June 17, 2010

g2 vs. Problem Solvers of the Worst Kind

Chapter 1: Traveler g2

I love traveling but I also hate packing. These forces of love and hate ensure I am in a perennial state of internal conflict. But when I do travel, they usually are long train journeys. The special thing about long train journeys for guys is what I call the “five minutes of hope (F-MoH)”. It’s those five special minutes between getting onto the platform and getting into the train where one does not rule out the possibility of sitting next to a hot girl for the next 24 hours! It never happens in real life and yet we guys never learn to get over it! Our mojo needs the F-Moh! This raises a more important question, “What mode of transport do the hot girls use?” (Hot girls, please comment. We really need some answers here!)

Chapter 2: Problem Solvers of the worst kind

Every train journey needs a ticket and getting it is not easy, especially for the 80% of the people who plan their journey just one week in advance. A few years back, it was impossible for an aam aadmi to get tickets just one week in advance. It was because the travel agents used to block tickets and hoard them to sell at a higher price in the last minute. Ah! The nerve on those travel agents who take the aam aadmi for a ride when all he wants is a ticket! Do they think they can just get away behaving like the mafia?

Not, so easy fellas because our folks at the railways, being the wonderful problem solvers they are, came up with a superb idea to solve the problem. Their solution: TATKAL. So the money we used to pay to the travel agents now goes to the railways. Problem solved – at least that’s what the folks at the railways thought!

But the travel agents are like the mob, they won’t lie low for long. So two or three years into the system, getting an online tatkal ticket is impossible at eight in the morning. Getting it at the railway station – next to impossible. People are sleeping there all night to be first in line! And who are these people sleeping all night? The agents of the travel agents themselves! So once again, aam aadmi is forced to crawl back to the travel agent but now he has to shell out extra money to both the railways (as tatkal charges) and the travel agents.

So much for solving our problems. Our folks at the railways truly are problem solvers of the worst kind. And remember: the mob travel agent eventually gets to you.

g2 vs. Problem Solvers of the worst kind

With the scars of traveling in sleeper class of Konark Express in peak summer with 130 Oriya people in the coach still fresh, I was determined to travel AC for my return to Bombay. Getting a tatkal ticket is difficult, but getting an AC ticket in summer is almost impossible without contacts. So I made a couple of phone calls but all my contacts soon reached dead ends. I either had to go to a travel agent or do it myself and I chose myself.

Day 1: I was at the station at 4:30 AM; there were 20 people in the queue and there were only three reservation counters. I did not stand a chance – retreat.
Day 2: I chose a sparsely crowded counter this time and found myself third in queue. I stood a chance this time. It was 7:50 and the clerk hasn’t arrived yet! He came at 7:55, but there were two people accompanying him into the office. Travel agents! (those sons of bitches), the clerk was on their payroll! The first two tickets went to the travel agents. I was essentially fifth and my turn came at 8:06. But it was too late, just 6 minutes after the reservation opened and I had to go back empty handed but at the back of my mind I knew that I live to fight another day. 

Day 3: Did not wake up. 

Day 4: Unexpected relatives at home, so ditched going to the station.

Day 5: Relatives still at home; booked a bus ticket as backup.

Day 6: The D-day. I knew this was the last shot but I had it all planned. This time I went to a different counter at 11 PM the previous night, parked my bike, slipped in a fifty to the guy at the parking lot and gave him my reservation form along with the exact instructions.
"The parking lot guy is to keep an eye on the reservation counter and hand out my reservation form to the first person that stands in the queue thereby automatically reserving the second spot for me."
This time, it worked. I went leisurely at 6:30 AM and yet I was second in line. I was sure (from gathered intelligence) that no travel agent will jump the queue at this counter.

At 8:03, it was my turn… I was nervously waiting as the clerk efficiently types in the form and says, “AC 3-tier not available, take sleeper”. My world kind of came crashing down. But this time, I was determined to go all the way and so I said, “try AC two-tier” to which he said, “yes available!”

That was it – a moment of elation. I was overwhelmed with joy. It was not just a personal victory; its a triumph of human will against inhuman adversary. I was somewhere between cloud nine and seventh heaven when I got some perspective and said to myself, “Dude, all you bought was a stupid return ticket, get a life!

Just as I was on the way back home with the ticket, dark clouds from the south-west smeared the sky hiding the rising sun making the morning darker than dawn. The monsoon has finally arrived. It started to rain thereby making the AC ticket kind of redundant! 

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