Tuesday, 26 June 2007

A trip to Toronto

It was a brief trip to Toronto from New York.

My husband and I wanted to visit our daughter-in-law Jaisri's parents who live in Mississauga, near Toronto. That she was there with my son Sankar and three year old granddaughter Arundati was an added incentive.

Just for two days, and it is only an hour and a half by air from New York, where we are now with Sriram, our second son. The thought of seeing Aru again after almost three weeks was exhilarating, and we looked forward to hearing the gems which she constantly lets fall. We had said bye to her in Seattle, from where they have since wound up and were in Toronto en route to London, their new home from next week

Only an hour and a half, and it is not going to be all that bad, I thought - even if there is the security and immigration to be got through, since Toronto lies over the border in Canada.

We left home with Sriram at about 7.30 am and took the train from Hoboken, which lies across the river Hudson from New York, to 33rd Street in New York. A 10 minute ride. Technically Hoboken is in the neighbouring state of New Jersey, but geographically, it is as close to New York as you can get.
From 33rd Street Sriram put us in a cab, and we went to LaGuardia airport. A nice long ride, which took us across the busy city. By 8.30 we were at the airport, and after a quick check in (we only had overnight bags), we went to the gate where our flight was to take off.

Even security checking was smooth. I, wearing a sari and the mandatory jewels of a Madras Mami - earrings, mangalasutra, bangles and other jewellery, always bleep alarmingly when I pass through the security gate. And now I am used to various security female personnel patting me down and frisking me - always very polite and indifferent of course. Some suggest that I remove my bangles, but I have found that it doesn’t help; I still bleep.

The lady this particular day looked rather like an Indian to me with her colouring. She was very pleasant and after asking me where I am from, went on to tell me (all the while checking me for hidden bombs and incendiary materials) that she loved our culture, loved the lac bangles of India ("Where do they make them?"). She told me she is from Ecuador, and that many mistook her for an Indian, because of her colouring - black hair and dark skin.
She also told me she wanted to visit India and waved me in.

Once at the gate, we settled to board the plane, which was due to leave at 10.30 am. And according to our boarding passes, we would be in Toronto by 12.15 pm. At 10 am, an attendant came along and told us that we would be boarding at a different gate, and would we go there. This meant another security check. I groaned.

And sure enough, this time too this Mylapore Mami bleeped, and waited for a female personnel to check my person. The woman who came to check me was the opposite of the previous one - she was rude, rough, wore no gloves, did not pat me with the back of her hands as they usually do when they come to our chests, and did not give me the mandatory alert, "I shall now pat you with the back of my hands". Trust me, every other security officer has said that. And after that she opened my overnighter and messsed up the couple of sarees and blouses that were in there. Utterly unpleasant and uncouth - and she was of Indian origin.

She also pounced on my husband's hand baggage, and threw out his hair cream and moisturizer, without giving him a chance to find out why, thought the contents were less than the allowed 3 oz.
Travellers may make mistakes because the rules are not clearly mentioned anywhere regarding what we are allowed to take on board in our hand baggage. Usually all personnel are perfectly patient and helpful. This crude behaviour on the lady's part was a totally new experience to us in this country. (On the other hand, on our return flight I noticed that there were very clear instructions on what we could take on board as hand baggage.)

Anyway we settled down to board, and to our dismay found that the flight was delayed - from 10.30 to 11, then 11.40 and finally 12. We were called to board at 12 noon, when actually we should have been preparing to land at Toronto!

We assembled at the boarding spot and found that we were in front of a door marked exit. We looked at one another questioningly, and followed the queue, out on to a sloped passage, which led - not to the airbridge as we imagined it would, but right out into the open!
There we were shepherded into a bus, which after along 10 minutes took off. And on we went on an un-guided tour of LaGuardia airport, on and on, right up to the hangars. Just as I was beginning to think that we would probably go right up to Toronto, the bus stopped.

We got out and were guided to a small plane - I think it would have seated about 45 people.
As we were about to climb the steps to board the plane, an attendant appeared and took away all hand baggage, which was bigger than a laptop or a woman's handbag. Ours, with the food packet meant for snacking on the plane almost disappeared too. But we managed to pull it out just in time. Flights here don’t provide you with snacks or eats gratis, and we find it wiser to carry our own little back up.
Sankar had asked for aisle seats for both of us, so that we could have easy access going in, even though I prefer window seats. Imagine my delight when I found that I had a seat that was both.

The actual flight took only an hour, with a very pleasant captain announcing the airline's apologies for the delay.
The season of delays continued after immigration and customs (no checks at all!) at Toronto airport, when we had to wait for a while to be met - Sankar had missed the exit to the airport and lost his way!

By the time we reached home and sat down to a heavenly lunch cooked by Jaisri's mother, it was 4 pm!

Almost 9 hours after we had left home.