that there were few black runners. There were I think, only 2 Kenyans registered.

Anyways, before the race, there are some announcements, thanking of sponsors and then even a prayer by a pastor who prays for our good luck! Next is the national anthem which is even greeted by some boos by people who are impatient to start as it is 15 minutes past the scheduled start, to the surprise of a few.

And then we are off. Between the gun start and my actual crossing of the start, which is what my chip records, there was about 2 minutes, due to the hundreds ahead, including pace groups from 3 hours to 4 hours, the half marathon runners as well as the elite athletes.

I stuck to the pace group leader for 4 hours for almost 5 miles or so, after which I decided to go faster since I was very comfortable. My average heart rate for the entire race was about 173 bpm, which is excellent, reflecting the great weather I was running in. The temperature for the entire race was between 10 and 12 deg C. In fact, till about 30 km or so, I was closer to the 3:50 pace group rather than the 4:00. I then decided to decelerate to allow for flagging of energy as has happened in the past.

The pace leader for 4:00 kept pushing us really well and when she saw some of us were doing better than the rest, she began to try and push us towards a 3:57 finish. Until I reached the last 4 miles, I was dreaming of this.
But then, some fatigue sets in and the course being almost completely asphalt or concrete hurts the knees. That resulted in some slowing down. All the effort invested in practice began paying through as I refused to be flagged down and pushed towards the closure.

During the race, one guy who wore a t-shirt which said, “ When you see this, Shout GO ART” greeted me with, “Kaisa Hai?” and other assorted greetings in Hindi and also wished me luck! I was too uptight about losing any energy due to distraction and gave him a weak reply and a thumbs up. He was happy. I think the guy was Art himself.

There were adequate water stops, which had Gatorade. I had mostly Gatorade during the race and at every stop, which was about 2 miles apart.

There were a few local residents once every 3 miles or so, with their homemade lemonade, cookies, some jelly based toffees which look like bear cubs, etc, all along cheering the runners. There was some great music being played by three local bands, along the route. There were also assorted localites playing music using kitchen utensils at some points and there were others with triangles, base drums, etc – all lending a very festive look to the race. There was also a kid with a poster showing her name and saying that it was her birthday! I did greet her. There were race officials who were constantly looking for people who were tiring out or so, on cycles.

There were some weird runners, not part of the race, but who were running for about the same time! Since the race was essentially 2 loops of the circuit for full marathon runners, I saw these guys about 4 times.

When I crossed the finish line for the first lap, I was about three minutes under 2 hours and feeling fresh. The second lap was sparser than the first, since most of the half marathon runners were out of the way. Now there were mostly people sitting on their lawns in the sun, little boys and girls who wanted you to give them a high five as you passed by and also wanted you to pick up toffees, water, cookies, whatever it was that they were carrying (reminiscent of Bombay). It does make your day.

I did take a toilet stop as well, since I had the luxury of time.
When I approached the finishing line, I was hoping to see my buddies for a pic, but they were nowhere to be seen. Either they didn’t expect me to finish in three hours or they were parked elsewhere. I realized to my utter dismay that the race clock was already showing 4:00 (due to gun time) and I raced to finish as fast as possible with about a little over a quarter mile to go!

And there was tremendous din to the finish line as all finishers were being cheered. I did eventually cross in 4:01:54 (gun time) for a chip time of 4:00:18 (lifetime best), overhauling my big bro’s record. Now I hold my family’s marathon and half marathon records. Not that bade bhaiyya ever competed.
Just as I crossed the finish line, the effort of finishing kicked in and I almost bent double. Someone promptly removed my chip off my ankle. Another gave a bottle of water while another gave my finisher’s medal and cap – all in about 10 seconds.
Speaks a lot for the efficiency of the organizers. Good Show Art and team.

Then I looked around for my pals. Since I was hurting, I decided to head for the lunch room – where I could only eat the fruit salad, although there were muffins, etc. Despite my full sleeved dri-fit shirt, signs of hypothermia began to set in, since the massage room was Aced and I had not changed as yet! While I kept shivering and ruing the fact that I was not carrying my phone, I asked a policeman for help. He promptly dialed my pal’s no from his cell. I asked my friends to come over and find me.

Relief appeared in the form of dry clothes and a jacket. And then the free massage at the hands of a sweet lady added to the relief.
I had shaved off 41 minutes off my previous best at a marathon. I no longer have to apologetically talk about a full marathon timing beyond 4 hrs when my half timing is closer to 90 mins! Quite some vindication for all the training over 3 months or so.

