New York, Washington DC, San Francisco and Seattle. A visit to 4 cities during the winter break has made me realize how easy it is to travel in a new place. All you need is an iPhone (actually any smartphone with GPS would do) and an ATM card. A car and a friend who can drive helps too.
Coming from India, it's exciting, to a degree of mind boggling; the way technology is used in everyday life in the US. From petrol pumps to car washes, from self checkout counters at retail stores to vending machines and from the ubiquity of the 3G network to the proliferation of smart phones - things which I considered luxuries even a few months ago have become necessities now.
New York, with its avenues and streets forming a perfect grid, is tailor made for a GPS system. All you need is a sense of direction and you should be good. And even if you're directionally challenged, the iPhone makes sure you get it right. So commuting between Union Square (where my friend was staying) to Times Square was as easy for me as a resident New Yorker. I could choose to walk if it wasn't too cold and I had time to kill (like the time when I had a 3 hour window and decided to walk around downtown NY and ended up visiting MoMA). Or if I had to take the metro, my iPhone would give me to the minute, the arrival and departure timings along with any transfers I needed to make. All I had to ensure was that I got that information before entering the subway since there was no network coverage here. My friends from Singapore, Seoul and Hong Kong were more critical though. Since they were used to better systems while working there. I wasn't complaining.
And this became a pattern which extended beyond just taking public transports. In DC, Seattle and San Francisco, where we drove quite a bit, people took turns being the navigator. Constantly trading off between the battery sucking yet faster and highly intuitive iPhone app and the talking but at times slower GPS having the non QWERTY keyboard. So in the Bay Area, where we had to travel a lot between downtown San Francisco and Palo Alto, Fremont, Sunnyvale and Mountain View; it was a combination of the Bay Area Rapid Transport and our always willing driver and trip leader who saved the day. The 30 mile-ish rides were fun though. San Francisco had a great Rock n Roll station which played classic rock. Our topic of conversation during the rides could be anything ranging from the geography of the area (which was so very different from C'ville) to the infrastructure in the US to the high number of Porches and Corvettes that we saw there to crazy drivers changing lanes to the high number of Indians and thus Indian restaurants. My friend in Stanford told me that the Indian community in Mountain View and Sunnyvale wanted the cities to be renamed Pahadganj and Surajpur respectively! It could totally be a rumor. But it was the most ridiculously hilarious thing I've heard in some time.
Finally Seattle. And this time we had these 2 'big ass' vans to carry the group around. Which made finding parking a little difficult since the clearance needed was 7'. Anyway, GPS to the rescue again and besides finding parking, we didn't have any issues navigating in a totally new city.
Reviews of bars and restaurants, public transit, checking mails on the go to transferring money from one account to another - having all of this at my fingertips and realizing how much it has enabled us to not plan ahead was a revelation of sorts. Maybe it has made me less 'smart' so as to say. Maybe, it means that having fewer things to remember, I am after all becoming too dependent on technology. But nevertheless, for now, for me, it's akin to a discovery. A new way of going about life. And I'm beginning to understand why after staying here for a long period of time people find it tough to go back. I'm not picking one over another. But appreciating how having different priorities can lead one to choose a particular lifestyle. One country over another.
Now if only my iPhone would be more efficient in receiving calls instead of deciding not to ring at all or directly go to the voice mail on several occasions. AT&T has no clue. Time to get to the Apple guys I guess.