Thursday, October 1, 2009

To Appleton - with love

My flight to Appleton was cancelled due to fog and heavy winds in Chicago. After spending a few anxious hours in Chicago airport watching a couple more flights going "CANC", eventually, I got a seat in the last flight of the day to Appleton. When the flight reached Appleton it was very late and damn cold. I was supposed to call Roopesh to pick me up, but his mobile number was not an Appleton number and hence could not call him using the courtesy telephone (only local calls allowed). I did not have a single cent in change. I did not know where my lodging had been arranged. While I was wondering how to reach Roopesh, an Indian lad walked towards me and asked if I was from Chennai. I asked him if he worked for Cognizant too. We both were glad to have the company of an Indian at that point.

"I am Saravanan. I just got transferred from Knoxville"

"I am Bhupesh. I am...uh...first time to US"

"Where will you stay?"

"I dont know. My accommodation is arranged, but Roopesh knows the details"



"and you are..?"


"I plan to rent a room at Candlewood Suites and also a car. Would you like to join?"

If you have ever been in such a situation, you will understand, how happy I felt to hear that. Saravana rented a car and found our way to Candlewood Suites. "This is the first time I am driving in US"...he said. Having not eaten for more than eight hours, I was absolutely exhausted to say anything at all....I didn't even mind that he was driving on the left - until he realised it himself!! Saravana took me to Wal-Mart. Only after encashing my Travellers Cheques, I got a little easy.

In those first few hours at Appleton, obviously, I could not form any opinion about the town. I slept the rest of the night.

When I woke up on the morning of April 4th, 2007, the roofs of the nearby buildings were all white. 'Some regulation' I thought...until realizing that the whiteness was due to snow. We were in office at 8am. I was introduced to my supervisors and team-mates. ("I am Sarada Kanth. Call me Sarada Kanth!!"). The office looked the same everywhere. Everytime I got out of my desk, it was tough to find the way back to my desk. So, I stuck to my desk mostly.

Due to the uncertainity in Siva's tenure at onshore, I, Jai and Saravana rented Apt #6, McCarthy Creek, 1485 North McCarthy Road, Appleton which was to be our abode for the next 2.5 years and also served as our cricket pitch for about 1 year (even after Jai broke the ceiling lamp while enjoying the follow through of his cover-drive).

Siva stayed with Aravind, Sathya and Ranjeeth. The first few evenings were spent in their apartment - three reasons - 1. They were the only guys we knew 2. They had internet connection 3. Aravind made sure the fridge was filled with snacks, Indian and Western. In office, most of my time was spent in trying to stay awake and occassionally attending some knowledge transition sessions when Esai and Saradakanth did not have time for it. In those days (and probably in the entire history of Appleton), we were the only clowns who walked through Wisconsin and College avenues. Jai started his first accounting task when he calculated the money we spent for taxi and discovered that it would be beneficial to rent a car. We rented a Corolla. From then on he was the finance minister for our apartment and most trips.

Within the first 10 days, I witnessed snow for the first time in life. Well...actually, I witnessed burgers, exits, huge parking spaces, etc for the first time.

It took a while to settle down with an SSN, bank account, internet, microwave oven and a casket for the cooker. We used to go to Ifti's apartment every weekend, watch some movie, take dinner prepared by Mani, Ifti and Ananth. Our other favorite hang out place was fox river mall (others enjoyed, while I usually was very anxious about the production support call, I "might" get).

Soon Ifti got married. Siva went back to India (only to return in 4 months and join us at #6, 1485). Mani shifted to our apartment temporarily. We learnt to cook, shop, plan trips and order pizza by watching Mani. We went to the tennis court regularly (but the only court that Mani showed interest in was "court"ing Geetha over phone).

Regular production support calls, Oshkosh in 20 minutes drive, Milwaukee in 2 hrs drive, Chicago in 3 hrs drive, Dells City in 1.5 hrs drive and with Mani around, weekends were always eventful. As Mani used to put it, we were involved in some "activity" always.

Once Siva and Jai got cars, there were very few places in and around Appleton that we did not explore. Movie halls, restaurants, dance floors, bowling alleys, shopping malls - just to generalize a few. As months rolled, we had more Cognizant folks coming to Appleton and our group got bigger, each one bringing a different dimension to the group.

