Considering that I left every preparation for my trip until the last two days previous to going, I was exceedingly well stocked. Traveling to Seattle was a breeze by rail and from this experience have much to recommend trains as ideally preferred over buses or planes. Comfy seats with ample chances to get up and wander, scenery that features recognizable objects and color spectrums plus a dining car, although I supplied my own snacks for maximum use of funds for fun. My ample hamper of goodies, obtained from Trader Joes just the night before, I happily munched on while plenty of my fellow riders marched towards the dining car. This option was not for me as I was reading Orson Scott Card’s recent book “Empire” worthy of the distinguished Ludlumesque award for outstanding fantasy & suspense.
This was very wrong of me to do. I had agreed to read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell up until this point which I had brought with me but it was so confounded heavy, the heaviest item I’d packed in fact and did not labor to heave ho. So while spending time with “the other book”, I studiously ignored the movie also on-board the train, a one “Beverly Hills Chihuahua”. I suspected there would be plenty of time for movie mockery later on the plane. I was right but I’ll come back to that.
King Street Station in Seattle was my destination and at quarter to 4, before I knew much time had passed really, I was there. My next goal was to board the 174 bus to my hotel near the airport and dig in for the next days flying. The bus itself was awhile in coming, nearly 40 minutes and I found December 7th was especially busy there due to some kind of playoff game. The bus had a flex joint in the middle making it extremely long and I was still hard pressed to find a seat for me and my baggy pals. We all fit in the back two seats and I was soon talking to a traveler on her way to Denver. We strategized on good ways to get off at the right stops and when to pay since neither of us had on boarding parted with the paltry pittance necessary for a legal ride. The air outside was dark and cold by this point and on disembarking at the right place, I found the promised beacon of warmth and light: America’s Best Value Inn. The staff looked west Asiatic, Indian to Pakistani and while talking with a fellow from Punjab, I learned how right I was. But I’ll revisit this.
I watched a staggering amount of TV in the room after showering off my travel aromas, eventually wearing out the battery in the remote. I decided at that point to curtail further idiot boxing. As an owner of my very own idiot box, I can testify on the effects of prolonged exposure. It make you slow.
12am and rising, I decided to stay in bed and attempt sleeping but did not achieve my goal until 2:30. My wakeup call was at 4:55. It was going to be a short day given that there would be only 12 full hours of Monday before speeding through the rest of it but I would still be up for a long time and ironically this was the thought that kept me awake.
The airport shuttle was stimulating because of the Punjabi driver. He told me about his wife mostly who was training to be a nurse and of all the time he spent helping her study when he wasn’t working. He thought I was an Asia buff because of my destination and knowledge of where Punjab was. We also talked about the trouble with Pakistan and the Mumbai bombings which gave me an altered view of the news coming out of that country.
Although I’d love to digress on the transition of my previous view to what I hold now, this is a travelogue and not so much an academic summary of the India / Pakistan conflict lasting some 60 years.
We parted ways at 5:30 and I jumped out at the United Airlines counter with two bags & a tennis racquet. I chatted with the ticketrix who grew up in Cottage Grove apparently and moved to Seattle later in life. I didn’t glean much from the encounter since the conversation was mandatorily short. The rest of my time waiting at the terminal was spent and reading and eating nuts.
I spent some time getting excited about my trip, dreading the leg room scenarios my 6’5″ frame would contort into and looking at the planes, curious if they had all been checked for fuselage leaks or landing gear fuse shorts. When I finally got on board the shuttle to L.A., I was shaking a little with anticipation, dread and resolve. This plane did not have a ceiling height to meet my needs and I crouched with bag pointed forward like a figurehead, shuffling with the others on queue.
My aisle-mate was a new experience. She was blind, recently blind in fact and my introduction was couched with helping her receive food and drink. I’m terrible with names and don’t recall hers now but I remember her face, sunglasses, short curly hair and sun dappled complexion. She was from the Nevada desert and she told me about living there in detail. She used to work at a military base nearby until losing her vision and thus her job. These two events finalized on the same day which made for a very bad day all round. Her home is isolated and the grounds around are used for weapons testing often shaking the house like an earthquake going off. The Navy sometimes fires shells from off the California coast and cause mushroom clouds to appear within view, although now she just hears the booms and windows reverberating.
I talked to her most of the flight for 2.5 hours and told her about myself a bit. A traveling architect from Vermont, I was en route to California from Seattle to meet my Witness Protection orientation leader who would then assign me a new identity. But I didn’t tell her that.
Wishing her goodbye and good luck on touchdown at LAX, I waited an unexpected 2.5 hours as the arrival of my connection was an hour late and I myself was a half hour early.
Glad of my book and snacks once more, I finished the little thriller right then and there before boarding and was all set to finally start the Strange journey east. This plane bound for Narita Airport in Tokyo was a bit taller than the other but I was still forced against the inner window as per last time and was very lucky to have plenty of time for shoe removal and essentials stowing, keeping just my book and shoes below within easy reach. All I remember about the flight was that it was hard to read, easy to watch and continuously twilight. The movies I do remember since I looked them up and dreaded what I would see. Mamma Mia, Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, Henry Poole is Here and another piece of flim-flam equally forgettable. The food was edible in the sense that I was hungry and it was there. Jonathan Strange turned out to be a riveting read for its wordy diversionary exuberance and slowly slanting storyline. I have yet to read the whole thing but still recommend what I read as great plane material which for me is high praise.
I took one picture in the Tokyo airport of an airport restroom and all its symbolic uses. Here you can see that not only are wheelchairs welcome but there are facilities to hang your clothes, bring your children, change diapers on a tot or lecture someone sitting down for relief. I’m not sure if the Japanese characters below were translated verbatim and remain curious. I got on another plane for 5 hours, having gotten off after 10.5 hours to arrive in Tokyo at 230pm. By 530 I was ready to just collapse in my seat but was still hungry so I pushed myself with the last nut ration and had no conscious break until well into half the flight. There I slept for perhaps half to 1 hour before being greeted with another movie. Henry Poole is here. Again! Perhaps this did have the charms of Radha Mitchell but I was already well versed in this miracle/fable/schmaltz-fest and willed myself back to my eye-closing stance, even if a brain-power-down didn’t follow. I did not touch down until 1155pm on Tuesday night and greeted my friend who dutifully waited for me after midnight Wednesday.
Stay tuned for my adventures in Bangkok proper, land of my intent.