NJ MVC License Renewal experience

Yesterday I went to renew my New Jersey driving license. My license had expired in March but due to Covid-19 (or should we call it COVID-20??), the state of NJ automatically extended the license until the end of this month. I started to do some research on the renewal process considering the restrictions in place i.e. the MVC agency can only serve a limited number of people on a daily basis. There are a number of services that are available online. Try the online route first. Only come in person if it is absolutely needed. Unfortunately, my license didn’t qualify for online renewal and I needed to go in person to get it renewed. I also read other people’s experiences and most of them mentioned waiting for a long time. Some folks chose to arrive very early (3am was the earliest, I found), so that they could be the first ones in the agency. By and large, most folks mention that a lot of MVCs were reaching their daily limit by 10:30am. The way the current process is designed is like this and is applicable across all locations.

  • Stand in a line before agency opens (before 8am)

  • MVC staff member arrives around 7:30/8:00am and registers your phone in their system

  • System sends you a text message as a part of registration

  • MVC staff member will estimate time before you can be serviced (System is first in, first out)

  • You receive text message 15-20 mins before your number is supposed to come

  • Get another text message when it is your turn

  • Go inside MVC and finish task

Considering the restrictions in place and personal limitations, I wanted to go to a location where the probability of getting the number is high, even if I go late in the day. I researched all of the licensing locations before deciding that locations in South Jersey would be best considering my requirements. Since it was a cloudy and rainy day, I was hoping that there would be fewer people and left for an MVC agency at around 9:45am. I decided to try my luck at an MVC agency near my house, but by the time I got there, they had reached their capacity for the day. So I then decided to go to Tom’s River MVC location. It was about 90 mins away and the drive was good. I reached there at 11:45am and checked if they had reached capacity for the day. As I had estimated, they had not reached their daily capacity and I was registered. However, the process after registration remains the same as above. I had to wait until 3:30pm before receiving a text message from MVC that they would be ready for me in another 20 mins.

The process inside the MVC was smooth. The member at the front desk checked my 6 points of ID and I asked her if I can get a license with REAL ID instead of a standard license. She updated my form and checked on the REAL ID. After the documentation check, I waited for a few mins for my number to be called. Once they called my number, the lady again checked all my documentation, checked a few things in their system, took my new picture, and gave me the new license.

The MVC can make the current process a lot smoother by moving the appointment/ token system online. They don’t have to design something very complicated – just look to the Visa appointment system which is used by DHS. The entire system is online and it tells the applicant when they need to come for their biometrics (date and time) and then for their visa interview. During the visa interview, people are only allowed to stand in line 15 mins before their appointment time. Such a system would be really helpful for MVC. The only difference here is, they should also reserve a few slots every hour for senior/ elderly folks who do not/ may not have access to a computer or are not mobile savvy. These folks should be allowed to walk-in to the agency and should be able to get a time slot. I do find the whole process of standing outside the agency for a few hours just to get registered extremely frustrating. That is a lot of productive man-hours wasted and an online system can go a long way in resolving this. Considering everything, the entire process was very smooth. The folks were courteous and helpful and my experience with them was positive.

Anchor Motel – Niagara Falls – Review

This past weekend, we decided to visit the Niagara Falls on the US side.This was more of an impromptu trip for us that was planned a week before we departed for Niagara Falls and hence we were struggling to find a reasonable hotel which fit our budget. After searching for a couple of days we decided to stay at Anchor Motel near Niagara Falls and booked a two night stay using Booking.com. We booked a Deluxe Queen room with 2 queen beds and were charged $132 per room per night with taxes.

This was the first time we were traveling with our 9 month old son after he had started eating solid food. Since he is at an age, where he doesn’t like sitting too long in the car seat, we decided to travel at night when he is asleep and had planned the trip accordingly. That meant that even though we booked the room for 2 nights, we planned to check out Saturday evening so that we could drive back in the night while our son is asleep. We also normally warm the water using stove and prepare the cereal etc. for his meal. As the motel didn’t have any tea/ coffee maker, we called the motel to inquire about using hot plates so that we can warm water to prepare baby’s food. We were told that using hot plates isn’t allowed and they would provide us with a kettle to warm/ boil the water. We arrived at the motel on Friday afternoon and were greeted with a very enthusiastic front desk lady. I believe her name was Kathy (I could be wrong) and she told us about things which were nearby and how we can see the mist of the Niagara Falls from the back of the motel. She also gave us the kettle which we had requested earlier via telephone.

