Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ford Auto Museum

My wife had seen the Auto museum during her previous visit to Detroit, and so, I had a fair idea as to what to expect there. But what she had remembered was not even one fourth of what was present. The museum contains hundreds of exhibits which can be loosely categorized as cars - through the ages, antique farm equipments and house hold articles, vintage aircraft, locomotives and dozens of other unique items.

Again, it was impossible to go through all the sections in detail. I took a quick round of the aircrafts and cars and it consumed about forty minutes. This picture is a vintage Bugatti taken for my son to worship.

The presidential cars attracted me because of the aura around them and I spent a little longer, looking at and reading the information on each one of them. Felt some unexplainable feeling when I was in front of the limousine in which president Kennedy was assassinated.

I distinctly remember the attendant of our school bringing the holiday notice to our class on the occasion of John F Kennedy’s death. I was in third standard. We did not know the gravity of the situation. We had ran home shouting in joy because of the unexpected holiday.

There were many exhibits in front of which I would have loved to stay longer. But it was not possible. However, I managed to take a closer look of at least a few of them.
Like, One of the earliest Harley Davidsons,

This ten seater bicycle which had been made to promote /advertise some product which I do not remember now.

The letter of appreciation written by Parker and Barrow, the bank robbers, to Henry Ford, appreciating the Stolen Ford V-8 with which they managed to outsmart the police and escape. Etc.

I was appreciating this steam engine thinking of the times when it might have run on the rails pulling people, when I glanced at the display board which said that it was some sort of farm equipment.

Just then Vishwa called to say that he is waiting outside to pick us up. That ended the visit to the ford Museum.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Greenfield Village

The bus which brought us back from the Rouge Factory Tour, dropped us near the gates of the Greenfield village. Greenfield village is the largest indoor-outdoor museum complex in the US. About a hundred historic buildings, starting from the seventeenth century have been re located here and most of them are manned by people who are dressed to suit the period and place. The idea is to exhibit how Americans have been living through the centuries.

It was past twelve noon when we entered the ‘village’. We blindly started walking along one of the streets and arrived at the Wright cycle Co.

Since I had not collected the information booklet at the gate, we did not know what to expect in the village and how to go about seeing it. But we knew that we were hungry and the first thing to do was to eat something. We sat on a bench in front of the Wright Cycle co and ate the lunch we had carried. Once the stomach was full, the mind worked better and limbs followed instructions. I decided to go back to the gate and get an information booklet. After that it was easy.

It was somewhat thrilling to be present in the shop in which the Wright brothers actually worked. Similar was the feeling when we went into Thomas Alva Edison’s lab, the very first house that had electric bulbs and many such exhibits.

We had no idea about the time required to see the whole thing. It looked as if we need not one but two full days to see everything leisurely and in detail. I kicked myself for not having visited the village earlier. It was easily accessible and we could have made two or more visits. Now we had to hurry. Still we made an entry and exit into all the exhibits like the court room where Abraham Lincoln practiced,

The garage where Henry ford built his first quadricycle,

Ford family house,etc etc

Veryclose to the house was the place from where we could go on a ride in a Model T, for five dollars. The car took us on a round of the village and the driver, a young college student, earning some money during vacations, pointed out all the important exhibits. I tried to trace back the route on foot and gave up after half an hour. By then it was nearing two in the afternoon and we were yet to visit the auto museum . We reluctantly came out of Green field village and headed towards the Ford Auto museum.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Swimming Fifteen lengths.

More than a year back I wrote about my efforts to improve my swimming. I had started swimming thirty years back and had remained a beginner all the thirty years. I knew just enough swimming to remain afloat for a few minutes with lot of effort. And my swimming looked like a tough struggle with some unseen creature present in water. I used to look with awe at people who moved gracefully in water as if the same unseen creature is pulling them gently on the surface of water without any effort on their part.

In the last one year I have improved a lot. I do not thrash around anymore. I swim. I have developed my own versions of free style, breast stroke and back stroke and I can keep swimming using a combination of all three. I can roll and flip and can swim many lengths without stopping for breath.

