My Summer Vacation – Foreign Extraction Edition, Part X
By the end of the last installment, we had departed Manila and were on our way to Tokyo (actually Narita, a suburb of Tokyo). The check-in process at Manila, and the flight to Narita, were a blur. I remember having a kind of debrief with Stateside brother as we strategized how we would manage things in Narita, and I remember watching a movie, but if you held a knife to my throat and insisted I tell you what movie, I would have to tell you to go ahead and slice me open, because I have no recollection.
In Narita we had a layover of a couple of hours. I decided that since this would be my last time in Japan for a little while, I should try out the drink Pocari Sweat. I had heard about it, and wondered if it could possibly be as awful as it sounds. Rather than keep you in suspense, I’ll just tell you – it’s gross. I haven’t tasted sweat, so I’m not sure if it actually tastes like sweat, but I can say that it tastes awful.
I think it’s supposed to be a replenishing drink along the lines of Gatorade. To me Gatorade isn’t too bad – it’s a little tart and a little sweet, but manages to mostly taste like bland water. Pocari sweat was ever so faintly sweet, in that featureless way that cheap kid’s candy is sweet, but it was also slightly metallic. I was really thirsty and still I could not finish it. Maybe it was the power of what’s suggested by its unfortunate name.
OK, now I’m finding it odd that one of my most salient memories from a very memorable trip was the flavor of a Japanese electrolyte replenishment drink. Moving on.
I had decided we should route through Portland because it looked like our best bet for getting standby seats all the way to JFK. Our ultimate goal was to get to New York by way JFK where Philippines brother would be able to go to a hospital and start the process of getting a prosthetic leg, and then stay with Stateside brother until he decided what to do next.
The flight to Portland was about as blurry as the flight to Narita. Fortunately I was able to get a little sleep, and I think both brothers did as well. We landed in Portland in midmorning. It felt odd to be close to home, but not quite home, and I will confess that another reason for choosing to transit Portland rather than Seattle was because I thought my resolve might collapse and I might make a break for home from Seatac airport. I mean, not really, probably … I was committed to getting Philippines brother all the way to the East Coast, but boy howdy, I was so tired it would have been tempting.
In Portland we had to clear customs then go through security again, on the domestic side. The only anomaly here was that the security agent didn’t realize that Philippines brother was missing part of his leg, and did what I thought was a pretty invasive search, until he suddenly realized his mistake and kind of backed off and apologized. It worked out OK, but it was very odd. I had to give Philippines brother credit for remaining composed – I don’t know if I would have been able to in similar circumstances.
From Portland our plan was to get on a plane at about noon, which would take us to JFK by way of Salt Lake City. This routing would get us to New York by about midnight. I was a little nervous about transiting Salt Lake City, because you never know if the loads will shift at the last minute and leave you stranded, but the loads for the midday PDX->JFK flight were very iffy, so this seemed like the best option. The only other option was to take the PDX->JFK redeye, which would have gotten us into New York at about 6 AM.
About an hour before departure I could tell that we would get on our SLC leg and assuming that nothing completely crazy happened, we would get on our SLC->JFK leg later in the day. I was so optimistic that I booked hotel rooms at JFK for Philippines brother and me. On Hotwire.
So, again we had a couple of hours to kill. Philippines brother is a smoker, and had been smoking pretty heavily during the journey. When we got to PDX, he asked if there was a smoking area. There had been a dedicated smoking lounge at MNL, and one at NRT, so it seemed possible. The guy said the closest think they had was a pet exercise area (pro tip, not a smoking area). He said that the only way to smoke was to completely exit the airport.
And so it was that about 40 minutes before departure, the gate agent called me up and gave me our boarding passes right around the moment that Stateside brother and I realized we didn’t know where Philippines brother was.
I took a walk up to the security checkpoint and didn’t see him, so after explaining the situation to the agent who appeared to be in charge, and giving a description of my brother, I went back to the gate to ask how much time we had left. By this time we had about 25 minutes. So, Stateside brother and I set out again to try to find him. As I was heading back up to the security checkpoint, my name was called on the intercom, saying that I left something at security. It turned out that this was their tactful way of saying my brother had appeared at the checkpoint.
Unfortunately by the time he got back through, it was too late to get on our flight. He was very apologetic. He had gone out to smoke, thinking that he had his boarding pass in his hand. But, since we were trying to be seated somewhat together, him with his revenue seat and Stateside brother and me with our non-rev seats, he hadn’t gotten an actual boarding pass yet – he had a seat request. So, when he tried to come back through security they wouldn’t let him, but by the time he realized he needed a boarding pass, it was fewer than 30 minutes to flight time, and well, you can figure out the rest.
When I told this story much later, someone pointed out that Nicorette is a thing. Indeed it is, but I didn’t even think of it. And I don’t know if they sell it in airports. If they don’t, they should.
You know that thing that happens when you resist an outcome and resist it and resist it, but at a certain point, you see that the dreaded outcome will be THE outcome and you just kind of accept it and start thinking of alternate plans? I reached that acceptance point while I was making my second trip back to the security checkpoint, so by the time I saw Philippines brother, I had accepted that we were going to be on the red-eye and had started to make new plans accordingly.
One of the new plans was to get a hotel room for the next night, which I planned to use before leaving New York for home. And, readers, it was a beautiful thing. I may be the first and last person on Earth to ever get Hotwire to cancel a reservation and give me my money back. The trick was that I “rebooked” but what I rebooked was one, cheaper room, while getting my money back for two more expensive rooms. I call it a win.
Tune in next time for the conclusion of my Summer Vacation series.