USA trip 2018: West to East coast

On our US trip we were in 12 locations in 21 days, on 10 Greyhound buses (4000 km), 2 flights (3000 km) with 6 bags of luggage across 8 hotels. In all our sightseeing, we walked a total of 250 km.
US trip 2018 frame
We visited:
  1. San Francisco ( < Istanbul < New Delhi)
  2. Yosemite National Park, 269 km by bus
  3. Los Angeles (bus) 616 km
  4. San Diego (bus) 807 km
  5. Las Vegas (bus) 435 km
  6. Grand Canyon West rim (bus) 200 km
  7. Dallas (flight)
  8. Houston (connecting bus)
  9. Lake Charles (bus), 505 km, Baton Rouge (connecting bus) 204 km
  10. New Orleans (bus) 130 km
  11. Memphis (bus) 635 km
  12. Washington (flight)
  13. New York (bus) 360 km
All photos and videos are self-shot.  Spherical (Google Street View) photos (view in Chrome browser, or Google street view app):

Click to view a snapshot gallery from the DLSR-

Screen Shot 2018-04-08 at 5.20.02 PM

Our trip started with San Francisco. After checking into the Marker hotel, we walked around a bit in Union Square. We observed the classic Frisco trams which still do their trips. So well maintained! Chatted with homeless folks at a Burger King. Despite their situation they do not mess with your space.
DAY 2: On the second day we met our tour bus guide Kimberly of Extranomical Tours. We drove around town, Fisherman’s wharf, Palace of Fine Arts and Theatre, Golden Gates Bridge and other iconic spots. We went across to the Alcatraz on a boat. The AV tour of the prison is immersive enough to make you feel what it was like back then. Back in town we learn that San Fran is very expensive to live in. Rent can average at $4000 a month.
Day 3: Yosemite
we met Constantine of Extranomical tours who took us to Yosemite which took the whole day. Though it was raining it was a good trip anyway. Stopped at Turlock for a while where we got sandwiches packed for the way. The high quality of San Fran’s local produce creates awesome food- the air, water, meat, milk, strawberries and awesome people. The landscape here gives meaning to the phrase ‘rolling hills of California’.

we headed for LA via MegaBus. Our original plan was to do West to East coast of US by road. At LA, we were picked up by our French driver Philip who migrated from Paris in 1970 and felt very strongly about how much LA has changed since then. After checking into the Best Western plus Sunset Blvd. walked down Hollywood Boulevard down the walk of fame. Glanced around at souvenir shops. Marijuana is legal in the US so we could smell weed all over the streets. There were also large signs of free HIV checks at one pharmacy. We also spotted a Ferrari painted in weed graphics claiming to be the fastest marijuana delivery service. Did the Hollywood celebrity homes tour. Saw the homes of Silvester Stallone, Paris Hilton, Borat. Later we walked from our hotel to Hollywood Boulevard. Found a freestyle artist at the footlocker crossing. Damn he was good. Check him out-


