American Vacation 2016 (going).

Going back home to America is always a minor adventure, what with multiple modes of transportation for an entire day’s travel. This year was no different.

My flight was to leave at 6:10 pm, meaning I had the rare opportunity to stay up as late as I liked the night before, sleep in, and take my time getting ready. I had a small amount of laundry left over, none of which was coming with me on the trip, but I did it so I wouldn’t have to come back to it. My taxi arrived just as I was finishing, but it took a couple minutes to drag everything out and fit it into the car. I had two cans of Coke in the fridge from a Domino’s deal; I took one and offered the other to the driver by way of apology for making him wait. He was pleased to take it, and when I assured him he didn’t need to wait to drink it, he opened it immediately. (He finished his before I finished mine.) He took us on a shorter route, due to traffic, and easily found the Keisei bus stop near Tokyo Station. The final fare was a little over 6000円, but he discounted it down to 6000 even.

The bus ride was uneventful. Once at the airport, I snagged a free cart and muscled my luggage into the terminal. I foolishly chose the wrong line to check in, finding myself behind a large group of kids on a school trip that noticeably slowed my line. To pass the time, I had some of a snack I’d brought along and conversed with the guy behind me. When I finally got to the check-in, I made sure to inform the woman that my suitcase had a replica pistol inside (a Dominator from the Psycho-Pass anime series). They had me take it to a special scanning area, and confirmed it wasn’t a real weapon (one of the guys even knew Psycho-Pass).

From there, it was off to my gate. I was low on time because of the slower line, so while I had time to wash my hands, I didn’t have time to eat. As I passed through security, I was actually pulled aside and patted down — a first for me in Japan.

I had managed to get an aisle seat, and found myself next to a pleasant-looking girl. We started talking (in Japanese), and I made sure to let her know that if she needed to get out for any reason that she should let me know, even if I was asleep. (“In other words, don’t be Japanese.” She laughed.) Her name was Megumi (Meg), and she was on her way to Boston for a molecular biology conference — because she was a molecular biologist. (I was impressed.) She told me she was nervous and wanted to practice her English, so we switched to English for the rest of the flight. (She had no worries; her English was excellent.) I browsed the movies and found a few I might like to see, choosing to start with The Revenant (pretty good). They brought dinner for us soon after; I picked the chicken in lemon cream sauce with broccoli pasta.

Now, normally, I can clear two or three movies on a flight. I figured I’d get a short nap and then continue from there. I finished my dinner and movie about three hours into a twelve-hour flight, then put on my eyemask and sat back. I woke up feeling refreshed and rested, and tapped the screen in front of me to check how long we had left.

Remaining Time: 2:11.

I was stunned. I’ve never slept for that long, nor that soundly, on a plane. I checked with Meg that I hadn’t snored or kept her from getting up, but she assured me everything had been fine; she’d watched two movies while I was out. It was soon time for our next meal, always my favorite: Air MOS Burger. This year’s was a minor disappointment, however, because it was a miso/sesame flavor. Ah, well; still pretty good.

The plane, by the way, seemed to be a much newer model. The screens were fixed instead of tilting, yet I never found a bad angle. The seats didn’t lean back so much as slid forward and reclined, minimizing annoyance for the person behind. There was no remote; everything was touch-based, and the headphones were single-jack (presumably to allow people to use their own if they wanted). What was most remarkable, though, were the windows. Rather than a sliding shade, they featured a touchpad that would tint the window anywhere from clear to opaque, allowing people to see the clouds without waking the person beside them.

We reached Boston without incident, and I said goodbye to Meg, promising to keep in touch via Facebook. This was my first time changing planes in Boston — I usually go through Chicago — and I found I liked it much better. I don’t know if it was the airport or the time of day, but all the lines were shorter, my luggage came up quickly, the TSA people were pretty calm, and my gate was very close to security (in other words, the opposite of Chicago). I changed my money and headed to a no-walls seafood restaurant for a somewhat-overpriced cup of Boston clam chowder — probably the best chowder I’ve ever had. Meanwhile, the gentlemen seated beside me were speaking Japanese as they received a huge plate of breaded seafood. I commented on how much there was in Japanese, and they were surprised: “Why are you speaking Japanese?” “You’re Japanese, right?” It turns out they weren’t coming from Japan like I was, but were on their way home to Pittsburgh from a business trip in Boston. They seemed happy to talk, so we chatted until I finished my soup and figured I should head for the gate. (They eventually joined me, since they were on the same flight.)

The staff red-tagged all my bags (save my small backpack) due to space limitations, and instead of a jet bridge, we went down a staircase, across some tarmac, and back up into our plane. Interestingly, one of the staff briefly boarded to confirm I was indeed on the flight — near as I could tell, they had forgotten to scan my boarding pass as I was entering. Our flight attendant was solo, and seemed unpracticed; she read most of the preflight spiel off a printout and was clearly going off a checklist. Everyone has to start somewhere, I guess.

After a pretty quiet hour and a half, we touched down in Pittsburgh, where my mother was waiting to greet me. All of my bags arrived in a reasonable timeframe, and we drove home. She was even thoughtful enough to bring me a Coke and a pepperoni roll to eat on the way. It was good to be back.


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