Chennai (Part II) - Chicago

I have reached Chennai, where I am now staying in the Radisson until tomorrow evening, when I will go to the airport for my midnight flight.
Saying goodbye was very sad. All the kids at the schools were so sweet, and I made some good friends. After Mass in the morning, father had me come up to the altar, where he said some goodbyes and gave me a sort of Indian blanket that they use in the cold season, and the children sang a song for me. Father asked if I had anything to say, so I said thank you to everyone and that they had all been so welcoming and hospitable, and that I really want to come back next year. The kids all wanted to shake my hand as they left the chapel, and some of them were a little teary.
I was able to get my packing mostly taken care of in the morning, so I got to spend my last hours at the school sitting in class with the children. I sat in on a drawing class, where the teacher draws something on the board and the kids copy it in there notebooks. One of the kids wanted me to draw it in is book, which I did as they watched intensely. I continued making my rounds to see all the children, and after lunch I sat in on a 7th standard Science class. It was about 1:30, so I went to bring down my bags and set all my last minute affairs in order. I had to leave at about 1:55, so I made one last run through the school to stop in at every room and say goodbye before running to the car to take me to the bus station.
The bus ride got off to an alright start. I got all my luggage stowed, and father had arranged for them to drop me off at the Radisson or as near as I could get, but I didn't know which one of those I was getting. I was able to sleep for about an hour before I woke up. By this point I really had to go to the bathroom, I was feeling a little queasy, and I had a slight headache, so I was sort of miserable. We made a stop at a sort of big restaurant that had a few vendors outside. I was able to use a bathroom there for 1 rupee, which seemed acceptable. I also bought some Milka-B biscuits, which are sort of like vanilla wafers crossed with short bread (they seem to be sort of a standard snack food--the children at the school were always giving them to me at study time), and in the bus I took some Tylenol. I turned on my iPod and we set off again. "Sunday on the West Side" by the Push Kings came on, and everything was good.
The bus got to Chennai around 8:00. One of the drivers came back and told me the next stop was the airport, so I asked about the Radisson, and he said it was near. I asked the man unloading my luggage where the Radisson was, and he said it was close. There were several autos pulling up and one of them seemed to know, so I went with him. On the way, he made me spell it and had to ask directions from someone else, but we got there okay.
On to the hotel. The Radisson is probably the nicest hotel I've ever stayed in. It's so nice I just feel giddy being here. The lobby is big with nice staircases and marble everything. They have a fitness center, a pool, room service that sounds really good (I will soon find out), a nice gift shop, a beauty salon offering a wide selection of treatments from hair cuts to henna to waxing, a business center, and all the regular laundry and dry cleaning services as well. The room was supposed to be $150, but I asked about the $110 room on the website (I couldn't actually remember if that's how much it was, and I originally thought it was $90 or something, but I knew it wasn't $150 and figured I'd better aim for something a little more reasonable). He said he'd give me a room for $120 plus taxes, which I accepted.
My room is ridiculously far from the elevator, at the very end of the long and winding hall. There are only two floors (of rooms; the lobby is the 0th floor), so I guess they want to spread out. So far everything in the hotel is excellent, though. I'm very excited to try out room service...
The room service was indeed very yummy last night. The hotel continues to be very nice, although there have been a few power outages (nothing more than a minute or so, though). I have the day to just hang out until checkout at 9. From there, it's this mess:

Thursday, June 30th
India Germany USA
12:01am Departure from Chennai 12:15pm Arrival in Frankfurt 4:05pm Arrival in Chicago
Arrival in Mumbai (Bombay) 2:15pm Departure from Frankfurt 6:00pm Departure from Chicago
Departure from Mumbai (Bombay) 7:35pm Arrival at MSP (yay!)
6:05am Arrival in Delhi
7:20am Departure from Delhi

Okay, so yes, I missed my flight. Yes, I spent three hours running the grueling economic gauntlet of checkout time in hopes that in the end I would emerge successful and leave the Radisson in time to make my flight. So much for that.