A big group meant, lot of OC food, poker nights, constant leg-pulling, arguments and discussions (courtesy - Srikk, Seshu and Ilavenil). When the weather allowed, we planned for trips outside Appleton. Overall - great fun.

I was a mini-Gajini in that, I planned to return to India a dozen times, before the management was finally convinced that I could go back, after the OTC project went live. The date was fixed as September 13th, 2009. On the morning of the 13th, Prashanth rang the door bell, sticking to his military precision at 4.45am. I was anxious about being in time for the flight and the luggage weight....and did not think much about leaving the place that I dwelled in for 2.5 years. When I finally crossed the security check and sat at the gate1 waiting area, I felt a chill in the heart...because I was leaving the place where I had a warm stay, in spite of the cold weather. The feeling of seperation was second only to the one I had while leaving the college campus after the 4 years. That was 5.5 years back. Back then, I thought my best friends were the ones I acquired in college....but I enjoyed equally great and greater friendship at Appleton. I boarded the flight with the hopes of travelling again in the fox valley cabs.

The trips:

My first big trip was the one to Chicago on 27th May, 2007, when I witnessed sky-scrappers for the first time. Can never forget our entry into the city with 'Desert Roses' playing the stereo and the rain drenched walk, through the streets of Chicago Downtown.

Niagara was on the top of my list 'to visist' in US. I was lucky to visit twice...the first time with Bhaskar, Aravind, Ranjeeth, Santosh and Murali and the second time with Siva, Srikk, Kamesh and Jai.

Dells City - the home of theme parks. It is always fun to stay drenched in water, may be something we carry from our childhood. We went two times and both times to Noah's Ark. The visit to the mystery castle was fun. Thanks to Krithika for all the pestering and gathering the crowd.

New York - Our most tightly packed trip. We covered, Times Square, Wall Street, Brooklyn Bridge, Wax museum in a single night - mostly by walk and then stood in the queue for almost 2 hours to visit Statue of Liberty the following day.

Nordic Hills - The snow tubing trip at the end of winter, that expanded my friend's circle.

Minneapolis - Hevay snow fall, Christmas eve, Chevy Impala, an excited Siva and the 100mph drive with poor visibility. Add, 'I am Legend'.

Las Vegas - Again a spot that I visted twice - Fremont experience and Stratospehere 'Big Shot' being the best moments.

Grand Canyon - Didnt live upto the expectation, especially because of the exhausting, low altitude flight journey.

Yellowstone - Top of them all. 2 days with natures inc.

SFO - the last and final tour in US. I got to set foot on the beaches of pacific.
Cant forget the 'presidio' that we almost visted :) (the road diverted near the entrance to the presidio and led us out of SFO). We made it to the flight in the last moment.


A few spots in Appleton, that I wanted to write specifically about:

China Moon - Most of the time we used to start late for dinner on Fridays/Saturdays. China Moon was the only restaurat that was open after 10pm and served likeable vegetarian food. Most times, the restaurant owners were the only people who gave us company there. More than me, Siva will remember me ordering 'Lemon Chicken'. The waitress came with a huge lemon in a bowl and chicken in a plate.

Burger King, Taco Bell (College Avenue) and Chipotle - When Sriram or Srikkanth did not invite us for dinner, and we were lazy to cook (read - "most of the time"), these two places were our fast food choices.

Confucius - Siva's permanent choice because of the Russian waitress there.

Sairam and Indian Darbar - On occassions when Seshu was persistant about Indian other choice.

Roopesh' apartment - Roopesh and Sushmitha always invited us for Indian festivals for lunch or dinner. Though I am not a religious person, I did not want to miss the "kozhukkattai", "sundal" or "pongal".

Wal-mart Supercenter (MutualWay)- This was the first store I went to in Appleton and the last but one.

Great Clipps - There were places that did hair-cut cheaper, but preferred my hair to be handled by the same set of people.

Noodles and Company - My personal favorite. One of my goals was to try everything in their menu at least once. When I left Appleton, I still had not tried two of their items.

Olive Gardens - Universal favorite for our group - especially the minestrone soup.


Claimer: There were more friends in Appleton than the names I have mentioned in this post. I hereby claim that each one of them is important and I cherish them all equally :)