Saturday, March 22, 2008

St.Patrick’s day at Chicago

I’d say I chose the best time to visit Chicago last weekend. It was St. Patrick’s day and it was worth all the delays and uncertainty that preceded my travel! I was supposed to drive down with a colleague on Friday evening but a late evening meeting at work ensured I was stuck at office till 630 by which time she had reached O’Hare in time to pick up her husband. But Friday evening wasn’t so bad either because I got to play pool at a friend’s house here!

Early Saturday morning I cabbed down to the Park & Ride on Stoughton to board the CoachUSA to Chicago. Four hours later I was at downtown Chicago by the Amtrak station where I was met by Sibha and Pratap. We walked down to MacD because my tummy was protesting big time and then went on to Michigan Ave in time for St Patrick’s day parade. It was awesome! Drunk people all around and colorful floats preceded my the sound of bagpipes played by men in kilts! There was green everywhere! Whacky hats to green beaded chains to green tee shirts… they had it all! Apparently there is a pub here in Madison that even serves green beer on the day! Parade done with and then it was time to see the famous river-turned-green sight that is a trademark of St. Patrick’s day. We walked past Millennium Park to a canal just before it opens out to Lake Michigan. The water had been turned green by motorboats dropping green dye into the water. A whole bunch of photographs later it was time to walk back a few blocks away for lunch at Potbelly.

After a sumptuous lunch and some needed rest for our feet, we were back on the road again! This time we headed to Sears Tower for a bird’s eye view of Chicago from the 103rd floor. Up until the Petronas twin towers came up in Malaysia, the Sears Tower was the world’s tallest building. Now of course, Taipei 101 is the tallest. The view from Skydek of the Sear’s tower was breathtaking to say the least. The Lake Michigan stretched out like a picture perfect canvas far into the horizon while up close were the roof tops of other famous landmarks such as the Federal Reserve and headquarters of various financial heavyweights. Soon it was time to walk to the Metra station to head to Sibha’s place for the night. We had dinner at the station and had a good one hour ride to Arlington Heights where these guys lived. Sibha and I stayed up till the wee hours catching up on all the news we’ve missed since the last time we met nearly a year ago in India.

The next morning, Pratap drove us to Aurora, a beautiful Indian temple an hour’s drive from Arlington Heights. I had not been to a temple since I’d come to the US, so I was really grateful that they could take me. The temple was beautiful and peaceful and it was so nice to so many desis after such a long time, with little kids in pavadai-chattai and American accented ABCD aunties in salwar-kameez and sarees. It was like being in a cleaner, more affluent India. The food at the temple is very famous among the desis there. It is traditional Tamil fare – idli, dosa, sambar, pongal, vadai, lassi, filter coffee, puli saadam, thayir sadam… We ordered everything they had, and even managed to finish all of it! Of course, we were that hungry! A few photographs later we were on the road once more, this time to the Aurora premium outlet to shop! A couple of hours later we headed back into Chicago.

But Pratap had not had enough of the day so we drove along Lakeshore Drive to the Ba’hai temple of peace. The drive was really beautiful. Lakeshore drive is an affluent part of Chicago, replete with mini castles for homes and the address of the rich and famous of Chicago. The area borders the banks of the Lake and makes for scenic driving. The Ba’hai temple itself was a peaceful, architecturally beautiful prayer hall. We rested there for a while, each one lost in our own thoughts. Soon it was time to hit the roads again. We got home in time for dinner and then called it a day. I left for Madison on Monday morning along with my colleague.

My weekend in cihcago was one of the best I’d had since I got to the US. Good place, great company – what more can a person ask for! Sibha and Pratap took good care of me and more than once I found myself wishing I still worked with Walgreens and that I had come to the US on an assignment with them rather than with Kraft.

I fell in love with Cihcago. Downtown Chicago was vibrant and busy, the way I’ve imagined American cities to be. The suburbs were beautiful too, with wide roads and pretty homes, quite unlike Madison with its laidback, small town feel. Chicago really is the windy city, for a warm week in the Midwest where I did not need my overcoat in Madison, I was all bundled up in Chicago for both the days I was there! I hope to go back there someday before I return to India.