We checked into the room and at the onset, I felt that the room didn’t watch the reviews that people had given on the website Booking.com.  The primary reason we had booked this motel was due to its high ratings in the cleanliness. The room in itself was small for 4 people and an infant. The carpet was old and the bathroom door didn’t lock from inside. There were a lot of cobwebs outside the room, and while we didn’t find spiders or cobwebs in the room, the room did have a damp smell. Since we were only looking to use the room to sleep during the night, we ignored these things. We had a pretty uneventful stay while we were at the motel and as planned earlier checked out of the motel Saturday evening and returned the kettle to the same front desk lady.

Upon reaching back, we left a negative review for the motel on Booking.com and that’s when things took a very interesting turn. The very next day we got an email from Booking.com mentioning that the motel was alleging that we had broken the TV and had not returned the kettle. They even asked us to pay $220 in damages as soon as possible to the motel and to contact the motel for any dispute. As soon as we received this email, we reached out to Anchor Motel as we had not even used the TV and had returned the kettle to the lady at the front desk. We spoke to a person named “Jose” and he mentioned that we had broken the TV and now he was left with $300 in damages. He also mentioned that “certain groups of people” damage his property and then they don’t pay. At this point, I believe he insinuating against my ethnical background. He then mentioned that how he should have cancelled the booking in the first place when we had asked if we could use the hot plate in the room. At this point, we ignored the racist tone of “Jose” as we only wanted to clear matter. We told him that we haven’t used the TV and had returned the kettle to the lady at the front desk. We also asked him to send pictures of the broken TV.

The next day, I was reviewing my profile on Booking.com and observed the below review left by the motel on Booking.com.

Screen Shot 2019-09-27 at 8.29.31 PM

After reading the above feedback from the hotel, we went through a lot of reviews on Booking.com, identified the negative reviews and observed that the motel had retaliated on most of them. They had retaliated esp. on the negative feedback left by Indians who had stayed there. After doing this review, we left a detailed complaint with Booking.com explaining what had happened. We got a call from Booking.com to understand the issue and after explaining the issue to them, they said they will investigate and have asked the motel to provide proof of the broken TV.  Later in the evening, we got the below email and images from Booking.com

“I spoke with Jose to discuss your case, and he confirmed the tea kettle was returned. He also said a knob was missing from a drawer, and that it looked like that could have been what broke the TV. Attached are pics of the TV and bloody linen found in the room.

Jose no longer wishes to receive calls from you about this situation.

Please feel free to contact us with any additional questions.

Best wishes,


This was the first time we had even heard of a bloody linen sheet and a door knob. We reviewed the images in detail and saw the image of the bloody linen was taken in August, 2019 before our stay and the image of the broken TV is readily available on the internet. We pointed the same out too Booking.com and told them that the motel management is unscrupulous, lying and dishonest and we were very surprised that Booking.com does not validate such claims before passing it on to their customers. We also gave them examples where the motel owner had retaliated on negative feedback (see below) and told them that we would like to get a refund for our stay at the hotel for making us go through this terrible after stay experience which stressed us out for a couple of days.

At this point, we are awaiting a response from Booking.com to see if we do get a refund from them or the motel. We hope people find this review useful and hope that other travelers are careful when they stay at this motel and do not have to go through the same experience that we underwent. Ideally, we would not advise anyone to stay at this motel as the management is dishonest, retaliates on being given negative feedback and discriminate based on ethnical background.


Life verse

The other day I was watching some television and came across this little gem of a question – What is the one sentence that can cause happiness and sadness at the same time? I wasn’t sure if there was any such sentence which would cause happiness and sadness at the sadness at the same time. However, there is such a sentence and is used far too frequently in our day-to-day lives. The sentence is “This too shall pass”. We normally associate this saying when the going is tough. However, this is also true when everything is going according to your plan and life is full of happiness, joy and prosperity  for one day things will change and these things will pass. This is such a profound saying. I didn’t realize this until I started to think on this a little bit more deeply and then realization hit me that just like bad times, good times shall pass as well and we might as well make the best out of the good times and make every moment count.