The adventure began a little before 9 last night. I had come down to the lobby to check out, eager to get to the hotel. One problem: My Visa card was declined. Of course they don't take Discover in this country, so my hope was that I could get my dad to give his credit card information over the phone and I would be merrily on my way. They tell me that this is not possible, and that they need a fax with his signature. At this point I'm only slightly worried, but there really wasn't time for that. I ask them if they can put me through to the US and add the charges to my room bill, which they do, so I call home expecting to awake my father and beg him to go down to his office to send a fax. I got my mom, and it turned out that it was about 10:30 in the morning (I wasn't thinking very clearly), so, having wasted call #1, I ask the front desk to give me call #2 to my dad at his office. I asked the man if I should get my dad's fax number so they can send him the bill. He says yes, so I call my dad and get his fax number. I hang up, go to the man at the front desk, who tells me that he needs my dad to send HIM a fax of both sides of his credit card and his signature authorizing it. Okay, I say, and I ask for call #3 to the US. I call my father again, asking that he do as the man requested, and getting the hotel's fax number from the man at the front desk, I give it to my father, who sets to work sending the fax. I go sit in the lobby to wait. After giving my growing feelings of uneasiness time to get into full swing, the man from the front desk finally approaches me. The joke's on me, though: He's only coming to say that he hasn't received anything from my dad yet. By now I'm officially worried, but no sweat, I still have over two hours until my flight is supposed to leave. The man asks what number I had my dad call, so I give him the piece of paper on which he had written it for me. He looks a little embarrassed, and then says that he gave me the hotel's phone number, not the fax number, and runs off to rectify the situation. By now, agitation is adding to my apprehension, but I set in to wait for a little longer.
After about 15 more minutes of waiting, I ask to call my dad again. He tells me that he has been trying to send the fax, but it won't go through for unknown reasons. Now I'm scared. By this point it's after 10, and I have less than 2 hours to get to the airport, check in, and make it to the gate in time. I had learned earlier that there was a gas station next door that had an ATM, so not knowing if I had somehow drained my account further than I had realized or if my card was just being suspended because it was being used in India, I run off to the ATM hoping for a miracle. Was I successful? Well, I'm still in Chennai, aren't I?
Going to the ATM proved extremely frustrating, as not only was I not allowed to withdraw the money I wanted, I wasn't even allowed to check my balance. Thoroughly frightened at this point, I run back to the hotel hoping to call my bank and resolve my problem, which I probably should have done in the beginning. My card doesn't have the bank's number on it anywhere, though, so I switch on my computer, running on batteries, hoping that the wireless internet in the lobby would be kind to me. I don't know if you've ever started up a computer while in a huge hurry, but I'm sure it takes it about 5 times as long. After finally getting the window open and getting to my bank's website, I'm curious about my balance, so I try to log in 3 TIMES, but each time it says "Action failed, session not active. Try logging in." Perhaps the session would become active if I were able to log in, I'm thinking. This made me angry, and I began searching the website for the number to call the bank. "Contact Us"? Nope, that's only e-mail. If all you want is the bank's address, they're happy to give it to you. I finally found the number (It probably wasn't as difficult as it seemed, but I was frazzled to say the least) and asked them to put me through, making call #5 to the US to talk to my bank. I get through to someone trying to help me, who tells me that I have a $200/day limit on my account, as well as having not enough in my account to cover the newly incurred charges from all these long-distance phone calls, so no dice trying to pay my hotel bill. I ask if I can have my limit increased, and she says she would have to ask her manager's approval. I say fine, but problems seem to have taken a liking to me this evening. Our conversation went something like this:
Bank Lady: You only have $295 in your account, and you also have a $200/day limit on checking.
Alex: Any way you can take care of that?
Bank Lady: Sure! I'll have to ask my manager, though.
Alex: Okay...
Bank Lady: ...
Alex: ???
Bank Lady: By the way, don't expect it to be done before tomorrow, at the earliest, which won't be until tomorrow evening for you, as you're in a different time zone.
Alex: Huh.
Bank Lady: Yup.
Alex: Any way I can take the money from my savings account?
Bank Lady: Well, no, because it is not linked to your bank card.
Alex: Uh-huh.
Bank Lady: But we can change that!
Alex: Today?
Bank Lady: Quite possibly!
Alex: Wow! So then I can pay my hotel bill and be on my way! You're my hero, Bank Lady!
Bank Lady: No, I don't think you can do that.
Alex: Why not?
Bank Lady: Because you have a $200/day limit on your account.
Alex: So... could you change that for me?
Bank Lady: Yup!
Alex: Huzzah!
Bank Lady: Tomorrow! (Evening for you)
Alex: Well, that may give me some difficulties.
Bank Lady: Should I do it anyway?
Alex: No, because by tomorrow my bill will be even bigger, and I'm really hoping that by then I won't still be working on fixing this.
Bank Lady: Should I do it anyway?
Alex: Um... I'll get back to you if I need it.
Bank Lady: Should I do it anyway?
