Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Long Trip Home

DAY FIFTEEN: Thursday September 19, 2013

So it was time to depart Okinawa and fly back to the states.  I did not want to go.   There was something magical about being in Okinawa that I knew I would miss the minute I got on the plane.  The pace of life in Okinawa is more laid back, less rushed, seemed like no one was rushing around; of course there were likely people rushing around but they were the exception not the rule.  Everyone seemed so pleasant, kind, understanding and willing to help ensure communication success.   It was surreal to be in an environment where the language is completely unrecognizable- the characters of the written language are unknown.  Definitely opens your eyes to the struggles of communication with people who do not speak a native language.   However, it was time to go.

We arrived at Naha Airport about an hour and half ahead of our flight as was recommended by our hosts.  However, it was not a typical day at the airport and there were a sea of people filling the ticketing area.  Standing in line a very nice employee approached us and asked "International?" to which we nodded yes. "Gate D please" so we headed to the other end of the ticketing area where there were many Americans standing in line.   Wait.  Wait. Wait.  Although no one seemed worried, or concerned about the pace of the line.  So we waited.  Finally we approached the counter and within in a few minutes had our boarding passes and were on our way.   As we waited for our flight to board, we were informed that it was a bit late arriving so we would be 5-10 minutes late boarding.

After boarding there was a delay on takeoff but we got into the air and we were on the way to Tokyo.  I was very unaware of the time and evidently we were a lot later arriving to the airport than I was aware.  So we park on the tarmac and get on a bus to take us to the terminal.  Evidently some people on our connecting flight got flagged through the disembarking lines but I was blissfully unaware.  Suddenly there was an employee asking if we were on the flight to Chicago, and yes indeed we were. However, they indicated that we should just stay in line.  Then, when just a few people from the counter, suddenly the employee pulls me and ushers me quickly to the counter for processing.  What followed felt straight out of the movies.

On the other side of the door was a friendly lady asking "Chicago?" after I nodded, "Gate 31" as she pointed to the right.  Continuing down the terminal hallway about twenty feet later is another friendly lady saying "Chicago?" again I nodded yes, "Gate 31".  So we continued on and in about twenty feet there was another employees, this time with a clip board in hand, "Chicago?" we nod yes "Names please" so we stop to tell her and she says "No, no. keep walking, I will walk with you" after giving our names, "Gate 31".   Now I was starting to panic.  I picked up the pace and started jogging through the airport.  Again in another twenty feet was another employee and the race was on.   As I am almost running, I see one of the "walk-ways" on my left and bolt for it, hollering to a man on the walk-way "On your Right" as I jet past him and launch off the walkway, gate in sight- FINALLY.  So we arrive, out of breath, and hand over our tickets and board the plane.  Amusingly we were not the last from our flight to arrive on the plane so we probably did not need to run, but oh well.   There was also a clear difference once on the plane- the American mentality was rearing its ugly head much to my dismay.  People were sitting in random seats regardless of what the ticket in their hand said.  Then they were ticked off that anyone would challenge the fact that they were sitting in the wrong seat.  As a family with kids arrived on the plane even the flight attendants seemed to roll their eyes and grumble about kids on the plane.   I finally found a place to put my luggage (as putting your luggage in the bin which goes with you seat is somehow still a mystery to people) I plugged into the in seat entertainment system and proceeded to watch five movies and pass the time.

The flight was a bit more bumpy than it had been on the way there, but I had seen on the weather channel the day before that there were several systems moving through the flight path so I was not surprised.  However, I was surprised with the landing where it felt as if the plane skidded sideways briefly.  So we get off the plane and get in line to go through the port of entry customs and head for the connecting flight to Kansas City.  As we get through the line of grumpy people, line cutters, impatient complainers our check bags are scanned- "Your flight has been canceled".  Huh?  Yes, there were a line of thunderstorm that came through and messed up all sorts of flights.  Well, since our flight was cancelled, we knew there was no rush for us, so in the re-ticketing line we went.  Our turn was coming and we thought it would be better to go together since we were traveling together.  Glancing at the board we knew the shot was long of us getting into Kansas that day- but you never know.  We informed the agent that we could also fly into Wichita if there was a seat available.  Indeed there was one.  I told my friend that she should take the seat because she had business to take care of on Friday and I had nothing.  I was not worried about getting home or waiting till tomorrow if I had to.  It would all work out.

As we stood there waiting to get everything squared away another agent arrives and seems surprised that our agent is still there.  Out agent states that he hasn't taken his lunch break yet (it was 3pm) because of the weather issues.  I look at my friend and explain that I am going to go get in the line for another agent so this guy can go to lunch when he was done with her ticket.  The line of people who just watched me do this then try to go up to his counter, I took pleasure in telling them that maybe you should just be glad I did get back in line in front of you as I very well could have!  When it was my turn again the absolutely wonderful ticket agent was more than happy to help me get squared away- Kindness goes a long way!   So I got put on the standby list with a back up ticket held for the next day.  

Then it was onto the trolley, over to terminal two, back through security (oh yeah I have to take out the quart bag of liquids and take off my shoes- we are back in the states) and on to our gate.  For anyone who has been in the Chicago O'Hare airport you know that in the center of the hallway is no mans land.  You do not stop, stand, stare, or slow in this area.  This area is only for movement, and usually fairly quick movement.  This was how I knew that whatever storm system had come through really messed up the schedule- cause everybody was standing and staring and no one was moving quickly at all.  In fact there were even flight crews standing around at gates. Everyone was just waiting.

At this point I have been awake for 24 hours, even though according to the clock it is only a few hours after I left Okinawa (left at 12:45pm and it was 4:00pm in Chicago).   Admittedly I was getting a bit slap happy.  When the flight finally started boarding, I waited. I decided to go stand by the gate since I was stand by.  I waited.  Then I heard my name called, no exaggeration, I hollered "Oh yeah lucky lottery winner number 4!" and those around the gate giggled.  However, as I was standing there waiting to get the pass to board the flight, another person walks up who had a ticket already and I said "Or maybe not" with a sad face.  Those close to the gate said I should have just gone, but I stepped back and waited patiently. After the guy gets through the ticket guy turns, smiles, and hands me the boarding pass.  I hop on the plane and my friend says "yeah you made the plane" to which I reply "I MADE THE PLANE!!!!"  

So we arrive in Wichita and my friends mom was there to pick us up and drive us back to Emporia.  It was an eventful day full of chaos which in hindsight was probably good.  We were so busy with travel stuff, I was unable to dwell on the fact that I was not in Okinawa anymore.  We arrived safe and sound back in Emporia, exhausted, jet lagged and I with a very annoying cold; but home none the less.