A year away from Facebook

It has been more than a year since I last posted on my blog (wondering if people still use blogs). The rate at which technology is changing, it doesn’t take long for something to new to become obsolete within a few years (in some case even a few weeks/ months). Considering how our lives have intertwined with technology in the last few years, and the amount of data that we are sharing, an incident like Cambridge Analytica was bound to happen. Even before the incident, I was thinking how much information about oneself    should even be on social media. I had linked my Facebook account with other websites, would constantly post pictures on Facebook and had even linked my website to Facebook. The Cambridge Analytica incident was the last straw for me in my relationship with Facebook. At the same time, personally, Facebook was becoming addiction for me. The first thing I would check after waking up in the morning would be Facebook, keep checking it frequently during day time and the cycle would continue during evenings, well into the night.

Once I heard about the incident, I actually decided to delete my Facebook account once and for all. It was just like that. I downloaded all my messages, posts, pictures and any other data which I had posted on Facebook over the years and simply deleted the account. Initially, I did crave for those notifications/ updates and it feel like something was missing. However, I am glad to see that phase didn’t really last long for me. It has been more than a year since I have deleted my account from Facebook and to be honest, it has been one of the better decisions that I have made. Does it mean I am not on social media? No – I still have my LinkedIn account, my instagram account and my rarely used twitter account. But the time spent on those websites is limited compared to the time I was spending on Facebook.

As anyone would know, any information shared on social media is going to remain on the Internet forever (which is why more and more employers are conducting social media checks during their pre-hiring process). Social media is here to stay and is also essential for many businesses. My $0.02 – post only necessary information and beware that anything that you post on the web, can be found, and used by anyone for/ against you.


Padman- Movie Extraordinaire

We finally saw the movie Padman over the weekend and to be honest, it is one of the best Indian movies I have seen to date. This movie is inspired from the life of Arunachalam Muruganantham. Not a lot of directors would make a movie about this subject. However, it really shows that Indian cinema is evolving. Everything about the movie is just right – Akshay Kumar’s acting, direction of R Balki, the punchlines in the movie, the intro and the title song and the best part of the movie is the speech that Akshay Kumar gives before the United Nations. The speech is inspired by the Ted Talk which was given by Mr. Arunachalam and which I have viewed a couple of times before the movie came out, thanks to my wife. One day she just asked me about this guy and told me to listen to his talk on TedX. I was like why would I want to listen to a guy talk about sanitary pads. But once I listened to his speech, I was completely blown away. I am including the speech in this link for anyone who wants to listen.

Before marriage, I kind of knew about the “5 day” test match (term coined in the movie) that a woman goes through. But being raised in a society where such discussions don’t really happen – I wasn’t really aware of what a lot of women in our country go through. I used to observe that my mom wouldn’t open the temple doors when she was in those days and always used to wonder what is so impure about this. I have even questioned her a couple of times about this and her response has always been ” that’s the way it is”. A lot of women will not enter the kitchen during those days and again I couldn’t and still don’t understand the reasons behind this.

A lot of stigma is still associated when a woman enters her “chums” and this movie does a great part in addressing the hygiene part of it. A lot of women still use rags or old cloth etc. instead of sanitary pads and thus invite disease for themselves. Hopefully after watching this movie, and identifying that there are low cost options available, some of these women would switch over to sanitary pads for better health reasons.

First attempt at driving left hand drive car

In the previous post, I had described my experience of taking the first road trip in America, which was awesome by the way. In this post, I am going to share my experience of driving a left hand drive car for the first time.

A couple of weeks after I got my driving license, I decided to call one of the driving schools (Amar Driving School) in Jersey City for one of their one hour lessons. The driver arrived promptly at the said time and then we started the lesson. The first time I opened the driver side door (on the left) is when it hit me that – no more entering from the right as in India. The second key thing was the gear was on the right and not left, and the lack of need to keep the hand on the gear as the car was automatic. In India, I am used to driving a stick shift (manual gear) car, but in the US automatic is way to go and something that I wasn’t used to. We then started going over the controls in the car, and everything was other way around. The windshield wiper controls are on the right side and signal controls, headlights, etc. are on the left side. In India, they are on the opposite side. Keeping this in mind, we started to take car out of the building complex.

