Sunday, August 18, 2013

Journey of a Lifetime

When two friends take the marriage vows, their friends become a part of their family. The day Pradeep and I decided to take the plunge, my friends and his friends became our friends… our family grew.
The route

Over the years we have traveled to many places, explored different locales and had many tales to tell…however the one tale that we never tire off and wish we could do over and over again is our road trip across Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana- much like the (LMCT) circle tour, only, done the other way around. A trip made of precious moments that we would want to relive with our friends and family

A road trip covering 2000 miles in two nights and three days meant early starts and lots of driving, the very essence of the tour.

At the crack of dawn, as the orange haze of the horizon wiped away the darkness and the morning star greeted good morning, we set off reminiscing the days of our B School life when we would look forward to this view after a sleepless night of group discussions and case studies. Stopping for a breakfast of steaming hot coffee and sizzling omelets was the perfect start to the day.
Corn Fields

The early morning solitude of the otherwise busy Chicago was pleasing but nothing compared to the fresh air and morning breeze that greeted us once we hit the countryside… miles and miles of rolling corn fields were our silent companions as we drove along.

I navigated the map as Pradeep drove on.  We had intentionally decided not to use the GPS nor had made any plans of sight seeing stops; our idea was to take things as they come and experience what life threw back at us. The beauty of a road trip lies in experiencing the different stops and unexpected turns, getting lost and squealing with delight as we find our way back on to the never ending roads.

Our first stop was Pictured Rocks in Munising Michigan. We took the cruise out into Lake Superior to view what the boards described as a geological delight. Cruising through the largest fresh water lake by surface area in the world and viewing the magic sandstone had created over centuries was mind blowing to say the least. These rocks were eroding caverns with mineral stained caves that led to a plethora of colors to be displayed all along the cliffs.
Pictured Rocks

We watched the formations and marveled at Mother Nature’s creations as a sudden shower from the “spray” waterfall hit us. We looked up instantly only to get awed by the dense green forests dropping abruptly into the pristine blue of the lake. After spending hours at the rocks, we turned back heading for the hotel in Escanaba (Michigan) which would be our halt for the night. As we neared the hotel we found a tiny diner where we stopped to taste the local version of burgers and fries.

The next morning we were up before the sun rose and were on our way as the first rays hit the ground.  The early morning bliss was an experience we had fast learnt not to miss. The journey was getting more picturesque with tiny waterfalls dotting the landscape all over. We made quite a few stops before heading to an Island we had heard about from many- Mackinac, where no modern fuel supported form of transport was allowed except for a fire engine and an ambulance. The ferry ride to Mackinac lasted 30 minutes; on reaching we were offered horses and bicycles to commute around.
This was one of the most unique places we had visited. Absolutely no sign of pollution except for the stray smell of horse litter. This island was a nature lover’s delight. After we spent the rest of the day exploring the village, buying curios and admiring nature’s abundance, we headed back on the last ferry and drove towards our halt for the second night (at Muskegon, Michigan) to watch the July 4th fireworks.
Mackinac Island

By 3 PM our resolution not to stop anywhere had begun to waver as a desperate need for some coffee took over. The nearest food stop was twenty miles away; we had almost given up when we came across an exit for a town called Cadillac. Pradeep decided to take a detour confident that we would come across a café in the town.

Cadillac gave us the most memorable moments that we would cherish for the rest of our lives. The town seemed to be living in the yester years; it had that classical look about it. The market place seemed to be closed for a siesta, not a soul could be seen around. At last we found a light glowing across the street, we opened the door and entered the coziest café we had ever been to. The walls were covered with beautiful pictures and figurines that we couldn't get our eyes off.
We picked our coffee and spent a few minutes sipping despite the clock ticking away. After ten minutes we dragged ourselves out and headed back towards the highway. Engrossed in admiring the town we lost our way and took a wrong turn only to arrive at the other end of the town that was bordered by water end to end. It was one of the most beautiful sights we had ever seen. Mesmerized, we parked the car and let our legs carry us to the waterfront. Sparkling blue waters sweetly gurgled and danced around our feet. We looked around to see a bench that seemed to have stepped straight out of a book cover just for us to perch on. We sat silently watching the view… losing track of time.., leaving all our worries and tensions behind… feeling one with nature. As we watched the water turn a shade of orange and then red, we were hit by the realization of time. Breaking out of the magical hypnosis Nature had put us under; we reluctantly drove off, glancing behind every now and then till the bench became a speck in the distance as if it has disappeared back onto the book cover.

It was an ironic finish to the day that had us experience a human attempt to reduce pollution, the serenity that Cadillac offered and end it watching a splendid but smoky firework display that lasted quite a few hours. I suppose we win some and lose some to maintain the balance of life.