Great weather (Street View) (2). We stopped for a while at Southbound Aliso creek rest area. In San Diego we visited three places – the USS Midway – a large Navy ship, La Jolla, hotel Del Coronado and old town in San Diego. Our co-travellers were from Israel.
Our guide and driver Michael was great till lunch then he fell sick after he ate something. Took an Uber back to LA. We walked around in farmers market and shopped at Barnes and Nobles.
If you have grown up on Hollywood films, do check out the Mecca. Universal has made an entertainment theme from films they made like Jurassic Park, Harry Potter, Fast and Furious, Mummy returns and Transformers. We went for the roller coaster rides which were unforgettable. What is amazing is that the entire park is barely 4 blocks and they managed to make it so much fun. Here’s a collection of reactions from the Jurassic Park roller coaster ride.
(Street View across the Bellagio, High roller,
Stopped at Barstow on our bus trip to Vegas (Street View). Incredible town this. There are things, businesses here you will not see anywhere in the world- not even in the rest of the US. Even the locals say there is no place in America like Vegas.
Ten things we did in Las Vegas apart from gambling, will you believe –
1) drop on and off bus tour,
2) high roller Ferris wheel,
3) ate at Heart Attack Grill. This restaurant has a hospital theme. To start with the nurses (servers) dresses you up with a patient’s gown. Burgers are called Bypass burger, double bypass, quadruple, sextuple and octuple. ‘Flatliner’ fries and wine is served in a IV drip. If you waste your food, you have the choice of being spanked with wooden plate.
4) shopped at Fashion Show,
5) 4 floors of M&Ms store – incredible fun zone. These folks know how to sell an experience.
6) walked the Vegas strip. Even if you are broke, you can be entertained just walking down the strip. Too much fun going on here.
7) gambled at Venetian (ok this happened)
8) ate at Shaky Shack
9) Bodies Exhibition at BALLY’s. This happens to be a permanent exhibition unlike the one in Fulton street in New York. Bally’s also allowed visitors to take photography and videos.
10) Circus de Soleil at Bellagio. Unbelievable show. An abstract dance performance where the stage changed from floor to swimming pool. The performers would jump from 20-30 feet into the water after their performance.
Day 8 – day trip to Grand Canyonvia GreyLine bus we stopped at Hoover dam, chopper and boat. Our most memorable part of the entire trip, no doubt. (Street View), Hualapai Ranch
On the way to the airport, our driver Peder says there is no place like Vegas in the US.
Our driver Sandor met us at Dallas airport. He has migrated from Hungary. We checked in at Crowne Plaza downtown. We walked 16 km and saw these places-
  1. Visit to 6th floor museum– from where JFK was shot by Lee Harvey Oswald,
  2. Perot Science museum,
  3. Kennedy Memorial
  4. World aquarium,
  5. Klyde Warren park,
    1. Reunion tower. 2. 

Dallas apparently has the least corporate tax so this is home and headquarters to many corporations. This place felt a bit like Gurgaon – a lot of glass buildings and eat-outs and food courts on the ground floor. A lot of old traditional heritage buildings still look good around Elm street where our hotel is. We stopped on the way to Houston.

Day 12 – Houston  1. Street view  2. Houston Greyhound bus stop
We start our bus trip through the south. Took a bus via Tornado Bus Company to Houston. Though we reached at 1230 noon and the next bus to Lake Charles was at 8pm, we decided to wait at the station and not go galavanting into Houston. Returning to the station would be cutting it too fine. Read ‘Sapiens’ halfway.
We stayed the night at our hotel at Lake Charles. We took the morning bus to New Orleans from Greyhound station at 8am. We chatted up a bit with Rana Afzal from Pakistan at the greyhound counter. He has been here for 2 years and he says his heart ain’t here. This bus goes to Baton Rouge – a connecting station to New Orleans.
Street view photos 1. Natchez steam boat, 2
We arrive at New Orleans and driver Lamon is a retired school teacher from New Orleans. He showed us a few spots to visit. We check into our hotel at Canal Street. New Orleans is heaven for creative people. We walked down Fisherman’s Street down St Peters Street. Then the jazz cruise in the evening was on board a steamboat called Natchez. A band called ‘The Dukes of Dixieland’ played onboard. This was a high point of our trip here. Insanely talented folks came out of this town. We deliberately reduce and subjugate ourselves to a limiting culture. The same country be it US or India has varying cultures. How well you fare depends directly on the culture you are allowed (or not) to thrive in.
Day 15 – March 24
Today we woke up early and walked along the aquarium on the Mississippi River side. The weather is just right – sunny and pleasant wind along the river side. Later around noon went to Lafitte for the swamp ride. Spotted a few alligators, held a baby alligator in my hand on the boat. After a few hours we got back to New Orleans. Walked down the street in the French Quarters area till night and got back.
Spotted some unbelievable musical talent on the streets of New Orleans. This is the birthplace, the bedrock, incubator of upcoming talent.
Day 15 – March 25
Taking the bus from NOLA (New Orleans Louisiana) back to Baton Rouge for our connecting bus to Memphis. There is a marathon going on in New Orleans so our driver had to drive around a bit to reach our bus station. We made it in time though.
Greyhound bus trips show what America is really about- the people and landscape changed drastically from green California, Vegas desserts and swamps of Louisiana. The people are real. We travelled with people of all ethnicity and they were still being themselves. Compared to this, all hotels, planes and airports are the same across the world now with people being their artificial covers. Bus trips are real. Chatted up with a couple who had worked for a Patel family and he figured I was from India. He felt Indians got too much into religious politics like Jews and kept the businesses to their own kinds!
Stopped at Jackson for our next bus to Memphis.
Stopped at Durant, Mississippi for passengers pickup
We are at the crowne plaza in Memphis. Walked down to Beale Street which celebrates B.B King, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