The first thing I had to do was to signal that I am going to take a left and I accidentally turn on the wipers (old habits die hard). I had told the driver that I was used to driving in India and the controls were on the other side, so when we approached an intersection he asked me to take a left. While taking the left, he told me to be careful and not turn in the immediate lane of oncoming traffic. In the US, the left turn is always wider and the right turn is immediate. In India it is the other way around (left turn is near and right turn is wider).  This is very important to keep in mind when driving in the US or in country where left hand drive is prevalent. I completely forgot this while I was driving in Niagara late in the night and entered the lane of oncoming traffic. But since it was very late and there were absolutely no cars, we didn’t have an accident. Once we took the left turn, I was driving normally and started to get the feel of the road and driving conditions. Driving is like swimming or riding a bike, once you learn how to drive, you can easily adapt to different cars and system. While everything was good, the instructor observed that I had a tendency to slow down at the intersection even when the signal was green, so he asked me to not do that as I could be involved in the rear end accident. I told him old habits die hard. In India, anyone can come from anywhere even when it is your signal to go and hence I was slowing down. He laughed and said that this is America and chances of something like that happening here were extremely remote.

The last thing he made me go over was the 3 point turn (K turn) and parallel parking. Apparently, knowing how to parallel park is actually tested when they issue license over here. The instructor got really technical about the distance between the curb and car and how to go about exactly parking the car. It was a very interesting lesson to say the least. Overall it was a fun one hour driving through the city and enjoying my first left hand car drive.




First road trip in America

A couple of weeks back, we (Geeta and me) undertook our first ever road trip in the United States. We have always enjoyed taking road trips in India and we were itching to start taking road trips here too. Initially, I was very nervous since I have hardly driven in the US. However, Geeta convinced me to drive and what a drive it was. Prior to this trip, I had taken one 60 minute lesson with the driving school instructor after getting my license and was able to drive without any major issues on the road. There were a few minor issues, primarily, with me working out the vehicle details. In India, I drive a right hand drive, the car indicator is on the right side of the steering wheel, the windshield wipers are on the left, the left turn is a near turn and right turn is a wide turn. In the US, everything is the other way round, so getting used to the car panels and turns was something that required getting used to.

We booked a car through Hertz. Even though we had booked Toyota Corolla or similar, we ended up getting a Toyota Versa, which did result in a slight baggage problem. After resolving the baggage problems, we were finally on our way to Niagara Falls.We wanted to drive to a couple of places while we were en-route to Niagara Falls, hoping to see some Fall colors. The plan was to drive for a few hours, stay overnight at a hotel and then drive to Niagara Falls the next morning. However, we started late and it took us forever to get out of the Jersey City due to evening rush hour traffic. Once we left the city, the driving was much easier on the highway. The best part about driving on the roads in America is that everything is so organized – people drive in lanes, give signals when they change lanes, minimal overtaking from the right etc. However, that can sometimes also be the most boring part as the road gets monotonous. After taking a few breaks, we finally reached our hotel around 12:30 am and settled in for the night. We decided to stay at Days Inn at Hammondsport. It is a small town approximately 30 mins away from Watkins Glen State Park.

The next morning, we realized that once we reach Niagara, the car would be in the parking lot along with all our luggage in it. We weren’t too comfortable with the idea of leaving our luggage in the parking lot and decided to dump our luggage at the hotel where we we scheduled to stay at Saturday night. The weather at Niagara Falls was cloudy and was expected to clear only after 3pm in the afternoon and we didn’t want to visit Niagara in cloudy weather. So we decided to take a detour and head to Park Lake Motel, near Letchworth State Park. The ride was scenic and Motel was in a charming small town. We had our lunch quickly and drove towards Niagara Falls. We reached Niagara Falls around 4pm and the weather was just perfect – sunny skies with a little bit of cool air. We parked in the parking lot, took our parking tickets and headed straight for the Maid of the Mist boat ride. If there is one thing that you need to do while you are at Niagara Falls, please please please ride the Maid of the Mist. The ride covers three falls – The American Falls, The Bridal Veil Falls and The Horseshoe Falls. The views are majestic to say the least. The force of the Horseshoe Falls was so much that our boat was literally swaying even though we were quite far away from the falls. After covering the Falls, we stayed back to watch the Falls in the night and once again we were blown away by the grandeur of the Falls and its appearance in the night. We also walked over to the Goat Island and viewed the Horseshoe Falls in the lights and were completely blown away by the view.

