So there was I, flying to the West Coast last year, my first visit that side of this vast landmass we call America. ‘We’ meaning, Americans who travel very little, and the likes of me, not-American, living in the US for some time. A six-year long East Coaster, I was aware of the difference in the weather, culture and sundry other things made accessible knowledge by news, the Internet and the like. I was headed to San Jose to visit my sister-in-law. Mo and I were in the three-seater row with a middle-aged lady by the window side. Now middle age is a tricky word in the American context. She was easily in her fifties but she may not have liked me calling her middle aged if such issues were raised.
It was I think a five-hour long flight with a connection to catch at Minneapolis, Minnesota. I settled down in my seat, the middle seat, feeling good about my California vacation.
The lady on my left smiled. Amiable. She muttered a little when the aircraft took off. Perhaps she was nervous. Then she said to me: “Always this part is the hardest.”
“Yeah.” I nodded.
“How else would I travel back home? It’s too far to drive from North Carolina.”
Yes it is a long drive. In a car-loving, long-driving country, NC to MO would be too much indeed. Although people do things like that. A friend of ours recently had driven from New Mexico to Illinois. Take that!
“I was at my daughter’s,” my co-passenger said.
“Must have been nice.” Polite conversation should never be avoided.
“Yes, so different from Minneapolis. Warm, green!”
“Is it not so in Minneapolis right now?”
“Um, it’s a bit soggy, you know,” she said uncertainly. “So where are you going?”
“San Jose,” I said brightly. “My first West Coast visit.”
“Must be tough to stay away,” she said, a little ambiguous. “From New York City?”
“No, no. We are from Ithaca, not too far from New York actually.”
She nodded although it didn’t appear that she knew about Ithaca.
“Working or studying?”
“Both. We live in the Cornell University campus.” I went on to explain about our Ivy League shelter without lacing my talk with any arrogance.
“That’s a good college, I’ve heard about it.”
“Your English is very good.”
I knew it wasn’t bad. But to be reminded was nice. Thank you.
“Do you feel at home?” It was so kind of her to ask that.
“We try to be cheerful. You know, miss the food at times, or festivals.”
“But to go back to Mexico must be exciting! Maybe I should take a trip there.”
No, what? She said Mexico. I heard her right. She thought I was Mexican.
“Er, I’m going to San Jose. That’s California.”
She shook her head. Gave a benevolent smile. I doubt if she realized I was trying to correct her.
“You must visit Minneapolis some day.” The plane was landing and she pointed out the sprawling flat city skewing on the horizon. “It has a twin city. And there are nice spots to vacation close to these cities. Lakes, camping grounds.”
I certainly will note that down. I love lakes although I haven’t camped much.
We ran along the terminal. She said her sister would be there to pick her up. My connecting flight to San Jose was waiting to leave soon.
“Bye then, enjoy your stay in Mexico!”
“Thank you. Bye! Enjoy back in Minneapolis. By the way – ” I wanted to tell her again I was headed to California and that I was Indian. Oh well.