My One Day of Spring Vacation
Naturally, my father-in-law immediately tried to hijack it. You see, in the universe he lives in, there is no such thing as a day off from work. Being free from your regular job should never happen, and if it somehow does, it means you spend all day working at home (or, in his case, going around shoving his nose into other people's business in the interest of "correcting" them). Things were complicated even further by the fact that doctors recently found my father-in-law has a kidney stone. The doctors don't seem to think it's very serious, and he has suffered little if any pain from it, but it's still enough for him to whine about being an invalid (as long as he has an audience; otherwise, he follows his usual routine without variation). Naturally, when he found out I was going to be free today, he immediately insisted that I spend much if not most if not all of the day tilling his beloved eighth-of-an-acre field. I told him I would have nothing of it, saying that there was no way I was going to give up that ONE DAY of Spring Vacation I could spend with the wife and kids. I got an earful of guilt trip, as expected, but that's just life.
Our plan was to get up early, hop in my BLUE RAV4, and head for Yokohama in time to beat the crowds. Everyone was in agreement there, but alas, it was easier said than done. I actually managed to get myself up and ready to go at a decent hour, but my newly teenified daughter required a threat of ice cubes in her bed to get her to budge. Then my wife, true to form, insisted that my son clean his room first. My son is not only careless, he is a slob. He's also a careless slob who is very easily distracted. It's hard to get him to do anything that takes longer than ten seconds to finish, and it's even harder to get him to do it without breaking things or making another, bigger mess in the process. Needless to say, by the time we loaded up in the car we were already way behind schedule. That was when FIL suddenly appeared out of nowhere and started loading the guilt trip on my wife. We didn't give any ground on going out for the day, but we decided to compromise on one issue: we went to tend MIL's grave first before heading out.
We arrived at the Higashi-Kanto Expressway to find it unusually crowded with slow Sunday drivers. You see, the government, in an effort to encourage more people to install Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) units on their cars before the start of the new fiscal year, has been subsidizing the purchase of the devices for a period that will end on the 31st of this month (i.e. I need to get mine tomorrow morning!). Not only that, but users of ETC units now get a whopping discount on highway tolls. At the same time, however, there is also a crackdown in progress on the speed with which ETC-users shoot through the toll gates. There were a lot of cars on the expressway. Traffic was moving, thank goodness, but there were a LOT of people cruising up to 20 clicks under the speed limit, and the lines at the ETC lanes of the toll gates were really long (meaning few lanes were allocated for people WITHOUT ETC units...). We managed to make good time nonetheless, and after only about ninety minutes we rolled toward the giant, public parking center under the famous Conference Center...
...to find the entrance blocked with a big, red sign saying, "FULL". Luckily, there were still some spots available in the
And so we spent the day shopping at the Landmark Tower Plaza and other nearby shopping malls. (Actually, in my case I mainly stood around looking bored while my wife and daughter spent the day shopping, but whatever.) I did find a half-price clearance sale of English books at the bookstore there, so I grabbed a bunch of books I'll hopefully remember to read sometime before I die. I also failed to resist buying more import munchies at the Sony Plaza store. We had lunch at the Sizzler there, which made everyone happy, though I was a bit disappointed. Both the service and the salad/soup/dessert/bread bar were really nice, but the grilled herb chicken I ordered had a tough crust on the bottom and tasted like the chef just grabbed a bunch of spices off the shelf and dumped them on without any respect for the flavor of the chicken itself (which was quite good, actually). The grilled chicken with yuzu marinade that my wife ordered was much better. After that we split up a bit so the kids could hit their haunts and my wife and I could have a "date" (that consisted of her shopping for clothes for the kids and complaining that she couldn't find anything in my daughter's size). Once that was all done, we loaded up in the BLUE RAV4 so we could get back at a reasonable hour (and hopefully reduce the amount of griping from my FIL).
Yokohama Landmark Tower is in Minato Mirai, perhaps the most cosmopolitan area of arguably Japan's most cosmopolitan city...but they STILL can't get their English right! The Japanese means, "Watch your step."
As it turned out, however, my wife realized she had never been in the giant Carrefour store in Makuhari, about halfway home, so we popped in there...and wound up getting totally wrapped up in its amazing deli and bakery sections. It's hard to believe that the Carrefour very nearly went out of business when the Costco opened about a kilometer away, but it survived thanks to a takeover by the local Aeon/Jusco department store chain. Its selection is now a combination of Jusco's line and Carrefour's import items. I've heard people say they're now disappointed with it, but I don't know. I never saw Carrefour before Aeon/Jusco acquired it, and as far as I'm concerned its food market selection is excellent. We'll definitely go there again sometime.
The drive back took forever because the expressway was even more clogged up with outrageously slow drivers. (I mean, come on! 80 kph [50 mph] on a posted 100 kph [63 mph] expressway? With neither wind nor rain?!?) By the time we got back it was well after dark, and FIL was upset about both the low level of kerosene in the bath-heater's tank and the fact that there were still weeds...in the unused corners. I filled the tank (and let HIM pull the weeds), and then we all enjoyed a dinner of take-out Subway sandwiches.
So much for Spring Vacation this year. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in enough time for a Costco run...or to get an ETC unit while the government is still helping foot the bill.