After enjoying the Falls, we headed back to Park Lake Motel about hour and half away. The drive in the night was very tiring and because the roads are so monotonous, it can put any driver to sleep. I somehow managed to drive safely to hotel and we crashed for the night. The next day we decided to head to Letchworth State Park to check out the Grand Canyon of the East. The valley was just mesmerizing and the best part was we got to see the Middle Falls. Obviously after you have viewed the Niagara Falls, no other falls come as close to them. We spent the afternoon in the park, having a picnic and then decided to leave for home. The drive back home was good, however, the roads here do get very monotonous and at least I had to keep eating gum or chatting to not bore myself to “death”.

Overall the trip was extremely enjoyable. I enjoyed driving on the US roads and will write another post just comparing my driving experience based in India and US.



Very first New York moment

Last month me and wifey decided to visit Summer Film Festival at Bryant Park to experience an open air movie. We had been thinking to see a movie at Bryant Park for a long time and finally ended up going to watch the last movie of the festival – Dirty Dancing. I do not think we could have chosen a better movie to go to. We reached around 7pm at the Park and it was full of people. Most of them were sitting with their blankets spread out and had got their picnic baskets with food and drinks. We were finally able to find some space where we could lay our blanket and sit and eagerly wait for the movie to start.

The movie experience is just like what you experience in a movie theater – with trailers being played before the star of the movie. Just before the start of the movie, a lot of folks got up and started to perform a routine – like some kind of tradition before the beginning of the movie. I had never been to an outdoor theater before and was expecting to not hear any dialogues due to crowd noise. However, to my surprise the sound system was excellent and loud and I was able to hear everything clearly. Since this a cult movie, a lot of folks had already seen this movie (many times, I believe), knew what was coming next and were hooting, whistling and shouting at many scenes. We had not seen this movie before and this is what made our experience even more enjoyable. The best part of the evening was during the end of the movie when the song “I had the time of my life” comes on and everyone started shouting. Some people got up and started dancing on the song, what followed was just magical. Pretty much everyone in front of us, behind us started to get up and started dancing to the song. This was like an unplanned flashmob and the most spontaneous bunch of people (more than 1000) dancing at the same time. Not to be left behind, we also started dancing along with them and enjoyed the evening. A couple of folks also told me that they had been coming to the Summer Film Festival for over 10 years and they hadn’t seen anything like this before and they don’t expect to see anything like this again. I am not sure if I would have experienced something like this in another city. This experience is going to stay with me for a very long time.

Bahubali 2 – The Conclusion

Ever since the first movie was released, there has been a lot of anticipation for the release of the 2nd movie. I didn’t watch the first movie when it was released. A lot of my friends told me it is a very good movie, but I never had the opportunity to see the movie. And ever since the 2nd movie has been released, it has been breaking box office records everywhere. I watched this movie the day it was released in New York and since then have been going gaga over every bit of the movie. I think I have always loved movies about mythological characters or characters with super powers (no wonder I love all the Marvel movies). I also love reading about mythological characters – explains my love for reading books written by Amish. This explains why I love this movie so much. This is the only Hindi dubbed movie where I have even seen the original Telegu version of the movie as well (obviously with subtitles). It seems to me that everything was perfect in the movie – the story, the characters, the acting, the songs, the background music – everything was just perfect. I have been listening to the Hindi songs of the movie on loop and now Telegu songs as well. My wife says I have taken crazy to the next level because I have probably seen all of their trailers, watched the movie twice (Hindi + Telegu) and watched a lot of the interviews of the actors (things that I have never done for any other movie) and trailer reactions as well. Some of my favorite scenes in the movie are – the introduction of Devsena, fight with Pindharis and fight in the end between Rana and Prabhas (this was just too good).

I really feel that the characters were extremely developed, could be related to and the acting by Prabhas, Rana and Sathyaraj was extremely good. The character of Prabhas (Amarendra Bahuabali) as the righteous son, husband and king was something that any guy could relate to. However, I feel the character of his son could have been developed further. From a character development standpoint, he was completed overshadowed by his father. The VFX effects were also extremely well done for a Indian movie and combined with awesome music by MM Keervani can give any Hollywood movie a run for the money. The entire movie has been released in 4K format and looks really awesome when seen on the big screen. All in all it is one of the best Indian movies to be released after a long time and even though at some stages it was a bit over the top, I have to say no Bollywood can ever come this close to this movie.