Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dallas and the Initial Struggles

On 2006 October 11, I landed in Dallas in the Texas state, after a four hour flight from New Jersey. There was a difference of 1 hour between these cities, as Dallas was in Central Time Zone. My client’s office was not in the city centre and was near the city limit’s area. My boss was with me for three days to help on the initial days in settling down here and to initiate the project activities with client.

At work, everything was fine. All were very friendly and helpful people. I was assigned a cubicle seat immediately with all facilities including direct phone. The photo ID card to enter the premises was also issued immediately. The project work started rolling from the day one with meetings and discussions.

Outside work, it wasn’t that easy to settle down. My boss had only three limited days to help me out, and after that I’ve to start living on my own. He had a rented car and with that we commuted to office from the hotel. He was also new to Dallas and his GPS system attached in the car helped a lot in finding the routes.

There were a lot of things to do. First and foremost was to get a social security number (SSN), which is essential in getting any other services from here. We both went to the Social Security office in Dallas and applied for it. Since my port of entry was at New Jersey, it will take some time to complete their verification and to issue the card.

The next thing was to get a phone connection, so that I will be reachable. But any postpaid connection requires an SSN. So I took a not so famous ‘metroPCS’ CDMA prepaid connection and it had an added attraction of unlimited incoming and outgoing local (within US and Canada) calls with 45$ per month. It was so good to have, as most of the connections here will charge for incoming calls too and it’s a common practice here that people would choose not to pick an incoming call if it is not after 9 PM, from when the incoming is free.

Having a car and knowing how to drive it here is a necessity as the public transport is not so widespread. My boss gave me the initial tips on driving. Compared to India everything was in reverse order here. Traffic flows through the right hand side and left lanes will have faster traffic. Driver sits at the left side of the car and getting used to this left thing was very important as we tend to forget it sometimes when we take turns at junctions. The speeds here are really scary and especially at highways. But there are some good things. Everyone follows traffic rules here, unlike in India and most of the cars here are automatic, making it easy to drive.

On a less crowded road, my boss dared to give me the car for a trial run. Ah… it wasn’t that bad! There were only two pedals, one for accelerator and the other for break. Left leg was free as there was no clutch pedal. There is a gear on right side, with a push button on it, to change from parking position to reverse or driving position. We put the gear to driving position with break pressed, and car starts moving when the break is released slowly. Then it is just accelerating to the required speed. My boss then wanted me to learn changing lanes, taking turns at junctions following the signals, and merging on the highway. I tried everything, and merging on the highway was the scariest part as the minimum speed there was more than 100 kilometers/hour. We cannot slow down there, and while changing lanes, the speed of other vehicles has to be judged correctly. Once I really got scared when a long heavy truck passed through my left lane with good speed, reminding me of my previous minor accident from Kochi with a truck. The car ran over the edge making me and my boss panic for a moment. But after driving for some more time, I felt comfortable.

Since I am going to be here in Dallas for some time, finding an apartment to stay was the next big thing. We visited few places and most of them were very nice. But again, they need an SSN to start renting the apartment!

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