Day 16- Memphis
Street View photo  Beale Street
our driver Larry took us to Memphis airport and gave us a short dose on the city. This is home to rock and Blues. The music from the movie Blues Brothers came from Memphis and the city is also breeding ground to a lot of other genres. Memphis is also FedEx’s headquarters so the airport has a small passenger terminal compared to the cargo terminal. We boarded a small American Airlines plane called American Eagle which was a tiny 50 seater. It has just three rows and the ceiling was only 6 feet.
Day 17  – Washington 360 Street View photos 1. Lincoln Memorial
When we reached Washington our driver Kocou from Benin said he had lived in New York earlier and liked Washington better. We walked around till the Capitol. The weather is bitter cold and windy. We should have worn more sweaters before stepping out in 3 degrees Celsius. We grabbed a quick meal and a gallon of water from Walgreens.
Woke up at 5am to make the most of our single day in Washington. There is something about high energy levels here despite so many cars. People were jogging around the Capitol in the noon and evening. We walked almost 12 km today. We had breakfast, walked down to Union station for our hop on and off bus. Saw quite a bit of Washington on the three tracks. Starting from the Capitol, Lincoln memorial, Georgetown and China town. At Macy’s we met an Indian at the luggage counter- Mr Bala Rao who migrated here from Chennai in the 60s. He was a vegetarian back then, then started eating meat since there was not much choice for vegetarians back then. He is 85, never married. Later at the end if the day we walked back to our hotel on New York avenue. Our phone batteries were down and I left the charger in the hotel, so when we lost our way in the night so we took a cab- our only cab through the entire trip. Paid $10 for 2 km!
We reached The Big Apple at 3pm via Peter Pan bus. Weather wasn’t looking good at 3 degrees Celsius but no one seems to care. All shops would be shut for Easter on the coming weekend so everyone was shopping in a hurry. We walked from our hotel to Apple store on 5th Avenue and back through Times Square.
Day 19
The next day it was drizzling but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone in Manhattan. We walked to B&H Video – a landmark store for photography and gadgets. This store is a must visit for anybody interested in as much as a connecting wire.
There’s also Macy’s a few blocks away. All stores here are landmark icons in Manhattan – from the NBA, M&Ms, Apple, McDonalds, Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch.
Day 21
Took the hop on and off bus today and went sight seeing. We were at Freedom tower, Wall Street bull, across the bridge to Brooklyn. We chatted up with elderly ladies on the streets and restaurants. We met an elderly lady from Hyderabad on Wall street. She has been travelling alone all over Manhattan via GreyLine Hop on and off buses. When we walked into a restaurant, another old lady got chatting with us. She said we looked like Spanish folks. I said most people from equatorial countries like Egypt, India and Malaysia looked alike. Walked around to Crate and Barrel, Container store, M&M store in Time Square to pick up chocs for gifts.
Day 22
We took the tour bus to uptown around Central park and saw some celebrity homes through Central Park West and Harlem. We got off at Guggenheim museum, looked in a bit and walked upto Museum of Modern Art. From there we walked up to Long Island Rail and went down to Hicksville to meet family.  Dropped in at a gorgeous store called Micheals which is paradise city for creative tools, material and stationary.
Day 23 – still in NY
We walked to Bryant Park in the morning and walked into Whole Foods Market across the park. The range (and size) of American produce was exhausting- from strawberries, onions, cheese, meat, chocolates. There was also a sitting area where you could serve yourself and eat there. We had our last meal at Joe’s pizza in Times Square. Here we spotted the famous naked cowboy again. This guy is incredible – strolling around in 2 degrees playing his guitar.