Monday, March 10, 2008

My Cold Call Chronicle

My 3 day adventure of the past week was on its final and finishing leg. Here I was, far away from all things familiar, flying across from Wisconsin to Virginia to interview with my top choice for business school, Darden.

I took off from Milwaukee to Chicago to DC and then finally on to C’ville where a student contact met me at 11pm (bless him!). Along the way I got to talking with a few random strangers, one at each stop and each as interesting as the other. First there was the desi from Chennai at O’Hare, a fellow techie who seemed to have traveled all over the world. On the flight from Chicago to DC there was the healthcare professional from Virginia who worked with GE and we got to talking about books and American history. During the wait at Dulles for the flight to Charlottesville – which was delayed – I got to talking with a Nutrition grad student from NCSU who was on his way to interview at UVA for a PhD.

Onto CHO where the serene town with its trademark red brick buildings made me wish I was already a student at the university. CHO is a typical American university town… not that I have been to any other American university towns. The only other university town that I have ever been to is Oxford (SRM University does not count here!) and so I had little to compare with. However I knew right away that CHO was a charming town that was steeped in liberalism, quite like Madison itself, and multiculturalism where a number of elite, old American families shared breathing space with university students. The Darden School itself was stately and architecturally beautiful, just the way Thomas Jefferson had designed it and the rest of the university; yet its atmosphere was serene and quiet, far removed from the fast paced and dynamic industry it serves to prepare students for.

I arrived at C’ville late on Thursday night, with just enough time to pick up McD for dinner – my third for the day! The Best Western where I stayed was a comfortable and cosy hotel and contrary to its budget hotel image it was really quite generous. I woke up early next morning to mentally prepare myself for my interview. I missed the First Coffee tradition since my student contact had warned me that due to impending exams the following week there would be no First Coffee. I got to Darden at around 10AM and waiting at the admissions lobby for my interviewer to come fetch me. There I got to meet other applicants and man did I feel small!! There was a legal assistant from New York, an equity trader from New York, a product engineer from Atlanta, a healthcare professional and his nurse wife from the RTP… basically really super achiever people. And I was feeling pretty small, I’ll admit! My interviewer came and fetched me and we had our interview for an hour or so. Once that was done, it was time for the special lunch that Darden had hosted for us. Lunch was a formal affair, with all the emblazoned silver finery and a sumptuous buffet lunch. Each table had seven applicants with one Darden professor. Free flowing conversation, nearly invisible maitre d’s, really tasty food and a friendly atmosphere gave me a good idea of what business school in America would be like. Once lunch was through, it was time for a current student to show us around the grounds. She showed us the classrooms, the meeting rooms, the offices of the professors and the cafeteria. Tour over and it was time for me to go back to my hotel. Back at the hotel I relaxed for a little while before I headed out for a walk. I took a really long walk across the university campus to the halls of residence.

I spent my second day at C’ville walking around their very famous pedestrian open air mall. I couldn’t buy much except for a really tasty sandwich lunch at the famous Five Boys sandwich place. I managed to take a few pictures and was back in my hotel by afternoon to relax in bed with the tv on. Dinner was at the Italian place nearby – amazing sandwich, salad, cheesecake, soup, crackers and pink lemonade! I packed it all up to enjoy a tv dinner in the warmth of my room.

Before I realized, my relaxing weekend at charming C’ville had ended. I loved the university feel of the town, with its signature uniform red brick buildings and wide walkways to accommodate the iPod plugged pedestrian or the occasional backpack toting student pedaling away furiously uphill on her cycle to get to her class. Not the kind of place for a shopping trip, but I guess that’s one distraction students can do without!

On my return flight back from CHO to MSN, I met one eccentric UVA researcher – replete with long hair and piercing blue eyes – who was really friendly and very kindly walked me up to my terminal in Dulles. He was also an engineer so we had a lot to talk about. On the flight from Dulles to O’Hare was the med student who couldn’t get his nose out of his neuroscience textbook! At O’Hare was a seemingly endless wait as my flight to Milwaukee kept getting delayed due to weather – I suppose after weeks of snow, O’Hare had issues handling a day of perfect sunshine and warm temperatures! I finally reached home at Madison at around 10 in the night – physically exhausted but mentally rested. I’d need that for the grueling week I had after I returned!

Two of my favorite men on one platform!


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