Next stop lunch. Wearing dress shoes (my race shoes were wet with sweat, Gatorade and water) to appear respectable, for a visit to a restaurant for lunch was quite literally painful as my feet were quite swollen to about size 9.5, post the marathon.

We did find a good Italian restaurant, again using my buddy’s Blackberry to good effect. We (mostly myself) had a monstrous lunch and then we returned home so that I could freshen up.
Once we were ready, next stop was the airport for a flight to Portland. We woke only when we landed in Portland and missed whatever was being served on the plane.
Reached Portland at about 11 pm and met up with our hosts, who were quite nicely waiting for us.

Big Day. Tiring Day.

Dhammerica – Day Eight

Time for pasta loading. We head to Hoboken again. A friend who had originally planned to run the half marathon, but pulled out eventually due to injury, decided to still come down to NJ. We caught up with him and his friends to have a lovely afternoon out.

We spent quite a while in regaling each other with stories from our pasts while having a leisurely lunch.
Also, spent some time in packing up for our West Coast jaunt.

One of the activities which occupies an OCD afflicted runner is the pre-race preparations. The socks, the shoes, the Vaseline, the cap, whether to wear a full sleeve or half sleeve, shorts, etc.

Tried to sleep early, but pre-race jitters kept us awake till some fatigue took over and put us to sleep thankfully a little past midnight.

Dhammerica – Day Seven

Start of day: Same as most other days. We decide to watch – An Inconvenient Truth. Good Watch. Al Gore deserves most of the publicity he has received in its wake. Quite a wholesome presentation of the facts. Time to take stock for all of us about an issue which shall escalate in our lifetimes.

This is also the day we collect our race bib. We had decided that we shall beat the weekend traffic to the venue and avoid rushing. We opt for a suburban train – NJ Transit to Long Branch. For the first time, we encounter some inefficiency. There is a train head of us which is a local and some passengers on our train must catch it in transit. Hence our train trails the local, thus becoming a local itself for much of the transit to Long Branch. We are livid since this jeopardizes our dinner with another lovely lady. Damn NJ Transit.

By the time we actually reach Long Branch, its about 90 minutes before closure of the counters. We try flagging down cabs to take us to the Ocean spa, located about a mile away, but they are either full or don’t stop! It’s good that we had memorized the locations on Google Maps and hence we resort to walking to the venue. We walk down to the fair, collect our goodie bag, buy a few running related material – like a fuel belt and look around. One of the organizers remark that we have come quite a long way to run the marathon. We have!

There was only 1 Indian running in the marathon. D.
In fact there weren’t too many foreign runners registered other than Canadian runners.

Anyways, while we are browsing around, our alert buddy calls up to remind us that there is a train leaving in exactly 9 minutes for NY and if we miss it, we will end up waiting another hour for the next one.
We switch into action mode, emerging out the shopping daze. We try and ask for assistance for a cab, but while we hunt around, including asking a police car, none emerges. IN the midst of the frenzied hunting, we also notice 4 stretch limos coming into the resort cum spa for a wedding. That’s more than the entire no we have seen ever!

Ok, now action. (Not much light and no cameras!) Although we are not challenged for a personal best at the mile, the station is still a mile away and there is a bag on our back. We do get there, quite breathless, about 15 seconds before the train leaves.
The evening is largely uneventful, since our buddy is equally upset that we missed dinner with another dear friend. The only upside is our brand new Ipod nano which tries to make up for a sleepy & sulking buddy.

Dhammerica – Day Six

After the usual routine – run in the morning along the boardwalk, cereal killing, etc we embark on the last few things to see in NY before the big day.

After much deliberation, we decide we shall keep the Met for another visit to the US, when we shall perhaps spend more time or restrict ourselves to just one coast.
Hence, we embark on our visit to what is perhaps the world’s most famous financial centre –Wall Street. What is the most famous symbol of Wall Street?
The Bull, you would answer. Quite expected too , except that the bull is located not on Wall Street, but on Broadway! We are quickly relieved of our misconception by a friendly Fedex staff member.

But before that, a little observation. When in the US, one is frequently greeted with “How are you today?!” Without much ado, a simple,“ Fine, Thank you,” etc should suffice. Given our heisitation in whether we should actually tell a stranger what our day is like, the staffer is a little nonplussed with our reaction to a seemingly harmless greeting.