Our trip through the US changed something in our heads; too much of fresh air maybe. But we saw the country differently – for better reasons. We understood people better (and partial reasons for why Trump won). But more importantly we also saw India better. There are good and bad things about every place. Thats what travel does I guess. About Greyhound buses –  when we returned we Googled Greyhound buses and found that it was not rated highly and most people mentioned loss of luggage. Others we spoke with had a few things to say about the people on board. Our experience was different all the way. We interacted with so many people at the stations and got back with all our 6 bags we travelled with. Its upto you and how you see things so have a great time on your visit to to the US- by far the greatest country on the planet right now.


I carried my DSLR throughout the trip – a Canon 6D Mark 2. Though it is heavy, it did two things – I got high quality photographs and it opened up conversations with total strangers in shops and buses. One also tends to look more carefully and compose a picture while looking into a DSLR.

Our trip was organized by Dewberry Holidays LLP, Mumbai. A great team stayed online with us throughout the trip. Our friends wanted to know what difference really does an organizer bring to the trip. Well, somewhere you need the experience of others to optimize your trip. The organizer will at the most suggest the most popular, relevant, best or historic things to see. Its upto you if you want to go there or not. Either this or you do your own research and travel.


The unpublished David Ogilvy: still gold

unpublished David Ogilvy.jpgLooks like we stuck gold here in the land of ‘books of insights’ for the workplace. Published first in 1987, this 30-year-old gem still shines through all the changes the corporate world has seen. Just like Iacocca’s biography, Ogilvy also puts people first at the workplace; making this book very relevant today. Random takeaways-

On writing: Knowledge is useless unless you can put it down in writing. Avoid jargon, being boring, standard sales talk. The copy must be human and simple. Every word counts. Do your research on the client. Talk about your own company and what it can do for the client. Be definite, factual, tell the truth.Your ad has to carry the big idea, followed by position and promise. Write down every idea, and atleast 20 headlines. Edit ruthlessly, bring story appeal. People who think well, write well. Write the way you speak- naturally. Use short words, sentences and paragraphs.

On hiring: Be imaginative and unorthodox in your hiring. Character is the most important thing of all. Hire people who are better at things than you. Pay peanuts, get monkeys. Never hire friends and relatives. Avoid negative people who spread gloom and negativity. Encourage people who bombard you with ideas.

On competition: Never mud-sling competition.Be a leader in your space. Let competitors follow you. Anyone can do a deal, but it takes time and guts to build a brand.

On clients: Earn their respect. That matters most.
At client meetings, do not assume the posture of a servant. Both need each other.
The consumer is your wife. Do not insult her intelligence.

On leadership: A good leader must look confident at all times. Advertising from research give you an edge. Great professionals may not make great leaders.

Avoid excess in all things.
Hard work never killed anyone, boredom does.
Vacations are most important to charge the batteries.
Creative people do not have a monopoly of ideas. So create a culture where anyone can contribute.
Succeed in public, fail in private.
Have a divine discontent for your own performance. Its an antidote for smugness.

I think I found the Bible and handbook for advertising and messaging.

