Wednesday, June 01, 2005

One Too Many Times

I’ve made my way through customs, and having not checked a bag this time, I can avoid the hour plus time it takes for a bag to go from the plane to the baggage carousel, and head straight for the exit, where hopefully Vijay will be waiting for me. When you exit the baggage claim area, you do so via a wide path, with rails on either side, and Indian taxi drivers mixed in with people piled five or six deep on the other side of each railway. I am panning the faces for Vijay, and before I can spot him I spot my name on a sign held by a guy who is not Vijay. He takes my bags and we head for the car, and as he’s about to pile my bags into the car, another guy who just seems to be passing by helps him with the bags. I think naively that he’s just being nice, and he tails me to the door of the car saying “you give me tip” in a polite voice. So I’m supposed to give him a tip for performing a service that my driver was performing for me anyway. I reach into my pocket, grab 4 quarters, and fork it over to him.

In D.C. there are also plenty of random people on the streets offering up the service of unburdening you of your loose change, though I seldom indulge in their services. But here I figure why should I carry around a buck in loose change. He stares somewhat blankly at the quarters as if confused, and then walks away. It strikes me that an enterprising homeless beggar might do well to relocate from the streets of DC out to Dulles airport and catch foreigners coming past customs to unburden them of their local currency small change, and compete directly against the foreign exchange booths at the airport by catching American passengers headed for foreign ports of call and swapping their foreign coins for US coinage without charging a transaction fee. Now that would be a real service for all concerned. Too bad most schizophrenic homeless people lack the business vision of the Hatcher.

The incident also pounded home another lesson – Puram, my new driver, was clearly no Vijay. Vijay would never have let that guy near me to take his American money. We head out from the airport for the hotel, and moments later Puram is handing me a cell phone, and saying “Vijay.” He’s got Vijay on the line. We talk, he assures me that he will be my driver for the remainder of the week, and that he’ll be there for me in the morning, but that he was too busy tonight to pick me up. The next morning, Vijay wakes me with a call, and he’s piping mad. He tells me that Puram got to work earlier than him and took the work ticket for being my driver. He tells me not to tip Puram, and that he’ll be my driver by nightfall. Puram picks me up, drops me at the office. I tip him and tell him that Vijay is going to be my driver from here on out, so this is the last tip you’ll see from me. His English isn’t all that good, and we repeat a ritual that continues for the remainder of my trip. I tell him adios, then he asks me what time I’ll need to be picked up again, I tell him the time but also tell him I don’t need him, he says OK and repeats the time. At the appointed time, he shows up, Vijay is nowhere in sight, we drive off, and later I get a progressively more agitated Vijay calling me again at the hotel, telling me not to tip this guy.

I’m torn between my personal loyalty to Vijay and my single handed efforts to brake down the caste system. Frankly Puram represented opportunity number 2 for me to shake up thousands of years of Indian hierarchal oppression, whereas I’d already sprung Vijay from the implicit slavery of his existence. Well, maybe that’s a stretch. Coming back three months after dining with Vijay in an expensive restaurant, frankly I expected more progress based on that event. Sadly, by itself, it didn’t seem to spark or galvanize a civil rights movement in India. And as for Vijay, the event didn’t seem to raise his aspirations beyond being a driver (not that there is anything wrong with that). So clearly dining out with a rich American businessman (by their standards anyway) was no Rosa Parks moment for either him or India. But maybe taking a different driver to the same restaurant would provide a tipping point (to borrow a concept popularized by that freaky looking guy Malcolm Gladwell) for India.

Unfortunately, Puram’s English wasn’t very good, and dinner with him would have only been awkward. So the only tipping point came for me after lunch on the third day, with all tipping as it were occurring in my digestive track, when the salmonella had reproduced itself to a certain critical mass. This was in the afternoon on the third day of meetings that really only required two days. Fortunately, they had a doctor in the office who gave me Immodium AD – perhaps the greatest drug ever. Another 30 hours later and I was home for Memorial Day weekend, which I celebrated by having some physician assistant, with ink still drying on her degree, refuse to prescribe an antibiotic to me until she knows what is causing my, er, problems. Can I please have a doctor who is jaded enough to just give me what I want so he doesn’t have to hear me ask how he enjoyed his time in school in the Falklands? Or, lacking that, can I just have a doctor? Is that asking too much? And does she really think the poor lab technicians who have to work the holiday weekend are sitting around bemoaning the lack of samples to examine?

All I get for me begging, pleading, and insulting is a lesson from her that my symptoms might be caused by many things – taking an antibiotic, for example. I suppose these healthcare professionals see it all the time – guy goes to India for a business trip, eats undercooked chicken the entire time, thinks he has salmonella, but in reality the Indians lace their salmonella chicken with antibiotics so its all cool. Kind of like feeding the mayonnaise to the tuna.

That was Sunday; by Tuesday, with four fever-ridden days under my belt, they diagnose – get this – an antibiotic! What a shock – I would never have guessed that it would have been needed. And the kicker – the side effects of the antibiotic – diarrhea, nausea, vomiting. Gives all new meaning to fighting fire with fire.


Anonymous the_giant said...

In refernce to the Jerky Boys, I don't think it was the chicken that made you sick. It was the fava beans...

Also, I think Vijay was too busy spending his prize money from Byron Nelson classic and Wachovia Championship and celebrating his #1 ranking to shlep you around in his cab. Maybe next time.....

9:12 AM  
Blogger pbryon said...

Did Vijay EVER man the wheel of your chariot on this trip?

9:40 AM  
Blogger Hatcher said...

No rides from Vijay, but we did manage to meet at the gate of the building on the last day.

11:14 AM  
Blogger Michael Higgins said...

Hi John
I did not know you had a blog.

7:43 PM  
Anonymous Jim O said...

"Note to self: Package tuna fish with mayonaise already..NO! Even better- FEED MAYONAISE TO TUNA FISH!!"

"This is a note from Chuck telling Bill to SHUT UP!"

Night Shift was a great movie.

12:57 PM  

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