This morning I felt very light and energetic for no particular reason and went on swimming lengths and counting them. I managed to swim fifteen lengths with out break. That is three fourths of a kilometer. (It took nearly forty minutes and I have difficulty lifting my right hand now but it is a different matter.) When I came out of water I was feeling great. I looked around to see if anyone had noticed my feat. There were hardly few people in the pool. Not many are as foolish as me to get out at six on a winter morning and plunge into water. One or two learners at the shallow end were struggling for breath and were not interested in anything else. There were two life guards, one busy talking on his mobile and another huddling in a chair half asleep.

I was disappointed that nobody witnessed my achievement. I came home. My wife was in the kitchen.

You know what? I swam fifteen lengths today”
“Is it? That’s why you are late. I have been waiting for you. Forgot to keep milk in the fridge last night. It is spoilt. I haven’t had my coffee yet. See if any shop is open and get some milk.”

Very damp.

I went out. Luckily the milk booth was open. I purchased milk and returned home. My son was trying to open his eyes.

“You know what? I swam fifteen lengths today”
“Crazy. No one in his right sense would go and jump into water in this cold. Close that door. I am feeling cold.” he pulled the sheets over his head again.

My mother was awake, had had her bath and was probably half way through her “Vishnu Sahasranaama” prayer. I waited for her to finish and informed her of my feat.
“Swimming in a pool? Is it difficult? In our village people used to swim in the river. My brother used to swim across the river when it was in spate and he could even pull out cattle caught in the swirl. That is some swimming. Yesterday I told you that my blood pressure tablets were over. Did you buy them?”

I had to blow my trumpet somewhere. I have blown it here. Please bear.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Ford Rouge factory

Our last week in Canton MI. We were busy purchasing things which our children had ordered. Bhanu’s credit card was wearing thin. Whatever we were buying could very well have been bought back home. Only, I would have had to pay myself. My children do not agree. They insist that it is not the glamour of ‘imported’ tag but the quality. They say that the same brand bought in India is not really same. Our suitcases appear full but weigh much less than the limit. Still lot of scope for shopping. In my opinion the only sensible purchase were the cans of shaving foam. A can of foam costs between 150 -200 rs in India and I got two for one dollar and twenty nine cents at Target.

There was still one ‘sightseeing’ pending. ‘The Henry Ford’, which includes a tour of the Rouge Factory which builds Ford trucks, Ford auto Museum and the Greenfield Village. It is located in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, almost on the way to Vishwa’s office. Since he could drop us there any day on the way to work and pick us up again on his way back, we took it easy and it remained till the last week. As it could not be put off anymore, we decided to visit Henry Ford on Thursday.

Vishwa booked the tickets online and dropped us in front of the reception at nine in the morning. The museum and the green field village are next to each other but the Rouge Factory is at a distance. They have a shuttle service between the museum and the factory. The bus was to leave in ten minutes. We arrived at the factory by half past nine.

The Rouge complex is on the banks of the Rouge river and at the height of its activity it had its own dock yard to unload iron ore, power plant, ore processing unit and the car factory - converting ore into cars in one single complex.

After the usual introductory talk and film shows showing the beginning of the factory and its journey, we went round the assembly line. It was a great experience to see the actual production, following the assembly line. There is an elevated walk way running by the side of the assembly line and there were displays at every stage which explained what exactly was happening below. The factory was building their popular model F 150 truck at the time and we could see both the humans and robots in action. The humans were almost robots. If they take half a minute off to scratch an itchy leg or back, one truck would go out without a wiper or a headlight. We spent about an hour around the production line and took the next bus back.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Brook field Zoo

Bindu’s house was next to a pond in one of the Chicago suburbs the name of which has escaped my memory. The path around the pond itself was good enough for my morning walk but I could explore farther without fear of losing my way as Bindu’s father Shamanna, who is my cousine, was also there visiting his daughter and I had his company for morning walk. It was his second visit to Chicago and he knew the place well. When we returned after an hour’s walk, the sun was rising and the Canada geese near the pond were getting ready for the day.

Our day’s plans were the Brookfield Zoo, Balaji temple (more for lunch, than for worship)and back to Canton MI. We reached the zoo around ten in the morning. The Brookfield Zoo, located in and named after the Chicago suburb of Brookfield is spread over an area of about 216 acres. It houses about 2300 animals belonging to 450 different species. They are generally categorized according to the ecosystem they live in viz ‘the swamp’, ‘fragile desert’, ‘rain forest’, ‘living coast,’ etc. I like to watch the animals. I remember that as children, our trips to Mysore, which were quite frequent, were never complete without a visit to the Jayachamarajendra Zoo there. I could have easily spent a day in Brookfield but we only had a few hours at our disposal. I got to see many animals which I had never seen earlier, the grizzly bear, poison frog, bald eagle, colobus monkey (reminding me of ‘catch me a colobus’ - Gerald Durrell), okapi, dwarf crocodile, to name a few. I liked the enclosure of the polar bear from which one could climb down and see the bear in water through the glass wall of the tank. I found it to be a very graceful swimmer and spent a considerable time watching it swim.

