Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What's in a name?

It has been a while since I updated this blog. My promise of writing about my Antarctica and Argentina trip never materialized. A lot has happened since then; I have been busy; procrastinate is my middle name; all excuses, but those posts are coming - some day. However, something happened to me a couple of days ago that has forced my hand. At least right now, when it is fresh in my mind, I think it is too good a story to let pass. So let’s leave Antarctica for later and focus on a name confusion that almost left me stranded 50 miles from my destination, middle of the night, with the phone battery dead  and lugging two bags and a suitcase.

Destination: A hostel in downtown San Francisco. I am here for a materials science conference but that hardly matters to this story.
Date: The night before Easter.
Relevant names: First - Arun, Kiran; Last - Sasikumar

So, what’s in a name? Nothing much; just a means to waste everybody’s time or if you hate doing that, a means to get stranded in the middle of nowhere. I had booked a shuttle from the SFO airport to my hostel when I booked my flight tickets. It was an Orbitz voucher that I could have redeemed at the airport, provided I had a printout of the receipt. But well, being a footnote in a long confirmation email, that was one point I missed till it was too late.

I landed a little before 9 pm and about half an hour later found the SuperShuttle stop outside the airport. I approached the friendly looking SuperShuttle employee near the stop and mentioned that I had forgotten the printout of my confirmation. That was fine, he said. All he needed was my name. I gave him my last name. He found it in his system without much delay. Just to confirm he read out my first name. It sounded about right. Something was off, but this was not the first time some one had totally killed the pronunciation. It ended with “run” and that was good enough for me. Next, he asked me for my destination. I started with the address, but as soon as I was done with the street name he cut me off. I suppose he was satisfied that I was the right customer.

A few minutes later, a shuttle shows up. The employee points me towards it and along with 5 other passengers, I head out. The driver reads out everyone’s names. Once again, he kills my first name. Ends with “run”, same last name, no issues. And, off we go.

Fortunately, I wasn’t tired and was paying attention to the road signs. My first indication that something was wrong was when I see signs for San Jose and San Francisco side by side and we followed the road south from the airport. All right, maybe we are taking a short detour to drop another passenger off, I thought. Fair enough! I waited for 5 more minutes and I realized that we were still heading south. Road signs for Half Moon Bay were becoming more and more prominent. Thankfully, I had been here twice before to know that Half Moon Bay was definitely south of SFO. Just to clarify, I asked the girl sitting next to me where we were heading. Away from SFO - definitely. I spent half a minute evaluating my options and then I informed the driver. I was apparently being taken to Sunnyvale, as another Mr. Sasikumar had made this reservation. Fortunately, everyone on the shuttle was patient enough to let the driver take me back to the airport.

I later realized that being an Orbitz voucher and not a direct reservation on the SuperShuttle website, I was not even in their system. So yeah, all this was partly my fault. In my defense, though, if not for the namesake I would have known that my reservation was not valid before I was even on board the wrong shuttle. I would have asked if anything could be done without the printed voucher and they would have said no, I would have chastised myself for being an idiot and wasting 20 bucks, made a new reservation and just reached the hostel without any drama. No story there!

Funny thing is, my last name is not really that common in India. At the least it is not a generic caste/community based name that a million people share. Still, if this happened in India I could have understood. I would think that the odds of this happening in the US is real slim. However, sometimes random coincidences can put you in a real pickle. As a side note, to put the randomness into perspective, the other passenger has my brother’s name. In any case, one thing is for sure now. I am never again going to assume people are mispronouncing my name.

So, what’s in name? Just a means to waste everyone’s time in this case, but, for all you know, there could be a contract out on someone that shares your name, and for the sake of argument let us assume that the assassin is a racist who cannot distinguish between Indian faces. I suppose, you will be left wondering, for a split second, when you feel that bullet go right through your head.

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