Sunday, July 21, 2013

The stupid things we do...

I finally made it back to Iwakuni about 56 hours ago... I have been getting acclimated, which should not have been as big of a deal as it turned out to be. After the fun I had in the States losing my passport, getting a new one, and realizing I was dumb enough to MAIL the passports back to Japan with some things I had bought in the States...

The photo Rodney sent me a week after I had mailed the box to Iwakuni from California. Yes, I have two passports... a normal one and one the military issued me just to get back and forth from Japan. Actually, I have three passports now, although only two are valid. I will need to mail the old normal one back to the State Department since it has been replaced.
 ... I had more "trying to get home to my husband" adventures. I stressed out for 24 hours during all three of my flights (SNA to SFO, SFO to Tokyo-Narita, Tokyo-Narita to Hiroshima) that a flight would be delayed or cancelled. I dodged two bullets: My flight to SFO was delayed and I would miss my connection. Luckily, I followed my dad's advice and was at the airport 2 hours early. United ROCKED and quickly got me booked on the earlier flight to SFO. Bullet dodged.

The second bullet flew my way when, on my flight from SFO to Narita, a briefcase was left in the row opposite me... and no one claimed it... as we were taxiing down to the runway to get in line to take off. The flight attendants were in a dither and "went to their emergency exit stations." Fortunately, after waking some people up, the briefcase was claimed within the next three minutes and we arrived in Tokyo a half-hour early. Bullet dodged.

After a stress-free flight from Tokyo to Hiro, I turned my phone on at the Hiro airport to get a text from Rodney that the car broke down on him and I was going to have to take the train home. WHAAAT?! Bullet not dodged! Bullet not dodged! Direct hit! Apparently, the alternator went out in my car as Rodney was driving to get me at the Hiroshima airport. Here is the self-portrait he took of himself on the side of the Sanyo tollway (Japanese highway) waiting for the Japanese tow truck:

So, after being up and traveling for more than 24 hours, I got to try and figure out how to get me, my backpack and my two suitcases 96 km to MCAS Iwakuni. Fortunately, in the year I have lived in Japan, I have done what I can to learn the public transportation, so once I got over the shock and disappointment of not having my husband there to chauffeur me home, I went to the little airport information desk where a very nice, very helpful English-speaking Japanese lady told me that it would cost me $150 to hire a taxi to get me to the Hiroshima train station. Uh, what? Um... that's a little much, isn't it? I think she saw that I was about to cry, so she quickly gave me option #2: A bus would come in about 45 minutes and it would cost about $13. OK, sold. She even took me over, helped me buy a ticket and showed me where to stand to catch the bus. Have I mentioned how much the Japanese customer service rocks?

So I stood for 45 minutes, waiting for the bus, reminding my tired, stressed-out self that this was NOT the end of the world. I would still get home... as long as there weren't any more bullets slung my way, of course. The bus came, we were quickly loaded on, and I took a 45-minute trip to the Hiroshima train station.

But the bus dropped me off on the Shin (bullet train) side of the station, not the regular train side I was familiar with. Now going on about 27 hours without sleep, I headed to another information desk, where the Japanese man was very helpful, pointing where I should buy a ticket, telling me it was 740 yen (about $8) and telling me to go to Track 1 after directing me through the correct turn-style. Have I mentioned how much the Japanese customer service rocks?

I get to Track 1 (after hefting my 43- and 22-pound suitcases up a flight of stairs, with my 21-pound backpack on my back) and the train arrives within a couple of minutes. I settled in for a 45-minute ride to the Iwakuni train station. (45 minutes seemed to be the magical timing number that evening), hoping that the stupid thing wouldn't derail or something. My luck was not giving me much confidence.

