“AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Wow, I feel like the Genie from Disney’s Alladin, as he comes out of the lamp after being cooped up for Ten-Thousand Years screaming, “AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!” Over the last twelve months or so I had been busy studying Arabic, Philosophy, Theology and other subjects. The studies had been really intense, with upto 7 hours of Tuition per day! Followed by a generous dose of Homework, Tests and Exams.
USA. YOU-ESS-AYE. This was my first time to USA. I was sharing that fact with every fellow passenger who would make the mistake to listen. They would mostly nod and say too, “Wow, you’re going to have a terrific time. Go for it.” I was really not sure what to expect first time coming to America. I really didn’t think much about it. But one expectation I did have, was to be impressed. I was prepared to be Wowed. My socks to be knocked off. I mean even given the recession and all, USA is still a Superpower in the world. I’m coming from India. A Developing Nation. How could I expect otherwise? How could I not be impressed?
Welcome to the Bay-Area, Baby!
So with Sky-high expectations and my last-minute preparations, I step off the aircraft into San Francisco Airport. I looked up, and Wha…? “Excuse me,” I almost asked. “Is this the San Francisco Airport? The airport that is in the heart of Silicon Valley? The Original Silicon Valley, not the duplicate ones that we have in India and other places. I am supposed to be Wowed here, I am not Wowed.” Sadly, the SFO Airport was disappointing at first sight. Everything looked so old. The airport at Namma Bengaluru (ie Bangalore) is far more impressive. But what the SFO Airport lacked in glimmer and shine, it made up in friendliness and efficiency. Examples:
– We were about a 1000 people waiting for our immigration to be done. 500 American nationals and 500 Visitors. I think our wait was probably 45 minutes max. Which is seriously impressive. Anywhere else would have taken twice as long. There were about 20 counters lined and each one processing immigration as fast as they could.
– Whenever possible there were immigration officers were opening new counters and urging passengers from behind to join new lines.
– My immigration officer a Black American, was as friendly as an immigration officer could get. He asked me about the purpose of my visit and when I said I’ve come down here for Comic Con, he replied, “Comic Con! Yeah, should be a blast.”
– The ethnic diversity that I saw at SFO Airport, gosh I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that anywhere else. I look down the aisle of visitors and I see, Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Arabs, Persians, Europeans etc. All a perfect blend, standing next to each other, slowly trudging forward in the line.
And when I look down the aisle of Americans, again I see “Indians, Pakistanis, Chinese, Arabs, Persians, Europeans etc.”. Not a single White American. Infact my immigration officer was Black American. He was saluting to his superior who was a Chinese American. Gosh, it was brilliant. People being respected for their talent, skill and hardwork without an ounce of partisan whatsoever.
I mentioned this diversity to my immigration officer, he gives me my passport, winks at me and says, “Welcome to the Bay-Area, Baby!”
Comic-Con!From San Francisco to San Diego. From San Diego Airport to to my Hotel. I had completed more than 24 hours of traveling and was just “knackered”. I don’t think I was happier to finally see a bed that I could crash upon. Fortunately I was able to fight the jet-lag and get decent sleep my first night in USA. Below are Miscellanous observations and incidents that took place over the wonderful yet tiring week that followed.
Oh my God, there were Starbucks everywhere. Boy, if someone knows how to run a successful retail chain, it’s Howard Schultz. There was Starbucks at the Airport, there were starbucks-es in every street that I passed by, there was a Starbucks in my hotel, Hell, there was Starbucks in my Room! Were they stalking me! There were at least three Starbucks Cafes, outlets or booths at the San Diego Convention Centre. And almost every Starbucks I passed by, was packed. There was a queue of people who couldn’t wait to get in to get their morning cup of caffeine.
Organisation at Comic Con:
Comic Con was attended by more than 130,000 people! Perhaps the real crowd was about 150,000! It was massive. When I was stuck between crowds, I was reminded of the time I was at Hajj. And Hajj has Millions of people. At times it sure felt like that. But the manner in which the whole event was organised it was as if every organiser or volunteer just knew what was coming next and knew what they had to do to handle it. There were booths for Exhibitors to go ask for help. Place for volunteers to go. Place marked where attendees had to be. It was all worked out to the last letter. If in doubt, ask anybody and they would tell you where you needed to go.
Lines, lines and more lines:
The last time I saw so many lines is in my school notebook. I mean you had to stand in queue for everything! To attend a panel discussion, for a cup of coffee, even to go to the toilet! The self-discipline was brilliant really, considering the number of people there, but because of the crowds, I had to miss out on a lot of events that I could have attended. Those who planned in advance and were there 30 minutes to an hour in advance, could meet artists such as Bill Amend, the artist behind the award-winning series FoxTrot or the Author Eoin Colfer, famous for his Artemis Fowl series.