Once we emerge from it, we do a little walking around. Next is the imposing Brooklyn Bridge. We walk up and down the bridge, which is quite a living monument and is full of life, since walkers can easily walk on it, while vehicles buzz below them. And it is quite a workout, due to the slope.

The evening is reserved for dinner with a buddy from an earlier part of life, who joins us and our hosts. We go to Hoboken which is pretty close to Jersey City. We decide on a Mexican place and head for dinner. The humour at dinner is mostly directed at us and enlivens the evening.

Dhammerica – Day Five

Once we are back in NJ, we set about completing the stuff we had missed out in our NY itinerary. Central Park is the next target.

We do all the usual stuff – Bethesda Fountain is the first stop (made famous by Woody Allen). Next is Strawberry Fields (made famous by the star for John of the Fab Four). And here too, there are a few hundred runners. Apparently Central Park is the running location of choice to quite a few people, regardless of sex. Incidentally when we are on our way out, we are a little at odds as to the direction we must continue in. A bunch of old men, who park there (no pun intended) everyday, take one look at us and direct us on our way. They did ask us whether we had planned to take the train or a bus. We proudly proclaimed that we intended to walk.

Our next stop is somewhere on 33rd Street and we started from somewhere on 71st. We can’t say we weren’t warned! But then as a tourist, one is not in a hurry and there is nothing like discovering a city by walking around. We make one of our numerous crossings of Broadway.

We have coffee scheduled with one of our batchmates. And it is raining. While we buy coffee and she orders Chai tea Latte (which is apparently the closest you get to masala chai in India), we do a lot of catching up in life and explore worklife in the US through the eyes of someone with a similar academic background. When rain ensues, she offers to buy us one of those $3 umbrellas to shield us from the rain. And thus we part company.

Also, along the way we ask one of the kerbside kiosks for some direction and buy some gum. The owner asks us if we are Indian. Then he sells the gum to us for 20 cents against its price of 30 cents simply because he is Bangladeshi. Actually, perhapshe also looked at the change we had and didn’t want to change a dollar, after he had quoted 25 cents!

Our next stop is the Starbucks in the lobby of our buddy’s office. While entering the said lobby, we are accosted by this huge black American. He asks us, “You Indian?!” When we answer in the affirmative, we are greeted with, “That’s great, That’s great!” We chose not to seek to discover what was great about us. A brief stopover before we walk to the Grand Central Station, where we meet a lovely lady for dinner. Of course, all this is scripted and so please don’t go around asking ladies at Grand Central Station for dinner! One of the reasons being, that our friend wanted to educate us on the architectural delight that is the GCS. One is reminded of the station in the movie – My Best Friend’s Wedding as well as some other movie we can’t recall right away.

Then we walk to 22nd Street to a restaurant called Restivo – an italian place. Nice food. Nice wine. Reasonably priced as well. Altogether memorable occasion, not in the least part due to the company of a charming lady.

Once home, we reflect on big bro’s advice about not stretching ourself a little too much a few days before the marathon. We are now walking around 6 miles on an average. One shouldn’t even be running around so much typically in the taper before a marathon.

But as our learned friend in Berkeley remarks frequently, What to Do?! We are a tourist and one must look around.

Dhammerica – Day Four

Next day, same routine. Big Bro cooks some readymade Alu Paratha. Coffee & breakfast at the neighbourhood Starbucks and we are off to downtown. Our plans are to visit the Navy Pier, supposedly a beautiful place and that well um… is most of the plan. We find the place after quite some trudging and park ourselves at this fantastic table that has a chessboard built into it. The Navy Pier is amongst the most beautiful urban places you can see. There is this really blue stretch of the Lake Michigan and there is what purports to be a tiny beach of sorts, albeit next to the lake. And there is a 10.5 mile circuit for runners, walkers and cyclists – there being hundreds (no kidding!) of the last mentioned species. We just park there and read the day’s edition of the Chicago Tribune and the books we are carrying.

While this is in progress, a stunning lady comes by, puts out what seems like a blanket on the sand, looks around for sometime and just goes off to sleep in the sun. We can’t say that our time was wasted  And then, there are assorted groups just like us who want to nothing much and laze around in the sun.