Alex: NOOOO.
Bank Lady: Okay, thank you!
I don't think it needs to be mentioned that the situation did not magically resolve itself. I slowly watched the clock as it gleefully ticked away minutes until midnight, when my flight was leaving. The hotel staff were very helpful and called the airline to see what they could do for me. I also called Fr. Antony to let him know about the situation. He contacted some sisters in Chennai who were friends of his and told me to call them in the morning. By now my main dillema was that I had to arrange for a new flight, and I was pretty sure $200 wasn't going to get me from India to the US. The hotel put me up in my old room for the night, and I settled in for a partial night of worry-filled sleep.
I had a wake up call arranged for me at 7:30 so I could call Mother Prudentia at the convent whose number father had given me. The hotel had contacted Air India, who said that I should go to their city office and pay a $125 fine, after which I was hoping I would be put on the next plane home. I was still worried about the possibility of having to buy a new plane ticket. Today, however, luck was on my side: The Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph came to my rescue.
Mother Prudentia and one of her sisters met me at the hotel around 8:30. After I explained my situation (and by this time my dad had managed to fax his card info, so I was good with the hotel), they said I should check out and they would take me to their convent. I checked out before inflating my room bill any further and went with the sisters, who took me to their convent, fed me, gave me a room to wash up in, and then took me to the Air India office to resolve my ticket situation. After waiting in line for a bit, we were called up to the counter, where a man told us that the flights were all very full, so he didn't know when he would be able to get me a spot both on a flight from Chennai to Mumbai followed by a flight from Mumbai to Chicago. During this ordeal, however, a flight opened up, and he had a spot for me. The only problem was that Air India only flies as far as Chicago, and I would have to deal with American airlines from there. I also had about 10 hours through the middle of the night in Mumbai, but that was fine with me. I was taken back to the convent, fed again, and then taken to the airport, where I now wait for my flight to take me to Mumbai. Have I figured out what I'm going to do once I get to Chicago? No.
07.02.2005 I'm back in the United States, finally. I was actually back yesterday, when Air India got me into Chicago. I had been able to communicate with my parents from Mumbai, so they arranged a flight from Chicago back to MSP, but it doesn't leave until 7:00 this morning, so I am waiting for it to start boarding.
My first flight from India left Chennai at about 5:30 on the 30th and took me to Mumbai, where I had a 10 hour layover that turned into a 12 hour layover until my next flight left for London at 8 the following morning. I felt much more comfortable with the airport this time, and my only fear with falling asleep was that I wasn't sure if I would wake up in time for my flight, and I did NOT want to miss this one.
My next flight had a connection in London, where those of us continuing to Chicago didn't get off the plane. I was able to get some sleep while we waited, and I later heard them apologize for the delay, but by this time I had no concept of what time it was or how long we had been there. I only wanted to fall asleep and have the flight to be over, which happened soon enough and after I had managed to get a cumulative maybe two hours of sleep (I have no idea what the precise number was).
Arriving in Chicago I got to go through customs for the first time (I don't think what we went through in India officially counts as "customs," more like "No, you want to write that there... yeah, that's okay... that doesn't really matter... thanks, enjoy India!"). It all went fine, though, and I didn't have any troubles. From there I went to the Nothwest Airlines counter to see when I could check in for my flight (if possible I wanted to get rid of my bags I was checking, go through security, and find somewhere where I could park and crash for about 8 hours), but they said I wouldn't be able to check in until 4:30 the following morning. It was about 7:30 in the evening, and I had no desire to hang out in the common area of the airport with my ridiculous amount of bags, so I called my family to let them know I had arrived safely and everything. My mom advised I go to a hotel, which was easy enough since O'Hare has a pretty nice setup for that.  There's a big board right next to the pay phones with all the hotels in the area on it that also had phones to call them for free, and they all had free shuttles leaving from the airport. I settled in on Super 8, since it seemed like it would be cheapest (although at this point I did not have the foresight to book a room in advance, which I realized was rather foolish upon arrival, since it left me at the mercy of their availability, which I could tell was low from the customers and phone calls the woman at the front desk was taking). The room was fine, though, and I arranged for a 4:30 wake up call and 5:00 shuttle to go to the airport. I was a little late, but I was able to check in and get rid of my bags (yay!) which leaves me free to sit around and get some coffee while waiting for boarding time (although I think there's only Starbucks here... Oh well). It's been a long journey, but now I will finally be back in Minnesota soon and I will get to see most of you soon. Talk to you all later!