Travel days suck.
Especially a travel day when you're reluctantly leaving.
We woke up at 4:30, dressed, put the finishing touches on packing. Carefully as we could we left the hotel. Carried the bags rather than rolled them, because the floor is bamboo and rolling would be noisy. We didn't want to wake anyone up.
It was a quick walk to the station. We went to the Lawson's convenience store to buy some stuff for breakfast, then sat in the cold waiting on the bus. Some people were out and about. Working folks, mostly people from the entertainment areas near the station on their way home, or blue collar workers on their way to the early shift. On our bus to Itami Airport there were a few businessmen headed out to some far-flung place for a business trip.
Japan is dark and I cannot even watch it as we leave, beyond what is visible in the limited illumination from streetlights. Here and there we pass tall apartment buildings with some lights on, and I imagined there were mothers up and getting things ready for their families: lunches for children and husband, perhaps some laundry; maybe those mothers, too, had jobs to go to. It was pure speculation. I was bored for the only time on the trip.
At the airport we got our tickets. The connection in Tokyo was only 1.5 hours. It was tight. We got off the plane in the domestic terminal, then left that terminal and went into the international, back through security, then passport control, and into Narita's large international wing. Security at Itami was surprisingly light. I didn't have to take off my coat, much less my shoes. Maybe they're just that good. It wasn't a body scanner, but a metal detector. They thought my son had liquid in his backpack, so we took everything out to look at it. Only we didn't take everything out. Not that he had liquid; he didn't. Only the security agent didn't make us take everything out. We looked into the first two pockets and then she said it was fine. Maybe she knew the general area well enough so that we didn't even have to open the main pocket. Or maybe she saw in the things we took out the shape she'd seen on the scanner. Or maybe it was just a way to see our reaction, to put us through a small psychological test. We evidently passed.
In Narita we had a half hour to spare. The line was long and inefficient. As always, I picked the wrong line of the two; my wife had gotten separated from us in the crowd and she went through the faster line, five minutes ahead of us. I determined that the security folk for our line were being too kind, helping people maybe too much. Perhaps I was over thinking it. Security for international flights must meet international standards, which are stricter than domestic. That was part of the confusion. People had to throw away liquids, whereas you don't have to do that for the domestic flights. Coats had to be taken off. People weren't ready for that.
Our flight was slightly delayed. We had time to do a little looking around and bought some onigiri (rice ball wrapped in seaweed; mine was stuffed with salmon; very yummy). Boarding was the usual confused mess, as people prepared to settle in for the eleven hour flight.
Japan Airlines disappointed me on the flight. And Expedia. Personally, I will never use them again, if I have the choice. Expedia's problems began back in October with the ticket changes, and their failure to report to Japan Airlines my food allergies only showed up on that return flight. But I hold Japan Airlines partly responsible; their choice of food for the flight showed a real lack of planning, a distinct lack of understanding of the audience: it was a flight to America, so at least one of the two choices should have been appealing to that crowd. It wasn't that so much that bothered me; rather, it was how they dealt with it. That's often the case in customer service; problems happen. Dealing with those problems can make the difference between a happy customer and one that isn't. Like me.
When the food service came, there were two choices: clam, or shrimp curry. I'm allergic to shellfish, and I told her (in Japanese) that I was allergic to both options, and asked if there was any other choice. She then proceeded to talk to my wife about me as though I was a child, explaining the food was all they had. It really pissed me off. I was in a bad mood anyway, since I was leaving a place where I badly wanted to stay. But I despise condescending attitudes. I've been accused of arrogance in my life, and I suppose it is true; but I fight against it, and I work very hard to be professional, courteous, and to treat people as adults, even in those occasions when the other person truly is acting like a child. Which I wasn't. I was simply wanting something to eat.
The flight attendant went to get the “allergen” meal. She brought it back and told my wife that on my next flight her little boy husband needs to tell them he has an allergy. Okay, she didn't call me “little boy husband” but it was pretty close, when you take attitude into consideration.
What was the allergen meal?
A fish hamburger.
It tasted like crap.
I didn't eat much of it.
And the snack on the plane? Shrimp crackers.
I was very, very hungry. I was also very angry. And tired.
So I got some whiskey and tried to drink myself to sleep. That didn't work. Every time I saw the flight attendant I wanted to ask to see her superior to explain the condescending behavior towards me. It was, I realized, only her attempt to be kind. So I didn't. She seemed like a nice person. Complaining wouldn't have gotten me anything, though, in retrospect, maybe they could have gotten me some food from business or first class. Had that been an option, I would like to think she would have taken it earlier.
There were some different crackers in the back of the plane, and I ate as many of them as I could find. And tore into the snacks we'd brought with us.
I didn't sleep.
On the flight I watched some movies, tried to relax.
I don't sleep on flights all that easily anyway. My irritation only made it worse.
I read. Nothing helped me sleep.
In Chicago, immigration was very quick and efficient. The last time I went through US immigration it was not that way.
Like in Tokyo, we had to leave the international terminal and go through domestic security again. We had plenty of time. I ate breakfast. Eventually I did sleep for maybe an hour, total, crumpled up in a chair like a wad of paper. It wasn't a good sleep, but I needed something.
Chicago to Knoxville. My wife and son slept. I tried, but couldn't. My father met us at the airport, we talked about the trip. Went to their house, picked up the dog, hugged my mother and gave her a kiss on the head, told her I loved her, which I do. Then began the long drive to Nashville. Ate Mexican along the way. Asked my wife to drive the last half hour so that we didn't die in a horrible accident. She and my son had both slept for most of the trip.