I have landed!

As of this moment of writing, it’s been (within two minutes) 38.5 hours without sleep for me—probably a lifetime record. I wasn’t able to doze off in steerage on Air India: the seats were too narrow and uncomfortable, and I was on the aisle. So I watched movies, including rewatching “Selma” and “All About Eve” (Bette Davis was a great actress, but sometimes tended to overact, and this iconic movie is one example), and watching “Pretty Woman” for the first time (I had to—it’s another iconic movie and the one that made Julia Roberts; it was pretty schmalzy but I liked it anyway). I also watched “Dunkirk” (it was highly touted but I wasn’t too impressed, though the historical tale itself is fascinating). Finally, I watched about half of “Birdman”, also a highly rated movie, but the plane landed before I could finish it.

The plane food was acceptable but not particularly Indian, even in the veg alternatives. And, when I got the middle-of-flight munchies, and repaired to the galley to see what had been laid out for the hungry (they always have food and drink on tap on these long flights), there it was again: THE DREADED COLE SLAW SANDWICH! But I ate one as that’s all they had, and washed it down with two glasses of orange juice. I hope to never encounter another such sandwich.

The flight was 15 hours long, but left an hour late and then we sat on the runway for an hour at O’Hare waiting for an available parking bay, all the while feeling the cold air seep into the plane. It’s truly frozen here and, unwilling to bring heavy garments to India, I made do with a light sweater and a very light down jacket that folds into its own pocket. I therefore froze on the way home, toting a heavy load without gloves. I am old but still fit!

Passage through Indian customs to fly to America was time-consuming, for one must wait in five separate long lines to make a successful exit:

  1. Entering the airport. You have to show your passport and e-ticket just to get in. Security is very tight at Indian airports, in some ways tighter than in the U.S.
  2. Checking in: Indians tend to travel with HUGE amounts of baggage, which slows the already long check-in lines considerably.
  3. Immigration: a long line to have your passport stamped with the exit stamp/
  4. Security: a separate long line to X-ray your bags and run a metal detector over your body (on the other hand, no Indian customs person grabbed my tuchas). Women get taken into a curtained booth where they can be inspected in private. Is that discrimination?
  5. Repeat #4 at the gate when you’re boarding a plane to the U.S. You have to go through an exact duplicate of security checks at the U.S. gate itself.

So, though I budgeted three hours from the time I got to the airport till the plane left, had departure not been delayed an hour I wouldn’t have had much time to relax at the airport. (I have a weird penchant for spending time in airports, and in Delhi and most Indian airports you can get the national papers for free and often some good food. I had a big dosa and South Indian coffee.)

That said, all the security and immigration folk at Delhi were pleasant; it was only when I got to the US that I encountered rudeness at customs.  Waiting to have my passport checked, the line was short, and when one person finished, the next person, waiting at the yellow line in front of the desk, automatically walked up to the customs agent. I did it, too, but it was at that moment that the customs guy decided to pour himself a cup of coffee from his thermos. As I approached the counter, he dismissed me with a rude and perfunctory wave. I asked what he meant and he said (with a menacing tone), “You have to go back and stand at the line until I call you.” Fair enough, but in the five seconds that it took me to walk back to the damn line he already poured his coffee and summoned me back instantly. The jerk was just showing off his power. He could have poured his coffee while I waited at the desk.

I swear, I think that a lot of TSA and customs agents get those jobs because they’re a big power trip: they can make people grovel and do their bidding, and get away with being rude about it. Who would ever call out a customs or TSA agent for being rude? That’s courting incarceration, or at least a missed flight!

I’m exhausted to the bone. I’m glad to be home but hope that I can return to India soon. Maybe some of the academic friends I made, who said they’d invite me back, will actually do so (that’s a hint!).


  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I liked Birdman. It has an interesting end that you should see.

  2. rickflick
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Welcome home. I hope you brought some Southern Indian weather back with you.

    • Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

      We could use some of that over here. But not the global-warming-enhanced version though.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    They should want you back enough to make it an upgrade. For those who are not familiar with international flights this is a really big thing. Doing 15 plus hours in coach is just awful. When you add all the security and customs to this it is worse than bad. Good luck with the jet lag.

    • Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:46 am | Permalink

      I know–when I went to India last year to give two talks at Bhubaneswar they bought me a round trip business class ticket. That made a HUGE difference as I was able to sleep a full eight hours in a fully reclining bed/chair on the way over. But India is not a rich country, and I’m loath to ask them to spend big bucks on a plane ticket for me.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:50 am | Permalink

      Yep I did 18 hours in coach.

      • Claudia Baker
        Posted January 5, 2018 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

        Me too, a couple of times. Not fun.

    • Jake Sevins
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 1:29 am | Permalink

      I used to be a “mileage runner”… flying around just to wherever had a cheap ticket, just to accrue miles. My worst trial was Denver to Singapore, 6 hours in the Singapore airport, then back to Denver. About 40 hours, all in coach.

