Saturday, November 10, 2012

The week-long attempt to get "home" ...

My farewell to my family began on Oct. 30 and lasted for six days, although I did not know it would be that long at the time. To see me off, my Mom scheduled a family dinner to celebrate my birthday a few weeks early, since I could be physically present for the... presents. And cake. Cheesecake, my favorite. This particular cheese cake had four flavors, and I wanted to try them all. Since it was my birthday party, and I can do what I want to, I asked my mom to give me a sampling of each. So, she did. I got my half out of the middle.

For those of you helping me to stay motivated on my diet, I have  lost 25 pounds, so I continued to lose weight on my trip, being good as far as diet and exercise went, but not perfect, so I could enjoy what my travels had to offer. Like cheesecake.

Some more birthday party photos:
Reading a card while my nephew, Brandon, and grandmother, Ginia, look on.
Making a birthday wish while my mother informs my niece, Cheyenne, that the  "happy happy" is not for her.
Protecting my candles from Cheyenne, who was insisting that she blow out my candles for me.
After the party, it was time to pack my two bags - one of which I had purchased the day before to accommodate the gifts and hard-to-find items I had acquired during my stay. My flight out of Orange County airport was at 6:45 a.m., so my alarm went off early the next morning.

Halloween was a day of travel for me. I flew back to Seattle to try and catch the Space A flight back to Iwakuni. Of course, there was no guarantee that there would be space available for me, but I was hoping - and planning - for the best. I arrived in Seattle at about 2 p.m., but would not know if I would be on the Space A flight until 5:30 a.m. the next morning. So, luckily, I have a high school friend and relatives in Seattle to hang out with. I didn't get to see my high school friend - after all, it was Halloween and she has three boys who, I am sure, were eager to collect as much candy as they could. But I did get to spend the evening with my aunt Judy and cousin Matt, as well as their spouses, Jay and Angie. They live in the Tacoma area. After leaving my bags at the fabulous USO in Seattle, Judy and Matt picked me up from SeaTac airport and took me out to Gig Harbor and Fox Island. The autumn leaves made the area just gorgeous. In fact, I was so busy  talking and looking around that I forgot to take pictures. Whoops. But I did get a photo of the sign from the restaurant where we ate in Gig Harbor. By the way, the fish and chips are excellent.

After the visit with my relatives, I took a shuttle back to the airport, where I took a shower and attempted to sleep. There is a bunk room with 12 bunks, but when there are 250 people trying to board the same plane the next morning, a bunk was hard to come by. I found a place on a comfy couch to sleep for about an hour, and then managed to acquire a bunk for another two hours of sleep. But this was not exactly restful sleep. One of the volunteers working that night did not have an "indoor voice," apparently. I kept getting woken up by a raspy, high-pitched, shouty, mild Southern drawl that was a lot like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. Now, please don't get me wrong: The fact that these people volunteer at all hours of the night and day is simply amazing and wonderful. I just wish that some people wouldn't be scheduled for the night shift.

At 4:15 a.m. I dragged myself from my borrowed bunk, had a bowl of cereal, since that was was available, and gathered up my two suitcases for the short walk downstairs to the meeting place for those of us planning to fly Space A (read this post if you haven't heard of Space A before. Things will make a lot more sense). I was a Category 4 out of six categories, so it is always pretty iffy as to whether I will travel or not. At 5:20 a.m., someone from the Space A office gave us a pre-announcement announcement: Someone will be here to announce those who made the cut for Space A in a few minutes. At this point my heart began pounding. The entire trip thus far had gone so smoothly, no late flights, no major or minor snafus, no jet lag... it had been perfect. But now I was ready to get home to my family. I was tired, sick of dragging luggage around and missed my three boys. But perfect had run out.

At 5:36 a.m., the Space A people announced that they had 12 seats available. My heart beat even faster and I Skype messaged the spouse that I was incredibly nervous - this had been the part of the trip I had been worrying about weeks before I actually left for the states. He tried to calm me down from 5,000 miles away. Names were read, starting with Categories 1, 2 and 3. And that's as far as it went. They didn't even get to Category 4 people before they ran out of seats. My beating heart sunk, my frustration and exhaustion made their presence known. I started crying and couldn't see my iPhone well enough to Skype message Rodney to let him know I wouldn't be coming home today after all.

I wandered to a waiting area a slumped in to a chair. What does a grown woman of 35 do when she is heart-breakingly disappointed and tired? She calls her Mommy. And wakes up her Mommy, who is never awake at 5:45 a.m., but quickly got online to research flight options. One-way flights to Japan that day were $2,000 or more. Incredibly cost-prohibitive. Moving overseas, despite the money the government gives you to move, is expensive, especially when you buy two cars in two months. Our savings account was showing signs of wear and tear, so an expensive plane ticket was out.

Mom suggested I simply fly back to Orange County to regroup and form a plan. While I had open invitations to stay in Seattle with both my family and my high school friend, going back to my parents' house would allow me to spend more time with them, and my 91-year-old grandmother. I paid $300 for a one-way ticket back to Orange County, the same route I had taken two weeks early, but the round-trip ticket had only cost $200. This trip to the states was turning out to be a very expensive inexpensive trip.

While I focused on returning to the OC, Mom was online looking for a cheaper plane ticket. She found one that left five days later for $1,000. And she loaned me the money to pay for it so I didn't have to cancel Christmas this year. What would a girl do without her Mommy?