Iacocca – amazing man, life and book

Edit If you are looking for a book to read and can’t decide between biography, management and or general inspiration, pick up ‘Iacocca’. This is the autobiography of the former president of Ford and chairman of Chrysler corporation. An old colleague mentioned this book 6 years back and I made a mental note to pick it up. Finally, I managed to read this and I am only wishing I had earlier. Some books are just supposed to come your way at certain points in time.

What a man, life and book. Though this book was published in 1984 and the product and industry is of an era gone by, the learnings shared are still relevant today. That’s because its about managing people. There are people who live amazing lives, but don’t bother to write about it. Even if they do, not everyone has the charm and ability to spin an engaging story till the end. Mostly written straight from the gut, the book is easy to read and flows like a movie at times. Lee Iacocca was always a brilliant marketing genius and clearly his writing shows. Some random takeaways –

Be the best in your field. All the talent in the world doesn’t excuse deliberate rudeness. Why walk when you can run. You need to compare happiness to something to know its worth.
For marketing folks – People dont read stories, only headlines. Headline writers influence people’s perception of the news. Always prepare, rehearse before presenting to a customer. Play out the relevant consequences and details, all conceivable options and scenarios. Put your great idea on paper. If you can’t, you haven’t thought it out. Its a shame when a talented executive cant tell a board whats in his head. Always work with a script.

For managers – Quarterly reviews force managers to talk to their teams. It changes the boss’s role; he becomes less of a authoritative figure and more of an advisor. The conversations remind people not to lose sight of their dreams. Regular reviews make it self regulating. Managing is all about motivating other people. When giving credit, give it in writing, when giving hell, do it on the phone. Play it with your heart. Nobody goes far kicking people around. Speed of the boss is the speed of the team. Everyone in the world is accountable to everyone.

General observations at the workplace – when the secretaries are goofing off, you know the place has dry rot. One incompetent manager brings along another. If morals is low, the place becomes a sieve. If you stand still in this business, you get run over quickly. All business operations are reduced to – people, products, profits. People come first. Unless you have a great team, you cant do much with the others. Build quality products. Its all that matters. In the end, what counts is performance.

Life is about timing. Sometimes you just have to take a chance and correct our mistakes as you go along. Coming out with a new product too early is as bad as being late. You can only sell what people are ready to buy. Work can kill you. So can not working. Always think in terms of other people’s interest. In a disposable society like ours, nobody is a hero or lasts too long. People are hungry to be led. If you are not Number One, you have got to innovate.

Thats my copy – with postits and notes all across the book. What a treasure.

Black Swans – always around and relevant 

What’s interesting about Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book is that the iPhone, Barack Obama, 2008 financial crisis and other unforeseeable events happened after this book was published in 2007. So in retrospect, Black Swan makes you wonder why one accepts theories from suited experts without questioning or encouraging the imagination for alternatives.

Some interesting takeaways (randomly) – no one can predict the future. And predicting is not the approach, but preparation is. From Louis Pasteur’s ‘chance favors the prepared’, preparing for unseen, exercising thoughts for other possibilities, and creating and encouraging the same culture is more important. But alas, this is most difficult to do when amidst situations at the workplace in meetings and discussions. Also don’t look for the precise and the local. Jump at opportunities that may not look that appealing at first. You never know what you are going to get. Those with big reputations are worse predictors than those who have none. True self-confidence is the ability to look at the world without looking for signs to stroke one’s ego. The best way to increase exposure is to keep researching. Luck favors the prepared.

We take risks not out of bravado but ignorance of risk and probability. We favor the sensational and visible which may cloud our vision. Go for empirical observations and not incidents. Beware the narrative fallacy- others’ theories and judgments based on the lack of further research and imagination. There is nothing usual about the future – it is not a platonic category. Beware tunneling, and conclusions based on the normally distributed Gaussian bell curve. We can learn from data but not much. People only know enough math to be blinded by it!
We look for correlation between two variables. When it does not yield, it emotionally upsets us. A lot is happening outside the observed and expected. Avoid platonic, definitive, closed beliefs. Infinite vigilance is not possible. Knowledge may decrease the ability to forecast; there is such a thing as a gut feel.