  4. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Dunkirk really needs to be seen on a big screen to be appreciated properly.

    • revelator60
      Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

      Agreed–I saw Dunkirk at an IMAX theater and would dread rewatching it on a small screen.

    • Randall Schenck
      Posted January 5, 2018 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

      I would agree, it was very much a visual movie.

      • pck
        Posted January 6, 2018 at 8:11 am | Permalink

        The most important part of Dunkirk appeared to me the sound – it is extremely loud and frightening. It’s less of a movie and more of a rollercoaster ride, watching it on a tiny airplane TV is a waste of time.

    • Posted January 5, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      With a good sound system too.

    • Mark R.
      Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

      Loved most aspects of the movie. Like Jerry said, the historical perspective (which I already knew to some extent) was important to put on record. That Spitfire flying for hours after it was out of fuel seemed contrived and Steven Spielbergish. I’d hope Nolan wouldn’t succumb to such flagrant “hero tropes”. sigh. I’d watch it again though.

      • Gregory Kusnick
        Posted January 6, 2018 at 12:56 am | Permalink

        The Spitfire bothered me too, but in retrospect I think it may have been another instance of overlapping timelines and seeing the same few minutes from several different perspectives. I’ll have to watch it again to see if that theory holds up.

  5. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    I like cole slaw and I like sandwiches, but the combination of the two is not particularly appealing.

    • yazikus
      Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:57 am | Permalink

      I enjoy sauerkraut on rye…

    • David Johnson
      Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

      I love a coleslaw sandwich as long as it’s mostly barbecued pork.

    • Posted January 5, 2018 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

      I like cucumber and watercress sandwiches – some fresh cukes and some homemade pickled – but the coleslaw mashup remains a highly unappealing thought!

  6. Simon Hayward
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Welcome back. If it makes you feel any better, it is a bit warmer today – I think it was only -17C when I left the house. Was colder a couple of days ago. Been below freezing here pretty much since you left.

    I know you aren’t big on movies, but I saw Darkest Hour last weekend and thought it was very well done, it, of course, covers the period around the Dunkirk evacuation. Saw Dunkirk too when it was on release but was not overwhelmed.

    • Posted January 5, 2018 at 6:14 pm | Permalink

      Hi Simon. Yep, COLD here. Oy! But where did you get the idea that I am “not big on movies”? I LOVE movies!

      • Simon Hayward
        Posted January 6, 2018 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        I seem to remember you saying that you don’t go to the movies (in theaters) very often, versus watching movies in other formats. Darkest Hour is still in theaters, so not available to stream or on DVD.

        That clearly isn’t how my comment reads, and I don’t have a jetlag excuse!

  7. Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    I remember well the long lines and multiple stampings of documents when departing India. In particular, I worked my way to the front of one long line only to find a chest-level sign on the podium (i.e., hidden by other line standers until you got there) indicating that I was in the wrong line. I had to move to a different line and do it all over, this time inspecting the podium before choosing the line.

  8. Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Welcome home.

  9. Larry Smith
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    Welcome home! When you mentioned “All About Eve,” I thought of that great line (paraphrased perhaps): “Hang on – it’s going to be a bumpy night!” Seemed apropos to your flight home, which though extremely long did not sound overly bumpy.

  10. Blue
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    O’Hare security ? Back from Japan’s Narita
    and 13+ hours in upright steerage also
    without a wink o’slumber last June, the
    O’Hare agent, as I reached for my neck wallet
    (my passport, all of my cash, my credit card
    … … things I so ‘d kept my eyeballs’ gaze
    upon as it was initially taken from me and
    thoroughly gone through … …) actually
    slapped the back of my right hand. Then, too
    with that ? There was a strict and screaming
    remonstration, so shrill and booming that all
    around could hear, “Don’t touch that !”

    I was shocked. NO one touchy – touchy
    touches Blue without my permission … …
    and lives to be by her .ever. liked again.


  11. Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Birdman was good but Dunkirk only so-so. I found it surprising narrow in focus. I am no expert on the historical event but I always imagined the main story was the country coming en masse to rescue its soldiers. I expected to see lots of sweeping shots of thousands of small craft crossing the Channel. Instead, most of the shots were very narrow. I suppose it was done this way for the sake of telling personal stories but it might also have been due to a limited special effects budget. All in all, underwhelming.

    • Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      There were broad, sweeping shots along the beaches and over the sea. But the focus was a series intimate stories of particular individuals. At first I was at first confused because it would then go to a different story, but then I appreciated how it made different timelines converge, so it began to fall together. I liked it for that as it was different to me.

      • Frank Bath
        Posted January 5, 2018 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

        The best reconstruction of Dunkirk is from the film ‘Atonement’. I recognise my own in this amazing 5 minute long tracking shot.
        Go YouTube for – “Atonement” – Dunkirk Scene, Five minute single take tracking shot –

        • Posted January 5, 2018 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

          I haven’t seen Dunkirk yet; but I agree about Atonement. Great movie, harrowing story and scene.