So, despite my disappointment, and those of my boys back in Iwakuni, the silver lining was that I got to spend more time with my family and see more friends while I waited to catch my next plane. At least this time my seat was guaranteed. But the weather was not.

Early, but not as early as my flight a week before, on Wednesday, Nov. 7, my father, once again, took me to the Orange County airport. I was flying to San Francisco to catch my flight to Tokyo. It was here that I realized that my military ID was missing. My military ID is essential for my life in Japan and it was no where to be found. I believe I lost it in the melee that was my attempted Seattle departure, but I can't be sure. All I know is that I tore my carry-on luggage apart and didn't find it. Excellent - something more to stress out about. I had made it through security screening and to the gate when an announcement was made that our flight would be delayed three hours due to fog in the Bay Area. Not good for me: I was going to miss my connection to Japan. Awesome.

My Dad happened to call to ask if I had found my ID and let him know, no I hadn't but there was even better news: I was delayed yet again. I seriously haven't heard my father that angry at the fates, like, ever. Don't worry, Dad, I'll survive this, too.

Then there was an announcement that we'd be able to leave sooner. And then another one announcing an even sooner departure. I might make it after all! Yessss!

Um, no. My plane arrived 10 minutes after the Tokyo flight left, according to my mother, who was tracking my flights online. Of course, there was not a knowledgeable United Airlines employee anywhere around to help me confirm what my mother saw on, or whatever she was using. One employee sent me to the International terminal to find "customer service" which I could not find, despite the fact that I walked the entire international terminal, losing about 20 minutes. I found out later that there is not customer service desk, but a ticketing queue somewhere. An International terminal employee sent me back to domestic flights. I finally encountered a United ticket counter, where I was told I was not a Premier member, so I had to go stand in yet another ticketing line. Frustration reared its ugly head and I started crying again. Thank you, United at SFO for making a frustrating situation even worse with your crappy customer service. (BTW, the customer service in OC was amazing... there was one woman there who calmly and patiently dealt with each and every passenger with a connecting flight, doing the best she could to reserve seats on later flights, etc. Her work was an art form. I wish I had thought to get her name so I could email United about her).

Finally, at a special ticketing counter where I could talk to a real ticketing agent, I was officially informed that I had missed my flight and the next one wouldn't be for 23 more hours. Because my delay was due to weather, I would not be comped anything. Awesome. My luggage was at SFO, but it would take 2-3 hours to get it out of the International baggage area, so I was advised to just leave it there. Awesomer. No clean clothes and limited to the toiletries I had in my purse and at whatever hotel I could find. The USO was out because I had lost my military ID. I got a phone number for a service that finds you a nearby hotel and spent $100 for less-than-stellar accommodations at the Citi Garden Hotel. Incredibly noisy at night, with intermittent Wifi access I had paid $7 for, and a lack of hot water in the morning. The good news was that the room appeared to be clean, but I wasn't going to take a black light to it. Ignorance is bliss.

So, I could have stayed in my hotel room and been bitter, pissed off and bored. But after I Skyped my husband and mother about yet another delay in my arrival, I decided to take public transportation (a notion I would NEVER have considered prior to my adventures in Japan) and go be bitter and pissed off at Fisherman;s Wharf, where I could drown my sorrows in a margarita and some sourdough bread. At this point, my attitude was "F!ck the diet, just give me some damn carbs!"

I grabbed the Route 292 city bus a block from my hotel and met some very "interesting", but very helpful, locals. They collectively told me where to get off the bus to catch the F trolley car to the Wharf, directions I invariably followed. When I got to where the F trolley stop was supposed to be, I couldn't find the stop, so I asked a security guard for the Orpheum Theatre, who was incredibly helpful, and ointed to the stop 100 feet away in the middle of the road.

Of course, you need exact change to ride the trolley car, which is $2, round trip. All I had was a $5 bill, so I offered it to the driver. At this point, I was hungry, bitter and pissed off. I was willing to donate the extra $3 just to have a seat. He told me to sit down and just to pay the $2 on my way back. I assured him I absolutely would. But fate would intervene, for the better this time, and an unknown stranger paid for my fare. At a stop, the bus driver rushed back and told me, so I did not even have a chance to thank the Good Samaritan.
My "free" trolley ticket.
 At my mother's recommendation, I at at the Boudin Sourdough factory, which was delicious.

The factory has a window that overlooks The Embarcadero. The sourdough crocodile and turtles were fun. 
The view of Alcatraz from my dinner table window.
There were tributes to the World Series champs all over town.
 Once I was no longer hungry, bitter or pissed off (relatively speaking) I headed back to the hotel, taking the F trolley to the BART (subway train) station and taking the BART to the airport. I then caught the hotel's free shuttle bus to the hotel. I had experienced nearly all of the public transportation San Francisco had to offer. After Skyping the family again, washing my underclothes in the hotel sink and hanging them to dry, I crawled in to bed to try and catch some sleep. But strange mechanical sounds and noisy neighbors woke me up about every hour, so it wasn't very restful sleep.

The next morning I got up in plenty of time to catch my flight to Japan - I was not taking any chances on making my attempt to get home to Japan any longer! Aside from an inconsiderate person seated in front of me on the 10-hour flight who insisted on keeping the back of her seat reclined as far back as it could go the entire flight, the flights to Hiroshima were uneventful. None of them were late, delayed or paused for mechanical checks. I made it home at 10 p.m. Friday, Japanese time, so I did not have much of a Friday. But I was willing to sacrifice TGIF to finally be home - and just in time for the Marine Corps Ball on Saturday!

The plane that finally got me back to Japan.

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