After a few hours spent thus, we take a walk through the rest of downtown reaching a unnamed sculpture by Picasso which looks somewhat like the Lion King. We then walk around, passing by various famous theatres of Chicago and settle down in a place called ArgoTea – a tea chain. It has free Wifi – Starbucks has paid Wifi by TMObile. So we prefer ArgoTea.

Some confusion ensues when we order the only vegetarian food only to discover some egg in it, despite an assurance by the pretty girl at the counter who professes to be vegetarian herself. When we insist upon just a green salad, she asks us whether we are Vegan. We aren’t but prefer no eggs in our food.
After about an hour of surfing, we are chided by our one of our hosts in the US that we should hardly be spending our time surfing! We take the advice well and head back to big bro’s adda.

Our entire time in downtown is punctuated by about a coffee at Starbucks, once every 2 hours or so. But we are yet to encounter anything that can wake us up.
Once we return for our last night in Chicago, we nod off to sleep at some odd hour in the evening. We need to leave really early for the airport, to take a flight back to Chicago. It is perhaps a vagary of the American economy that the cab which took us from home to the Midway airport cost us as much as the flight from Midway to La Guardia!

Dhammerica – Day Three

Our buddies for the trip constantly herded us. This day began no differently when we made our way to the Astoria boulevard station to get on our way to La Guardia. And then on to Chicago.

One common feature of all our flights in the US, regardless of time spent in air, was that we fell asleep quickly and were thankfully never woken up.
Bade Bhaiyya received us and like a dutiful brother carried our luggage. He should have also, considering that most of our luggage was food.

Before we reach home, we went to the nearest café, where we have some gigantic latte and some breakfast. Brother thinks we look odd with popeye forearms and a weak looking upper body – symptoms of a low protein diet. We are equipped with a laptop for our surfing for the 2 days we are in Chicago.
Once we get home, we are terrorized into memorizing the train routes from the suburbs to downtown. Once we can comfortable recite the different stops all the way to town, we are let off. First day, we head to the Art Institute which rivals MoMA, NY.

There was a fantastic exhibition of the collection of Ambrose Bouillard, who was a pioneering art agent/collector. The collections ranged from Picasso, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cezanne, etc (essentially every painter that a normal soul can recall). Now we can almost recognize Manet as well. The Art Institute occupied almost the entire morning. Next, we went to the nearest Subway to get some really late lunch.
The Michigan Avenue has a section called the Magnificent Mile , an essential shopper’s delight. We did walk around town for quite some time till we realized we had walked past 3 train stations. Do we really need so many stops – so close to each other?

We returned home to partake in the riches assembled for us by our benevolent bade bhaiyya – the Garmin Forerunner 305 (a GPS watch cum heart rate monitor), a new pair of Pearl Izumi shoes as well as another pair of New Balance shoes (currently our most trusted and favoured brand). And then there were 2 books amongst several big bro wanted to lighten his shelf of – the Billy Crystal book and the AT Jacobs book, both of which we eagerly lapped up. In fact we finished the Bill Crystal book before we got back to NY. And then there are also the assorted jackets, sweatshirts, etc. Big bro disapproves of our taste in clothes and thinks we should have more classy clothes. We also get a mobile phone which is fairly invaluable for the duration of our stay in the US. Of course, one must have big brothers. We have a preference for big sisters – ours has been very nice to us, but for this life, this brother has not been doing badly either.

At night, we are taken to visit the neighbourhood Borders bookstore which is huge, almost a block by itself. And then we move to the nearby Barnes and Noble store – another huge store. But we are no longer impressed – just about everything we see in the US is huge.

Dhammerica – Day Two

Day two began the way day one ended – a run along the boardwalk.
Runners everywhere we went in the US (Boardwalk NJ, Brooklyn Bridge NY, Golden Gate Bridge SFO, Navy Pier Chicago, etc) greet each other while passing, regardless of whether you are a stranger or not. And what better to nurse your bachelor ego than getting a fair-maiden greet you in the morning. Heart Rate Monitors get tested really well under these conditions.

And then began the assault on cereals. And then we set off on our first day of sightseeing in the company of a fair maiden. First Stop – Soho. We walked through most of the area known as the Village (to New Yorkers), doing mostly a lot of window shopping, being unable to take our eyes off witty one-liners on t-shirts, bumper stickers and their ilk. Also managed to sneak into Strand for about an hour to look at the books on show – ranging from a few cents for used books, to a few thousand dollars for tomes on art and architecture, amongst other things.