The Brookfield zoo was the first place to start a dolphin show in the US and it was a pleasure watching Dolphins in their huge tank moving like bullets. They covered a distance of forty to fifty feet in seconds. I saw the otters, whales and various fishes but dolphins seemed to be the fastest.

The zoo has cafeterias and rest areas spread over its 216 acres, and most of the people seemed to have come to spend the whole day. They moved around leisurely enjoying the sights, eating and resting.

We spent about four hours in the zoo and were off to the Balaji temple . There was a huge crowd of devotees who had come to worship the canteen just like us and we had to wait in a long queue for our turn. Having filled our stomachs with pongal, vada , dosai, curds rice and mango lassi we turned home wards. I was afraid that Vishwa may nod off on the wheel after the heavy lunch and tried to keep him in conversation. I woke up when we were nearing Detroit. We were at home by eight in the evening.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Business at the R T O office.

Before I go over to the Brookfield zoo, Chicago, I will take a break to make a short trip (many not very short trips as it turned out ultimately) to the Office of the Assistant Director, Transport, popularly known as the RTO office.

My driving licence expired on the 7th of January and had to be renewed. It was not something very difficult. Three forms, two photographs and a medical certificate. All the concerned officials were helpful and treated me courteously. White hair on the head has its uses. But I had changed my residence since the last renewal and it made things a bit difficult. I found myself standing in an awful lot of lines before I was done. The normal procedure is something like this.

1st line - To meet the inspector who checks the old licence and okays renewal.
2nd - Forms counter to obtain the required forms
3rd - In front of the inspector again to show the filled forms and get his initials.
4th - In front of the cash counter to pay the fees
5th - In front of the clerk to submit forms
6th - In front of head clerk to get his approval
7th - In front of the ‘smart card’ counter to get the renewal instructions entered in the ‘smart card’
And you are done.

In case you have had the misfortune of having changed your address, date of birth or parents between the previous renewal and the present, repeat stage 1-5 before proceeding to 6.

I had changed my residence.

Clerk at stage 5 : Make another application for change of address and attach a copy of the ration card.
Me : I will make an application but my ration card too has my old address
Clerk : Then attach a copy of your voter card
Me : My voter card also has the old address

The clerk scratched his head with his pen and I was expecting him to say “in that case go back and stay at your old address if you want your licence renewed” but he did not think of it. He simply closed his eyes and probably waited for divine help.

“Make an affidavit with the notary” the fellow standing behind me tried to be helpful. I can understand his feelings. He wanted me out of the line at the earliest and had no intentions waiting for the divinity to help the clerk.

“I have my telephone bill and water bill. Both carry the new address” I volunteered. I did not want the clerk to catch on to the affidavit business or the divinity to come up with something worse.
Clerk : (opened his eyes and for once divinity appeared to be in my favour) OK. Attach the originals of both and submit.
I called my son and asked him to bring the bills to the RTO office. (He was at home and willing to help. divinity in my favour second time) I attached them and submitted the application before the clerk changed his mind.

I got a smart ‘smart card’ eventually with a picture looking somewhat like me in place of my dog eared old licence booklet which only had a black smudge of fungus in place of my photograph.

Changing the address is common. But don’t ask me how one can get to change the date of birth or parents. One can. The man standing in front of me in one of the lines had come for insertion of new date of birth! It is not every day that people come changing birth dates. The clerk did not know if he has to ask the man to get into his mother’s womb once again and come back with proof of a second birth. Also, he was not sure if a fee was to be collected and how much? The situation called for someone more powerful than divinity.

He asked the man to meet the assistant director.

I did not come across anyone trying to change a parent but am sure that it is not something unheard off.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Navy Pier - Chicago

The navy pier is about a kilometer long and about a century old. I believe it was constructed not just for the purpose of docking ships and training sailors but also to provide a social gathering point for the citizens of Chicago. Now it is predominantly a gathering point and one of the major tourist attractions.