We arrived at the Iwakuni station without delay or derailment and I hefted my bags up another flight of stairs, and then dragged them back down another set. I rolled over to the curb at the front of the station and requested a taxi that could go on to the base (not all of them are authorized). The third cab in line had the permission I sought, so I fell in to the back of the cab and let the driver deal with my bags. At that point, I just didn't care if they made it in one piece to my house or not (they did.) It was 1,200 yen  (about $12) to go the 4 kilometers to my mid-rise. Expensive, but, again, I did not care. I paid and thanked the cabbie, drug my bags upstairs, unlocked my front door (I had kept my keys with me on my trip... wondering if that was a stupid idea. It was NOT), dragged my bags inside, threw my keys on the floor and went to take a shower. The spouse was not home and I was OK with that. I needed a shower before I talked to anyone.

As I was about the enter the shower, the spouse called. "Was that you in a cab just now?"
"Yes, it was."
"OK, I will be home in 5 minutes."
"OK, I'm taking a shower. Bye."

Showered and in a slightly better frame of mind, I got to hear about Rodney's adventures for the evening...

He had washed and vacuumed my car in anticipation of picking me up at the airport. In the back of his mind, he considered renting a vehicle from the base because one of my tires was looking a little worn (renting a car when you already own two is not a crazy notion here. Less wear and tear on the older vehicles we own  - mine is a 1999 - and the tolls are free with the rental. It comes close to coming out even), but decided against it. As he was leaving base, the car's battery light came on, but, he figured it was an older car and lights go on and off on older cars, not meaning anything but a faulty fuse, so he continued out the base's gate and on his 1.5-hour journey to pick me up. Just FYI, I have never mentioned to him that my car has ever had random flashing lights go off in it... and that is because it doesn't. Flashing indicator lights mean there is a problem, as flashing indicator lights usually indicate. But he does not drive my car often, so why would he think a indicator light would indicate anything? (Yes, you are sensing sarcasm.)

About the time he hit the Sanyo (the Japanese highway system that you have to pay tolls to use... it would be about $55 round trip to the airport and back), the radio shut itself off. He hit the dashboard and it came back on. Problem solved. He was about 20 km from the airport when the radio, air conditioning and, pretty much the entire car, shut off. Fortunately, he was able to pull off to the side of the highway safely. He was not hurt and I am glad. Really, I am. He called his friend to see what he should do. Luckily, the friend is the intelligent problem solver when Rodney is too stressed to think, and he suggested that Rodney call our insurance company and use the free tow we get once a year to get the vehicle towed off the Sanyo. If the Japanese police happened to come by, Rodney would get a hefty fine for not having a working vehicle. The insurance company was called, the customer service rep spoke excellent English and called a towing company... whose driver and driver's assistant did not speak excellent English. Although Rodney assures me they were very kind and polite. Long story short, it took them over an hour to get to Rodney because of a traffic jam, and then they took him 20 km too far  on the highway before realizing their mistake. Now, this caused Rodney some heartburn because, through the insurance, he got the first 20 km of the tow free... each additional km was 700 yen ($7). Yes, EACH KILOMETER. Rodney estimated the tow was going to cost about $220, and that was not including the mistake the driver made....

Despite their lack of English and Rodney's lack of Japanese, they managed to get on base. The driver and his companion apologized profusely for their error in getting back to base and only charged Rodney 10,000 yen ($100). Have I mentioned how much the Japanese customer service rocks? After putting the car in a parking space in front of our midrise, Rodney escorted the towing people off base. As they were driving to the base's front gate, Rodney saw me in the back of the cab, heading to our midrise. The phone call I mentioned above then transpired, bringing you full circle in the story of how I managed to get home from the States on Friday.

So, the rest of the weekend was pretty uneventful after this. We discussed how we won't be doing stupid things like mailing our passports or ignoring vehicle indicator lights anymore. We learned from those mistakes so we can go on to make new ones. I did a lot of sleeping and unpacking, and Rodney did a lot of eating and watching TV. Sometimes you need a break before the insanity begins again... we're scheduled to head off on a cultural trip Friday on a train... wish us luck.

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