Second Stop - The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA for short. It is an outstanding experience for anyone making their first visit to an art gallery of this magnitude. MoMA is so rich that one could spend a full week atleast, taking it in. While we were at MoMA, assorted delights included various artforms in sculptures, paintings, furniture, objects of everyday use, etc.

The famous Warhol depiction of Campbell soup cans, as well as various works by the masters from various periods were consumed by our breathless self. We can now claim to be able to identify a Monet from a Manet. (Actually we can identify Monet and the other one must then be a Manet!)

Once out of MoMA, we went to a café and ordered some hot chocolate and midway thru our drink realized that our bag was still in the MoMA baggage counter and it was past closing time. Considering that we had a flight to Chicago and our passport was our main means of identification, we realized that our personal best for a mile had to be broken. We did and a helpful member of the staff, took our token, ascended a floor and returned with our baggage.

Back to the aforementioned café to discover that our coffees had been moved to trash. When we explained to the stern hostess at the café that we had barely sampled them, she chided her waiter and we got 2 free coffees.

And then, it was time for the third stop – Our first ever visit to Broadway (Well, considering that this was our first visit to the USA, it must be the first visit to all places in the USA, right? Boo, you stickler. Stop paying so much attention!)
The play on show was “Avenue Q” which is the story of Princeton, a bright-eyed college grad who comes to New York City with big dreams and a tiny bank account. The dialogues and sometimes the acts on stage, despite the use of puppets were quite risqué. The play was amusing and the experience was mostly worth the high entrance fee. The average audience member was about a decade or so older than us, which was not surprising the steep ticket price. You really need to make some money to be able to afford watching plays regularly on Broadway.

Phew!

Day Two ends on an equally active note as day one. Next Stop – Chicago to meet bade bhaiyya.

Dhammerica – Day One

Cereal Killer
April 21st, 2007

When we landed in the US a little late in the afternoon, our buddies had long left the airport for calmer climes at home since our flight was late.

Being quarter-less to start with, we looked around for payphones for sometime. Then some Indian who saw us gave some directions to the phone. Once we had lost a couple of dollars on the stupid phone, we decided to abandon it. (Our only two experiences with pay phones, both at JFK were lousy and we lost money on both occasions without making proper contact). The Indian (who turned out to be a cab operator) then offered his own mobile phone and we established contact. Then on, we were on our way. The transport infrastructure is impressive considering the breadth of coverage and the availability of alternatives.

We made our buddy regret his not providing a welcome hug at the airport by offering our bags to him for carrying them. And to be fair to him, he did. Considering we were carrying 23 kg of food in various forms (in addition to our weighty luggage), that was sweet and namkeen revenge!

Ever since we reached the home of our bosom buddies in Jersey City, there was the unsaid but overhanging fear of impending damage to their food stocks writ large on their faces. Our appetite post runs not withstanding, our morning appetite for breakfast is above average.

In the day and a half before we left for Chicago, we managed to finish a box of cereal in 3 sessions. That is recommended for 12 cups of serving for breakfast. Not only that, the milk gallon-can, also experienced an untimely end at our hands, largely due to being mixed with the cereal. Much arguments ensued over our pigging, but our appetite prevailed.

Once our breakfast was through, we had to disperse the energy gained from such an intake. What better way to do it than do a practice run along the boardwalk in Newport which was conveniently located right behind the apartment complex, housing our buddies. Considering that we ran in the night, we were pleasantly surprised to see a lot of runners taking practice runs at the same time. In fact, it is quite a welcome surprise that one can find runners at any time of the day on any day in most parts of the US that we had been.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Additions to Bookshelf during my US trip

The following books were added to my collection during my US trip. While there will be a story or two about them which I should post soon, here is the list.

The 2 below were from my brother.

The Know it All by AT Jacobs
700 Sundays by Billy Crystal

I bought the ones below from various shops.

Thank you for Smoking by Christopher Buckley
The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett
His Dark Materials (Trilogy) by Philip Pullman - The Golden Compass, The Amber Spyglass and The Subtle Knife
It’s Not About The Bike by Lance Armstrong
Every Second Counts by Lance Armstrong
Ultramarathon Man by Dean Karnazes
Seabiscuit by Laura Hildenbrand
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Mark Twain by Ron Powers

And one of my hosts insisted on gifting the one below :)
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Actually I am out of bookshelves again. So my tables look positively ugly and my dad is cribbing about my books crowding the old desktop. What to do?