Travel. It can be the best part of a trip sometimes. Then there are times like today. Well – the past 24 hours to be precise. It’s really hard to call it a day when I suddenly find myself living out a Tuesday afternoon, when just a few hours ago it was early Monday morning. So in light of that I could say it’s been a harrowing two days. Or 16 hours. Whatever. It’s Tuesday now, and this all began Monday. So whatever period of time you’d like to call that is where this story will begin and end. Actually, who am I kidding. The story never ends. Let’s just call it a chapter in time. Deal?

It was a normal August morning in Durham. The air was thick and sweaty, and the mosquitoes were starving. My lovely wife Allie offered to drop me off at the Raleigh-Durham airport even though she was still in the process of recovering from her surgery on Friday, and we agreed to get up and leave around 8:00 am, so naturally we were out the door by 7:15. My wife dislikes being late or coming anything close to it, which in this case was more of a blessing than anything else.

It was only a 15 minute drive to the airport from our house. A quick dog-leg up I-85 and then the majority of the route consists of fighting off rush-hour traffic and stop lights along Route 70. As I took a slow, banking turn onto 70 towards Raleigh, our rather newish Subaru Forester suddenly lost control. Within an instant my slow turn morphed into swerving. Thanks to my totally sweet Grand Theft Auto driving skills I was able to regain control without plowing into the concrete barrier separating us from the oncoming highway traffic and come to a stop on the generous shoulder.

I didn’t even have to step out of the car to know that we had blown a tire. And the low tire pressure light on the dashboard had nothing to do with that knowledge, it was simply science. As I made my slow lap to confirm the damage I saw it was the rear driver-side tire that was completely devoid of all air. What a wonderful way to start a trip. And an even better way to start the week (ugh, Mondays). Thankfully Allie had taken a sick day for her surgery and was more than happy to spend most of it away from home, sitting in a repair shop waiting for the tires to get delivered? For whatever reason it took all morning just for the shop to get the tires, not to mention install them and then let her know that the tire pressure sensor broke off and that they went ahead and Jerry-rigged it. We’d just have to deal with the warning light on the dashboard until we could get it fixed… Thanks, guys?

Knowing all of this as I made my excruciatingly slow and painful hop from Raleigh-Durham to Washington DC certainly put a damper on my mood. All I had wanted was for Allie to get ONE day of relaxation and recovery before going back to work. Unfortunately, thanks to a fat screw in her rear tire that just wasn’t going to happen on this particular day.

After arriving in DC, I luckily didn’t have any time to spare for a layover, so I immediately headed to my gate where they had just started boarding. I was flying on a United flight to Tokyo, Japan in a classic 1977 Boeing 777. Everything about this metal tube with wings was in original condition. The wool seats were still brimming with the aroma of dried tobacco, and the 2.8 inch CRT montitors that were implanted into the headrest of every seat in Economy were still attached with the original beads of Elmer’s glue from the factory. Even the VCR that they used to loop the in-flight entertainment had never been cleaned, which delighted every passenger with the joy of watching scan lines scroll along the screen throughout every viewing experience.

Luckily United invested in some recent VHS tapes for us to watch and I was at least able to catch the constant advertisements for their first-class bed seats with on-demand entertainment and somewhat modern LCD monitors (sad and jealous face). In between the ads I was also able to watch a few movies like Rio, Fast Five and Dumb & Dumber. The channel that was looping Dumb & Dumber was called “American classics” and somehow this classic motion picture was the clearest picture out of all of the other more recent films.

Regardless, there I sat for the entire 12.5 hour flight in the middle aisle of seats in the classic 2-5-2 configuration. On one side I had two Japanese children that were under 7 and could not speak English, which they told me repeatedly. On the other side, and more importantly blocking my shortest path to the aisle, sat a 50-something Naval lawyer. As I sat down she optimistically told me she would be taking an Ambien and “passing out for the entire flight”, which somehow was supposed to provide me solace since I had just given up my comfortable window seat so that an older Asian woman could sit with her 10 year-old son. As the words escaped her mouth and I noticed the sleeping mask around her neck, I could literally feel the doors and windows of my hopes and aspirations slamming shut. I knew that I was in for one long, painful flight.

At some point during this half-day ordeal, I was fully away that I would not be able to escape into the aisle to stretch my legs. In lieu of this basic human pleasure, I decided I would try to take a nap. Little did I know that the tiny human to my immediate right was what we would call “clumsy”. The first time I tried to close my eyes her hard-bound notebook landed in my lap. Hard. My eyes were closed, so I can’t accuse her of throwing it at me, but I also can’t absolve her of the act. The very next time I dozed back into slumber and her Hello Kitty notepad landed in the same spot, I would say that I was slightly curious of what exactly she was doing that resulted in her belongings flying towards my groin region, but alas I let it go.

It wasn’t until an hour or two later when I was fully awake and enjoying a delicious coffee did I realize that she had a penchant for kneeling in her seat and flinging her blanket around aimlessly. The coffee that was just a moment before resting comfortably on my tray table had thankfully cooled to a mildly warm temperature, such that it didn’t burn my flesh when it spilled all over me. Regardless of the temperature, when she turned to me and stated for the fifth time, “I don’t speak English” instead of apologizing in any language, I simply could no longer take it. A quick elbow to the rib cage and the Naval lawyer woman was mildly awake, and more than happy to let me out so that I could dry my shorts.

Upon returning to my seat I felt consolation in the fact that I only had about 5 hours to go and the children were fast asleep. I even had a chance to enjoy two more cups of coffee without any flailing blankets in my vicinity, and only one other child periodically kicking the back of my seat. Naturally, I spent the majority of my new found free time glaring at the back of the woman’s head who goaded me into trading seats with her son. Of course I’m only slightly joking. But not really…

When we touched-down in Tokyo, the security checkpoint for International flights only took about thirty minutes to getthrough. This was my first experience in Japan and all of the suspicions that I had gained from the internet had almost immediately been confirmed within just those first few minutes of queuing. Japan is crazy and quirky, and every sign has a cartoon cat on it or at least some kind of cartoon and they all look like they’re written in Comic Sans, which makes it hard to take anything seriously:

Thankfully, nothing else took place that was terribly interesting for the remainder of my trip.  So instead I will leave you with a picture and a question: How would you interpret this sign (and yes I know what it really means)?

When I look at it, all I can think is, “Run through this door. Right now”.