People I met:
This has been the highlight of my trip. Visiting the local Islamic Centre there and meeting several of the youths specially Ebrahim Fontaine, Sarmad and Abbas Mamdani. They were awesome in helping me out managing the Sufi Comics booth. Most of the visitors at the booth were White Americans, a few immigrants too. At the booth, had several memorable interactions, noting a few of them down:
– There were so many people who came by had a look at 40 Sufi Comics, shook my hand enthusiastically and told me, “I so love the work that you are doing. This is terrific. I am so happy to see this and truly wish you all the best.” Some of them bought 40 Sufi Comics, most didn’t. Truly that was immaterial. The sincerity with which they shared the comment, made my whole trip worthwhile.
– Then there were those who just looked one glance at our book 40 Sufi Comics and said, “Wow, this is awesome. I always wanted to learn about Islam and now I finally can. How much is this for? Only $10! I am so buying this. Could you sign it for me please.”
– There was this particular couple who had a look at our book, they picked up the book and said, “Our best friend is a Muslim.” The lady interjected and said, “she’s more than a best friend. She is like my sister. Her son has recently become a Hafiz. This is so wonderful. I’d like to buy this for her.”
– I received two negative visitors over the period of four and a half days that I was there. One of them said in jest, “Sufi Comics! Jeez, and I thought Christian Comics were bad. Oh, don’t mind me, I’m an Atheist.” I offered her 40 Sufi Comics and said,
“Go on, have a look, there might be something that interests you.”
She had a look at the contents and said, “these are all the standard arguments (for the existence of God), there is nothing new here.”
“But how do you explain the intricate Design in the Universe?” I persisted.”Oh, I don’t really care.” She concluded. “Ah, well then that’s that.” We parted ways.
– The most unexpected comment came from yet another friendly visitor. He stopped by the stall, and asked if he could take a picture of our book. Ofcourse we obliged. While clicking he said, the picture is for his Sufi friend and he would send him this picture, asking if he would like his copy. He then said that perhaps we would know his Sufi friend. His friend is of Indian origin and his name is Arraman. Me and Abbas (fellow volunteer) looked at each other, Arraman? No, we replied we hadn’t heard of him.
“Oh, you mean, A R Rahman! You know A R Rahman?”
He said: “Why, ofcourse, do you know him also?”
“Well…not personally. But we know of him. He’s a legend.”
And then he began to share wonderful stories of A R Rahman, of him coming down to LA to shoot for a Sufi Project. A R Rahman was to make a production of Farid ud-Din Attar’s, Sufi Classical Work, The Conference of the Birds.
“Well please, here take a copy of our book for him and I’d be more than happy to sign it.” So I got to sign a book for THE A R Rahman. Perhaps will hear from him soon.
– Met several more amazing people, few that I can currently recall are:
*Pastor Ralph Miley and *Buzz Dixon. I was pleased to see that there were other Faith-based stalls, other than Sufi Comics. Hit a very good raport with Pastor Ralph and Buzz. Hopefully would be doing a Panel together at Comic Con 2013.
*Peter Birkemoe: It was really cool meeting Peter. He’s the Wikipedia of Comics. He owns and runs Beguiling, a Comic Store in Canada.
*Wattana Khommarath, an amazing artist who also was working with A R Rahman on The Conference of the Birds
*Nicole Shelhoup and *Oriana Carciente. Two terrific artists.
All Good Comics must to come to an end:
Days, rolled by. The end of Comic Con was approaching. Most days of the convention I was busy managing the booth, with little time off to have a look around. On the last day, I made the most of the convention. I opened the booth a wee bit late and managed to buy a souvenir t-shirt. Found some excellent Graphic Novels/Books, some of them are:
– The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders – Alif the Unseen, signed by G Willow Wilson!
Picked up a Plush Snowy puppy (from Tintin) for Maryam. Finally invested in a Vintage Comic Collection by purchasing two Vintage Comics (Issue No. 31 and Issue No. 42) of The Amazing Spiderman with Stan Lee’s signature!!!! We wrapped up the stall and with that Comic-Con ended for me.
When I woke up next morning, it was as if half the population vaporised. (Ofcourse that doesn’t stop Starbucks from having it’s usual packed crowd.) But the streets were emptier. The City just didn’t’ have the buzz it had over the weekend. My friends there told me San Diego was a sleepy relaxed town. I could finally see it.
Typing this blog post has made me nostalgic of San Diego. My first impression of USA was not very impressive. But by the end of the trip I was sorrowful to be leaving. The fabulous weather. The great people. The terrific time I was having. (Just as my fellow passengers promised). We have registered ourselves for next year too. If all goes well, we’d be there at Comic Con San Diego 2013, inshallah!
Enjoy below the miscellanous pictures that I clicked.