On our final morning we started off intending to stop at Holland, a Dutch settlement in Michigan. When we entered the village we felt we had left the states behind and traveled to Europe. The people, the tulips, the windmills... everything changed the aura of the place giving us a peek into a completely different culture. After a learning tour of Dutch culture we were invited to experience a dance ritual. After watching the dancers tap their traditional wooden shoes to the soulful folklore we left making just one stop to purchase a few reminders of the place.

It was early evening when we left Holland; with an eye on the clock we started our journey to Chicago hoping to beat the long weekend traffic heading towards the windy city. By the time we hit Indiana; we dropped all ideas of visiting the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit that we had thought we would check out. We joined hundreds of other cars snailing their way towards Chicago… all but we seemed frustrated with the traffic… we were busy smiling away, already reminiscing the beautiful evening spent at Cadillac.

By night we reached home tired and exhausted but with a chest full of precious memories and stories that would enthrall our grandchildren someday…

Our trip turned three years old this July but the memories are still fresh, so is the urge to do a similar trip again, this time with our friends. In today’s busy world when we hardly have time for ourselves, taking some time out to relive our times with friends, experiencing life and all the unexpected turns and stops it makes just like we did on the trip… take those impulsive decisions that make memories of a lifetime like we did at Cadillac… to strengthen our friendship with those joyous moments that are made at the most unexpected places on such a trip. Life is a journey where no one knows what is in store for us at the next turn; a road trip such as this would be like a gift to live life to the fullest with our near and dear ones.

Quick Travel Tip : The described road trip can be arranged through .  It would require flight bookings to Chicago and back, hotel bookings and car rental bookings for the duration of the trip. Similar road trips can be arranged within India and other locations across the globe through packages from .

Monday, August 05, 2013

A matter of sincerity?

In early July P ordered a set of nested tables from a popular online furniture store. The delivery date was set as July 26th and the matter was forgotten.

A week later, P was asked to make an immediate business trip overseas while I had to shuttle in an out of Bangalore for a few days. We soon realized that neither would be at home on 26th so we promptly wrote to the customer care asking for a change in delivery address and contact number (to mine). Despite multiple follow ups, there was no response. Finally knowing the store was quite active on social media channels we resorted to writing on their face book page. We got a response within seconds of posting the message that surely the mistake was on our end and their response might have landed in the junk folder. The speed at which we received the response made us wonder whether the customer service agent responding to the message had taken time out to look up our mail at all, nevertheless we patiently checked our junk messages feeling no sense of achievement on finding it empty. It took us more than a few seconds (well, obviously) to respond. A few minutes later we got a response saying our mail had landed in their junk folder and hence slipped their attention! Thankfully they put an end all the junkiness and acknowledged the changes we had asked for.
Once again the matter was forgotten.

It was 31st when I happened to glance at the calendar only to realize that 26th had come and gone but there had been no delivery. I checked my phone logs to see if I had missed any call. To cover all grounds I checked with P if he had received any email. When both checks turned out negative I called up customer care.

The lady who picked up my call requested for 30 minutes to gather information regarding the status. I was a bit taken aback by the request since she had already accessed my order details with the confirmation number I had provided; shouldn't the status have been updated there? I decided to give her the benefit of doubt and asked her to call back on my number. 

An hour passed by but my phone stayed silent. I picked up the phone and called again, thankfully the same executive picked up. She recognized my voice at once and said she had been trying to reach me on the original number on the order (that belonged to P). I tried explaining to her that we had asked for a change in number and I had repeated it to her on our previous call. After making a few attempts I gave up. By now I wanted to just get done with resolving the problem. She continued that the delivery team had tried reaching us over phone but our number was switched off. No guesses now for which number they had tried! Patiently I tried reminding her (again) that the number was updated along with the address and the latter had been updated. Why would they leave the number out? If the number issue was ignored for a moment, they could have contacted us on the email address? - I queried?

That was the trigger for her. She started of saying she would be honest with me and went on to tell the coordination issues they were facing with the delivery team. How the delivery team did not always check the order detail updates nor update the order status for customer service team’s reference.

I tried telling her that she need not expose their internal problems to the customer, rather just acknowledge the issue (miscommunication) and work on resolving it. Making the customer privy to internal issues will not always paint a good image abut the brand I said. She kept insisting that she wanted to be honest with me and continued narrating their problem.

Finally I managed to get my issue resolved and the delivery was done the next day.

Was she right in being honest about the internal inefficiencies that caused the delay? Should she have dealt with the situation differently keeping in mind that she was representing her store and that responsibility made her accountable for their brand value as well?

Is honesty always the best policy?
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