Overall a great book. Despite reading this piece on behavior science after a decade of its publishing, it still makes a ton of sense. Hope is a huge driver.

Old man and the sea – of big fish and incoming sharks 

This classic Hemingway action adventure and quick 99-pager in a sunny park is the sort of perspective in a metaphor that frames your professional life in a snapshot. Whatever big fish you chase obsessively will run you into rough sea and wake you up with a tight slap across an overconfident smug face you think you can walk around with for life. And it won’t matter how damn good you think you are at what you do because incoming hungry sharks don’t care.

Hemingway is a man’s man and this 1950s work of art is still gold. Talk about seeing a book like a film in your head- more so if you can enjoy ocean adventures like  In the heart of the sea, Castaway, and Life of Pi. There are scenes in the book which have undoubtedly inspired today’s film makers. Totally recommended for anyone and I wished I had read this earlier. But some books are meant to be read at certain points in our lives and their meaning changes every time. But in the end, you can nevertheless dream of lions.

Best takeaway from this one – “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

Hit refresh… be loved.

Hit refresh cover

My third read on future tech points at the usual suspects that will shape our future economies – mixed reality, Ai and in this offering – quantum computing. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft (MSFT) has an optimistic view of the future where Ai and robotics will aid humans and not fight; unlike Hollywood’s view etched in our minds with sinister computers like HAL and its diabolical intentions. Along the way, a few things will need to complement technology- empathy, sense of collaboration with competition, great culture and a growth mindset.

Some insights – we would need to empathize with users, colleagues and the larger world when creating any product. People will always be at the center so a diverse and inclusive culture will always lead to innovation. There is also a different view of managing competitors. Though MSFT lost game-changing opportunities to Amazon, Apple and Google since 1999, the way ahead is to collaborate with them to create better products across platforms, so ultimately customers wins. This is where a growth mindset comes in. Also for new business leaders in technology, what is required is a creation mindset, and not a labor saving or automation mentality.

Lastly, intense use of technology is most important along with training and creativity. It’s not enough to just make the technology available. Trained employees and regular, diligent use of cutting edge resources will lead to growth and innovation.

My view: Though the book illustrates most of these points with certain achievements of the company in the last 3 years since the new CEO took over, the story of MSFT will go from good to ‘great’ only if the company is truly loved for products they make, by taking risks and going against the grain. Today, regular folks love creations of Tesla, Apple, Google and Facebook for creating a craving need for innovations which none saw coming. All founders started with nothing, had a ton of faith in what they were onto and made it big. Though MSFT owns proven productivity tools like Office and LinkedIn, is it really ‘loved’ by its users? There is an emotional attachment to a story provided the company inspires users in some way. Example- I would really like to read Steve Jobs’ and Elon Musk’s bio because I truly admire both companies for their innovations and daring thought processes. I want to know what the bosses were thinking when their personal convictions contradicted the way of the world, but despite everything they stuck to their guns and eventually succeeded. Like this book talks about trust that is built with consistency, MSFT needs to stick to their innovations and be consistent. Today Chrome is preferred over IE, Windows Phone shuttered down and we still don’t see HoloLens, MSFT fitness band, Surface tablets and Pro Studio desktops as much as we see Apple products in stores everywhere.

Microsoft has all the resources to create awesome products like Kinnect and Xbox and be truly loved by its users. The CEO shows commitment to his vision which a business leader should, and its a good read overall. For now, ‘Hit Refresh’ is PR checkbox with a ‘year-ahead’ memo to the world. This book is recommended along with ‘Kranti Nation’ and ‘The 4th industrial revolution’ – all talking about disrupting tech that will dominate in coming years. This review ends with the most inspiring tech quote of all-
“One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”
– Elbert Hubbard