Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Two Worlds, One Day

The car ride to the meeting point seemed especially long today. During our weekly trip from Hercules to El Cerrito, I would close my eyes and find myself in front of my dance studio the next moment. The car was quiet today, aside from the occasional murmur from my drowsy grandma or mother. My sisters, the usual yappers during the trip, weren’t with me today—they had class in the morning and decided against seeing me off at 3 in the morning. I stared out the window, seeing the familiar scenes for the millionth time but discovering it for the first. The thought of not seeing this path until a month later was still surreal. My eyes switched from the window to the clock every other second. Each minute was filled with an eternity of reminiscing and at one point, I asked my mother why she was driving so slowly.

“Honey, I’m driving at the speed limit just as always. I think your mind is going over the speed limit.”

We arrived at the meeting place at 3:45 AM, five minutes before our decided meeting time. Our cohort huddled together, hands stuffed in our pockets to hide away from the freezing winds. Once the group was gathered, Don ran the ritual.  Don lined us up in front of the El Cerrito building and we stood holding up the Cornell flag once more, grinning ear to ear while trying to keep our teeth from chattering in the cold. Don briefed us on the trip, reminding us about the blogs and loaner items once again while we stocked up on red vines and other snacks for the trip. Finally, after months of meetings and waiting, a broad, reassuring smile formed on Don’s face, and he assured that we would have fun.
Last picture together in the Bay
Unloading on the Airport

The bus came soon after. We all gathered around the large black van, everyone rolling their luggage up to the van to be piled in the back. We said our final good-bye’s to our parents, bringing them in for the last hug and final kiss on the cheek. Our cohort all boarded the bus, waving to our parents one last time before collapsing into our seats.

I’ve only been to the SF Airport twice—once when I was a year and six months for China and another during the Spring of my freshman year for a trip to China. This is the first time I’m here without my family. The clock struck 5:20 when we arrived. We unloaded our bags from the van and proceeded to the check-in where we said goodbye to our luggage for the time being. Afterwards, we checked ourselves in, though it was a lot different from just dumping ourselves on a scale and pressing a few buttons. We whipped out our ID’s and led our carry-ons through a scanner. Both Shanti and I were pulled to the side when we walked through the gate. A security guard told me to hold out my hands and he proceeded to wipe them with a small tissue. I was dismissed a little later. As we walked down the hall, I reminded myself to wash my hands before I boarded a plane.

We had a little over half an hour to spare before our boarding time, so Mr. Chan-Law took our group in for an early breakfast at Willow Creek Grill. Our diverse taste buds unveiled themselves when everyone’s laps were decorated with different dishes. Each person was occupied with a breakfast burrito, pasta, quesadilla, pancake, or sandwich and refreshed with orange juice, chocolate milk, Fanta, or water.

Finally, the boarding time came. Our cohort packed ourselves in the center of the plane. I got the privilege of occupying the window seat. Thao and I waited anxiously for the plane to depart. After an eternity and five failed recordings, the plane was off the ground. I stared out the window to be greeted by a sea of clouds, though this time, my sister wasn’t there to comment about how it would feel to fall on the seemingly fluffy masses. 

Take the quiz yourself.
Thao and I occupied ourselves with a magazine quiz on the ideal pet for each of us. It was then that I discovered that I am a deformed cat lover and Thao is a race horse. Seeing that Helen was catching up on her sleep, Thao and I threw our heads back for a nap. An hour later, we woke up to neck pain. Our first response was to check the time, and seeing that we had three hours left of the plane ride, we unpacked our laptops to check the media offered by the airline and outlined our blogs. 

The plane landed with a heavy thud, earning a gasp from all the passengers and even giving Mr. Chan-Law a good wake-up scare. Other cohort members, Justice and Shanti, were discussing the failed landing in the movie Flight just as the plane smacked the ground. No student nor chaperone is safe from airplane landings. We got our first taste of Georgia the second we stepped out of the plane. The jet bridge provided insight on the scorching environment.

Wall of art.
Believing that the luggage claim would not be far, our cohort decided against taking the tram. The stroll took us across five moving walkways and a total of ten minutes. Although we had to drag our forty pound baggage toward the baggage claim, the walk itself was rewarding. The Atlanta airport was uniquely decorated with photographs, timelines and sculptures. As a passenger makes their way across the five sections, they are first met with a series of color photographs from across the city. As I stood on the moving walkway, my eye caught an image on the television displayed above. I panicked. It showed a monochrome photo of a little girl with dark skin standing in front of a water fountain, her head shamefully facing the floor. On top of the water fountain, a sign neatly printed “whites only.” When the screen faded to show yet another example of discrimination in America, I realized what I was looking at. Atlanta, the home of Martin Luther King and the site of many of his famous sermons. A timeline of the civil rights movement stretches across the room, accompanied by brilliant photographs and descriptions. Another room includes a series of abstract green statues representing the Olympics and another on the birth of the Trans-continental train. I thought it was brilliant to make use of a conventionally undecorated wall to enlighten visitors of the rich culture and history of a site.

Four star burger joint.
Meeting the shuttle bus confirmed the suspicions about the scorching heat. By the time we got into the bus, everyone had already lost a bucket of sweat. We arrived at the Hotel Inn. Everyone threw off their bulky jackets from the morning and slipped into the shorts and t-shirts. Our cohort met took a ride to downtown, where our dinner was waiting at Ted's Montana Grill.

Rule of thumb: You can never go wrong with mushrooms.

Yelp ranked the restaurant a four star, but our cohort would be the judge of that. We were first hit with the chilly artificial air upon entering the diner. The setting itself was remarkable for a burger joint—the ceiling was low, lighting dim, creating a perfect classy yet comfortable setting. We were taken to the back, where a round table greeted us. Everyone’s eyes squinted once we read the menu. The dishes seemed conventional enough. There were simple BLT combinations accompanied by a variety of other mixes of vegetables and sauces, but at the side of each order was the option of a beef or bison patty. Our cohort was taken back by the new meat, and the waiter explained that Bison was more tender and nutritious. Being a fan of mushrooms, I couldn’t help but order the Swiss and Mushroom Bison Burger. The meat was definitely tenderer, but the sour cream on the side did not please my taste buds. The burger overall was enormous, but each bite was worth it. The burger was, overall, delectable; it is indeed a four star. The fries on the side were a little too crunchy for my tastes, but I only got to taste a handful before a waiter came by and took my plate.

We spent the rest of the day touring the city. My leisurely time on the airplane allowed time for me to watch a twenty minute video on popular sites in downtown Atlanta, and I’m glad to say we saw most of them, from the outside. Many of the sites closed when we finished our meals at five, but we had the luxury of visiting the sites from the outside. We strolled through the Olympic Park, played Frisbee in front of the Coca-Cola museum, admired the Atlanta museum and spotted the CNN museum.
Cornies on the Olympic symbol

We spend the rest of the evening in Justice’s and Stephen’s room. The television played the Warrior’s game in the background as everyone updated their blogs. After months of waiting and a day of travel, the day ends with our group from the bay area. I wouldn’t want the day to end any other way.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I felt like I was there. I could almost taste the buffalo burger. Thanks so much for the vivd descriptions--and I love the photos.