          • Posted January 5, 2018 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

            I think the narrow focus in Dunkirk detracted from its quality, especially because it seemed infused with “action movie” tropes. Atonement is hugely better. Now I did see Dunkirk on a tiny screen, but to say that you have to see it on a big screen means the gee-whiz cinematography dominated the story. I also saw “Days of Heaven” (not this time) on a small screen, and that is to my mind the most beautiful movie every made, begging to be seen on a big screen. But it was still great on the small one, because the story was original and haunting.

            • revelator60
              Posted January 6, 2018 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

              Nolan said that Dunkirk was meant to be a “survival film” rather than a historical epic. For me it worked very well as a depiction of the ordeals an average soldier/pilot/captain might have gone through. I thought it was a mistake when Nolan introduced the Churchill speech though.

              I take your point about cinematography possibly dominating the story, but much of the story’s impact depends on the viewer having a sense of scale that is much less effective on the small screen. Lawrence of Arabia would have similar problems. Days of Heaven has its share of grand landscapes but is also a more intimate film.

  12. Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry the conditions made it hard to enjoy some pretty good movies. I hope you can give Dunkirk and Birdman another try under less distracting conditions. Noting the camera work on the latter provided an extra layer of goodness, I think.

  13. Christopher
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    I found Birdman dull at best, and extremely irritating at worst. I couldn’t and won’t finish it.

    As for my TSA experiences, I’ve only gone on one international flight, to Belgium, in 2006. I honestly admit how much shock and discomfort I felt upon my return from Brussels, landing in NY, faced with rude, cold, impersonal staff and several full armed and very angry looking military-style agents standing about, glaring at us passengers over the butts of their assault rifles. I immediately wished I could hop back on the plane and return to the land of beer, waffles, and chocolate! I’ve never felt so unwelcome.

  14. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    (Bette Davis was a great actress, but sometimes tended to overact, and this iconic movie is one example)

    I’ve always assumed the overacting was intentional, inasmuch as her character, Margo Channing, is an old-school Broadway actress from an earlier generation, when playing to the back row was all the style. And even when she’s off, she’s “on.”

    If you disagree, we could be in for a bumpy night. 🙂

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Finally, I watched about half of “Birdman”, also a highly rated movie, but the plane landed before I could finish it.

    IOW, you made it halfway through the opening long take. 🙂

  16. Posted January 5, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I love coleslaw (in most of its incarnations) so i would likely enjoy a coleslaw sandwich.

    • Blue
      Posted January 5, 2018 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      Too, I have the genetics for loving it,
      Mr Blilie, including those incarnations which
      are in a reuben on its rye and Korea’s side
      dish of kimchi !

      With smokified baked beans and its bbqed pork
      ribs from Hickory Park or from Jethro’s,
      gotta have me their coleslaws as well.
      Always !


      • Posted January 5, 2018 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        These are all excellent. We love kimchi. I may begin doing my own fermenting (kraut, kimchi, curtido) — or it may wait until I retire …

        • Posted January 8, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

          I must be a weird bird: I like kimchi and most coleslaws, but I don’t like sauerkraut (too limp, I think).

  17. nwalsh
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 2:21 pm | Permalink

    I find many of your TSA agents a reflection of your president.

  18. Ken Kukec
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    It’s truly frozen here and, unwilling to bring heavy garments to India, I made do with a light sweater and a very light down jacket that folds into its own pocket.

    Reminds me of the time I came back from a week in the Virgin Islands in January to make a court appearance in New York. Stopped in Miami to change clothes and grab my files. It wasn’t until I was outside LaGuardia hailing a cab in 13° weather that I realized it was wintertime and I didn’t have anything warmer to wear than the suit on my back.

  19. Hempenstein
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    If PCC[E] has rebooted by morning it will be a miracle!

  20. Posted January 5, 2018 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Enjoyed watching videos of the public talks at pune and bengaluru about why evolution is true and science versus religion . The evidence is great.Arguments are thought provoking.These talks are really needed in the world today to encourage the thinking process.FYI: Some philosophical traditions like advaita(which says a unified/non-dual field /principle underlies the universe) exist till today in India, which predate religion.They are non-theistic. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/naturalism-india/

  21. James Walker
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 9:33 pm | Permalink

    Welcome home! I invested in Nexus/Global Entry a couple of years ago and have never looked back. Rarely do I have to deal with a human being now when entering Canada or the US.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted January 5, 2018 at 11:51 pm | Permalink

      “Rarely do I have to deal with a human being now when entering Canada or the US.”

      I thought that was the usual gripe about the TSA… 😉


    • Hempenstein
      Posted January 6, 2018 at 9:21 am | Permalink

      Part of being a curmudgeon is not paying money for stuff you didn’t previously need to pay money for.

  22. Teresa Carson
    Posted January 5, 2018 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Welcome home — even if it’s cold. I’m in balmy Fort Worth right now, so I’ve missed the frigid weather. Glad you arrived in one piece, and I hope you get some sleep.

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