The sightseeing cruises and water taxis operate from the pier. The pier has other attractions like restaurants, theaters, stages for performances and things like merry go round, giant wheels, space ships etc etc which we usually see in fairs and entertainment parks. It is a sort of permanent fair. Presence of people attracts more people. And one can get a good view of the Chicago skyline from the pier.

We went up and down the pier once and had enough of it. By then it was our lunch time and we were hungry. We ordered a sandwich each and having consumed it, decided to go over to the Shedd aquarium.

We could see the aquarium building, which is also on the lake shore, at a distance but were not keen to walk over in the hot sun. We could have hired a bicycle for three dollars an hour, taken a water taxi (the availability of which we did not know then), or waited for a bus. None of them were convenient and so, we took a taxi to the aquarium paying more for waiting at the traffic lights than moving on the road and reached the place in twenty minutes.

The first and only aquarium that I had seen, which could stand up to the title, was the Taraporewala aquarium in Mumbai containing about hundred species of fish. Having only seen the aquariums in Lalbagh and Cubbon park Bangalore, which were not much better than shops selling glass tanks and ornamental fish, I was very much impressed by that. The Shedd aquarium contains about one thousand five hundred species which are very well categorized and displayed. It took about two hours for a hurried round of the display and by four we were seated for the dolphin show. I had seen the performing dolphins only on the TV and the live show was great. There are groups which say that it is cruel to keep these beautiful creatures which swim several hundred miles in their natural habitat, in a concrete tank swimming in circles. The same is said about keeping animals in a zoo. But I read equally strong arguments in support of maintaining and breeding animals in captivity. My knowledge is not enough to decide which is right. As far as my visit to the aquarium is concerned, I say that I loved the aquarium and the show.

We came out of the aquarium around five in the evening and the weather was very pleasant. It was an enjoyable walk along the shore between the garden and the lake. Hundreds of boats and yachts were on the lake and it seemed that the occupants were having a good time.

We had to use a covered road bridge with a walk way cum cycle path to reach the parking lot and it was a feat to walk on the side path without colliding with the hundreds of zooming cyclists who also used the path. We managed to come out in single piece, retrieved the car from the parking lot and proceeded to my niece Bindu’s house for the night.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Chicago IL

It is appropriate to say that I visited the Shedd aquarium and the Brookfield zoo rather than saying that I visited Chicago. Because, that is all the Chicago I saw other than my niece Bindu’s house where we stayed overnight.

We returned from the tour of Mackinaw city and surroundings on the evening of 5th of July, Monday. Our return journey to India was booked for the evening of 19th July Monday, exactly two weeks later. The last week end was meant for preparations. One week end remained and Bhanu had planned a visit to Chicago during that time, 10thand 11th July.

As we sat around to finalise the plans for the Chicago trip, my wife said that she was fed up of travelling with a kitchen in her luggage and she would rather stay at home. She said that she had seen enough of America and is feeling that she has been inside a car all her life.Full stop. Chicago is not very far from Detroit and Bhanu had been there many times. She decided to stay back with her sister. Children were fed up of our company day in and day out. They were happy to be in the company of their TV, net and play stations and they opted out of the trip. Bhanu suggested that me and Vishwa visit Chicago during the week end without encumbrances, allowing them, the sisters, to shop peacefully without encumbrances. The last part of the sentence was masked as in the case of “Ashwatthama hatah kunjarah” and was not actually heard. So, that was it.

I did not want to miss the chance of seeing another city and moreover I was very keen to visit the Zoo which was recommended by my brother and also the Aquarium. Vishwa had not seen the Brookefield zoo either and was equally enthusiastic about it. We planned to leave on Saturday morning and be back by Sunday evening. Chicago is about four hours by road, four hundred and fifty kilometers.

We planned to leave Detroit by eight on Saturday morning and we left at quarter past eight. We travelled for three hours nonstop and had covered more than three fourths of the distance when we stopped for gas. During our other trips we stopped every now and then as someone felt hungry, someone had to use the rest room or someone needed to stretch the limbs and this was the first time I experienced real freeway travel.
We entered Chicago around twelve noon and headed towards the navy pier, a beautiful drive by the side of the picturesque lake.

We reached the place in another twenty minutes, found a public parking lot nearby, parked and walked to the pier.