After a short nap (more resting than sleeping), it was time for final departure preparation. I took my last shower at the dorm, with barely enough soap and shampoo to finish, and hung my towels like usual, figuring Chou-san would either toss them or donate them to the next towel-less student. I put the cushion back into the closet where I found it, the CAT-5 cable back into the middle desk drawer, and left behind half a roll of paper towels, a set of waribashi, and my Valor shopping bag in the largest desk drawer for the next guy. I managed to make room for everything else, jamming my sandals and dorm slippers into the suitcase, as well as the rest of my toiletries and an unopened bottle of shampoo I’d thought I might need (but had never opened). This took longer than I’d anticipated, but even after dragging the crap out of the room, putting on my shoes, dropping my room key into my mailbox, and lugging the whole mess up to the Mini Stop/Coin Laundream parking lot, I was only a couple minutes late. The taxi was parked at the far end of the lot, but as soon as he saw me lugging suitcases his way, he drove to meet me and helped me load everything in. It was a short drive to the station, since no one was really out at 5:00 in the morning, and the driver asked me about my stay, where my home country was, etc.
I got to JR Okazaki early, and while it wasn’t raining, it had rained earlier, so there weren’t many dry places to set things. At that hour, there was no one else at the station aside from a young Japanese couple and me. I finally managed to fit my laptop bag into the top of the paper sack next to my jacket (thus dropping my luggage to four items) and found a dry spot on a bench to set it (since water would have been very bad for the bag). The bus arrived shortly, and I loaded everything but the sack underneath, but there was one problem: I hadn’t had time to get anything to eat or drink. The bus driver said I had a few minutes to go to the nearby Family Mart, but the station’s traffic lanes aren’t designed for pedestrians, so I ended up climbing over two low, wet fences to get there. Mini Stop was always reliable for breakfast, but Family Mart had nothing at all I wanted to eat, so I bought an oolong tea and clambered back over the wet fences to board the bus.
The drive was peaceful, really; I got a roundabout tour of the city, seeing places I didn’t even know existed. We drove past an Animate, which I would have gone to had I known it was there, and another 新時代、this one located along the street rather than free-standing. We took a few minutes at another bus stop to let a few more people on before reaching the highway, but that was it. After arriving, I picked up a free luggage cart — much like I’m used to seeing, except that the wheels were locked unless you pressed down on a bar to push it (and if you released the bar, they immediately locked again, presumably to prevent it from rolling away). I rode a large elevator up to the main floor and went to check my bags, nervous about the main suitcase being overweight, but it and my clothes-stuffed duffel went without incident. (I also took a moment to borrow some tape from the staff and put two large pieces on the bottom of the Mandarake sack, just to be safe.) This finally left me time to look for something to eat, because by now, I was starving. I’d seen a Lawson’s inside the airport, so I bought a little package of sandwiches (which I quickly devoured), and with plenty of time to spare, I made my way through security and into the airport proper. Finding my gate was easy, though getting my netbook to connect to the wireless wasn’t, so I contented myself with smiling at the infant seated across from me (who apparently found my face to be worth grinning about).I had no trouble boarding the planes (Centrair-to-Narita and Narita-to-O’Hare), encumbered as I was with a heavy backpack full of books (seriously, my shoulders were sore for two days after) and a huge paper sack with a bag-wrapped poster sticking out, but finding space to stow my things above the seats for the international flight was trickier. Other nearby passengers were having the same difficulties, but we all got it sorted out before takeoff. I had also worn cargo shorts, so I could store everything I might need in the leg pockets instead of blocking my legroom with something under the seat. I sat on the aisle for the connecting flight, but had a middle seat for the longer one, putting me between an Asian girl whose novel was in Korean, but sounded pretty American when she’d tell the flight attendants she didn’t speak Japanese, and a Japanese guy who mostly listened to MP3s and played games on the seat-screen, and who was patient when I needed to get out and use the bathroom. My in-flight movies were the 21 Jump Street remake (stupid but amusing, much as I’d expected) and The Hunger Games (highly entertaining). I also managed to sleep for a solid three hours, which said something about my fatigue level. Our first in-flight meal was unremarkable, but the second was a return of an old friend: the Air Mos Burger. This time, it was the cooked-rice-bun version, along with a bag of unsalted potato rings. Just like last year, I confirmed that one could get a free small bottle of Spanish wine with every meal, and did so every time. I normally don’t drink wine, but it was a pleasant change, and an extra beverage to boot.
Honestly, for a twelve-hour flight, it seemed to pass very quickly, and before I knew it, we were landing in Chicago. Customs was quick, but I had to reclaim my bags and then recheck them down the line, stand in another line to make sure I was where I needed to be, and then go through security. Of course, everything bogs down in security, more so when they make an old lady leave her wheelchair to pass through the body-scanner. This was where my trusty paper sack took its first wound, suffering a rip somewhere on its journey through the X-ray machine. I exited the basic scanner to find two TSA guys taping it up as best they could. The walk to my gate for the Pittsburgh flight wasn’t nearly as far as it was last year, but when I arrived, there were already people boarding a plane… to Washington DC — I was early. Two other people came to the gate, also looking to go to Pittsburgh, and I let them know they were also really early. In the end, they changed the gate on us anyway (to across the hall), and we boarded without incident. The connecting plane was the usual half-size deal, but I found that meant the overhead compartments were also smaller, meaning I couldn’t fit the backpack nor the Mandarake sack in them. I shoved the backpack under my seat, and when no one sat beside me, I shoved the paper bag under the neighboring seat. An hour later, I was finally in Pittsburgh. By the time I reached the baggage claim, my mother was already waiting, and the luggage (which had been sent via Chicago) was already starting to emerge. No lost luggage this year, thankfully, meaning I could come straight home… after a short detour to the WVU Office of International Programs to sign some papers for ASU that had come while I was in Japan. (Honestly, if I’d known, they could have just sent them domestic to the dorm.) Once I got back to town, I unpacked my dirty laundry and redistributed everything for easier carrying, and found nothing broken — but the shampoo bottle had been crushed in transit and had gotten shampoo in the outside pocket of the suitcase and on my shaving kit. Considering I’d suffered no delays and had gotten all my luggage on time and intact, I counted myself lucky. It was good to be home.