tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


Sitting in coach for 15 hours is not a particularly pleasant experience, although it is the price of admission to India for any Minnesotan. My journey started Friday evening at Minneapolis/St Paul airport, where more than 400 people loaded onto the Northwest airline flight to Amsterdam. The flight was oversold and when they offered people travel vouchers worth $750 to exchange their seat for the same flight the next day, I considered if for a moment. I would like to take my family to Florida this winter. Seven hundred and fifty dollars would pay for at least two airfares. But I stuck with my original plan. Going a day later would mean missing an opportunity to see the Taj Mahal.

It took seven and half hours to fly from Minneapolis to Amsterdam. I sat next to a guy who sells pipes. He said he had been to India, and that he had mixed feelings about it. He said he had a hard time adjusting the Indian cultural norms in business where for the sake of politeness, people usually say “yes” even if they really mean “no.” Like most Americans, he would rather have clarity than politeness.

The pipe salesman asked me if I was traveling to Calcutta. He said “there are a lot of beggars, many of them don’t make it through the night. In the morning you see dead bodies on the street.” No, I am not going to Calcutta, but perhaps on another trip I will.

The first people I see on the jetway coming off the aircraft are two soldiers dressed in black carrying machines guns – on has black skin, the other white. I wonder why they are there. They make no expression as I pass.

The Amsterdam airport is busy, and I immediately locate the gate where I need to catch my connecting flight to Delhi – F4. As I walk through the corridors, past the coffee shops and small stores, I notice something: people can smoke here. Living in Minnesota, I don’t think I have seen a person smoke indoors in a public building since the mid-1970s. I look out the window and see flatness. There are not mountains or hills on the horizon.

There was only an hour scheduled between flights, so I had to hustle. The line for boarding is a mile long, but there is a separate line for people who hold an “elite” flying status. A while back, Northwest Airlines mailed me a silver status membership card. Apparently it gets me into the shorter line. I actually feel a little guilty as I look back at the line that goes back and around a corner. But not too guilty. I use the shorter line.

When everyone is boarded on the KLM DC-10, we are informed of a mechanical problem. We were told we might have to change aircraft. What a disappointment! As it is, we were going to get into Delhi late, giving us only a few hours of sleep before the all-day excursion to see the Taj. Now we would be getting in even later. Some two hours later, we left. Never had to change planes. We were told they fixed the problem.

It was difficult sleeping on either of the flights. I may have gotten some sleep on the first leg, but no more than a few minutes on the second. I am passing the time journaling and reading a book by G.K. Chesterton. I had read Othodoxy 20 years ago, and I selected it off my bookshelf at home because the books size (150-page paperback) made it easy to carry in my briefcase. When traveling, you have to consider the difficulty of carrying everything. Chesterton’s wisdom is illuminating. I had forgotten most of his message, which centers on the idea that there is a God; there is objective right and wrong. We are not to make up the rules as we go; if we do, we will destroy ourselves.

Before I left home, John, my 10-year-old gave me his medal of St. Michael the archangel. “He’ll keep you safe” John said.

“You couldn’t do much better than to have St. Michael’s protection,” I said, thanking my incredibly sensitive boy. I love my wife and children. The only downside taking a trip to India for business is the extended time away from family. I will miss them. I do already. But this blog makes it a little easier for us to stay connected.

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