Pt. III: New Year's Day - Salem
As it turned out, while the night of December 31 / early morning of January 1 was relatively quiet, January 1 itself was destined to be a day of parties. I tried very hard to pack everything in my bags, gave up, and put together another box to be mailed home. (Drat those new security regulations!)
Then my family loaded up in the car and headed toward Salem.
My Uncle Craig had just gotten a new house up in the hills overlooking the Willamette River in the outskirts of Salem. This gathering of my mother's clan there was the first time for most of us to see it. The directions seemed easy enough; he and my aunt had once lived in a house a little further up the street, and we were given the location relative to that plus a description of the new place's design. Naturally, we ran into trouble. The house at the indicated location met the description in some ways but not in others. The name visible on the mailbox was wrong, though it was clear it had been removed a short time before. To make matters worse, no one was there. My mother hadn't bothered to bring the address along. I thought I had, but it turned out that I'd grabbed the wrong paper. I had e-mailed the address to my friend Don the night before, however, so I thought I remembered it well enough. That wasn't enough to convince everyone else. Another nearby house partly matched the description, so we wound up squabbling over which one was right.
I figured the most logical thing to do was to call Don and have him give me the address I'd sent him. I tried to use my sister's cell phone, and all I got was a recording saying that her account needed to be refilled. I then tried to use my mother's cell phone, and all I got was a screen message saying her battery needed recharging. Giving up on modern technology, we went down to the nearest supermarket, and I called Don on an old-fashioned pay phone. (Thank Heaven those are still around!)
It turned out that I'd remembered the address correctly, so after doing a bit of shopping at the Safeway (mainly for antacid tablets, something I can't get in Japan)
we went back to the house and found my cousin Brian and his wife waiting. My uncle had left the front door unlocked, so we went ahead and invaded. The rest of the clan started showing up a little later.
Both of my mother's siblings, their spouses, their children, and their children were there. (We were only missing the husband of one cousin.)
I hadn't seen any of them for at least four years. Some of them I hadn't seen for longer than that. There were a few that I hadn't yet met at all. It was a nice gathering, made even better by an abundance of good food and drink. There was just one problem, however; the main purpose of the get-together was to watch the Rose Bowl game
. One of the participating teams was University of Oregon (better known as the "Ducks")
, so there was a lot of cheer and local patriotism being directed at that team. Not surprisingly, many if not most of the people at the gathering were wearing Duck colors. The problem was that I graduated from the Ducks' rival
university, Oregon State (better known as the "Beavers")
. The Beavers had done very well during the regular season, but they wound up crashing and burning during the final game leading to the bowl games, ending their year on a dismal note. It was up to the Ducks to carry Oregon's pride, but it was still hard for me to cheer for my university's bitterest rival. It also felt awkward to be there among all that green and gold clothing. I had a good visit there with my extended family, but I was still kind of relieved when Don arrived to take me up to Portland for the final leg of my journey.Pt. IV: New Year's Day - Portland
It was my first visit to Don and Ladybug's house in northwest Portland. Ladybug was still recovering from sudden illness and emergency surgery, but it was good to see her in relatively good spirits. The fact that their daughter is the same age as my oldest students seemed kind of odd even if it was inevitable. (Then again, my own daughter is the same age as my youngest students.)
We didn't stay there and visit very long, though, because we had an appointment at the McMenamins
brewpub-restaurant on Broadway in Portland.
McMenamins has been something of a tradition during my irregular visits to Portland. It seems that we always end up at one of their locations at least once whenever I'm there. In fact, one surprise get-together in the late 90s wound up being attended by almost thirty people including high school and/or college friends and their spouses. Considering the number of "will try to be there" responses I'd gotten, I was beginning to wonder if it was going to be another large-scale event. It wasn't. Other than myself, Don, and Ladybug, only two others showed up. I was still very happy to see them, and we were probably better off in a more intimate environment anyway. When it comes to friends, I think I've been very fortunate (even if I've been told that adults aren't supposed to have friends)
To the wine, Newcastle Brown Ale, and all the food that I'd had that afternoon (not to mention the good eating and Rogue Ale I'd been enjoying all week)(CHRONIC [and very satisfying] DIET FAILURE!!!)
I added two pints of Hammerhead Ale, a pint of rosy ale called IPA, a nice, fat beef sandwich, and plenty of McMenamins' famous fries before Ladybug started looking worn out. Don then ordered a take-out jug of Hammerhead, and we retired to his place for the night. The jug was well spent in reminiscing and generally chewing the fat. Then I bedded down for my last night in Oregon.Pt. V: Back to the Land of the Rising Sun
I actually woke up with a little bit of a hangover (embarrassingly enough...)
, but breakfast at Shari's hit the spot. Then Don dropped me off at Portland International Airport. It was more than a little crowded there, but the e-ticket check-in system definitely sped things up. The only problem was that I didn't yet have a seat assignment. That made me nervous.
Security was tight, but the staff had the system running efficiently. I was a bit more prepared than I'd been in the past, too, so everything went by smoothly and easily. (I also appreciated the polite professionalism of the security staff at PDX. It made a nice contrast with some obnoxious sadists I've had to deal with at San Francisco.)
My departure gate didn't seem so crowded, but it suddenly filled up about twenty minutes before boarding time, mainly with what seemed to be members of the same group.
I honestly have to wonder why some people seem to be so determined to draw attention to themselves. The group that came in appeared to be Chinese, but it was led by a man who was obviously an Oregon native. His University of Oregon sweatshirt didn't stick out so much, but his shorts and (sockless)
sandals most certainly did, especially surrounded by all that winter wear. And of course he was the sort who couldn't talk unless it was loud enough to be heard across the room. I'm not sure whether he was a teacher, a missionary, or a tour guide (His personality suggested any of those)
, but he was clearly the spokesman for the group. Either they'd come off of a connecting flight or there had been a change in their schedule, because they had to get their boarding passes modified at the desk. Only after that whole mess got sorted out did they finally call me up and give me a seat assignment...five minutes before boarding started.
I didn't have an exit seat this time, and the flight back to Japan was warm, smooth, and quiet...for the most part. The man in the seat next to me, a rather large, middle-aged Chinese who was apparently part of the group, put his bag under the seat in front of him and his feet under the seat in front of me, i.e. my leg space. (I couldn't help noticing that, contrary to the new security regulations, many if not most of the members of that group had plenty of shopping bags in addition to their carry-on luggage, something I was told was no longer allowed, but somehow it didn't seem to matter. Is there a double standard, or did the flight crew just not want to deal with it?)
It wasn't really a problem, though, because I spent most of the ten-hour flight turned on my side trying to sleep anyway.
The real fun started during the last hour or so of the flight. Another member of the group, sitting across the aisle from my row, apparently got a bit drunk. He suddenly started dressing down a couple of youngish American passengers who were sitting next to him. When they told him they were going to Taipei, he launched into an angry tirade of, "Taiwan is China! Taiwan has always
been China! We'll take Taiwan back! America can't stop us! You try, BOOM! You die! Go home! Taiwan is China!" Now fully awake thanks to that uninvited patriotic alarm clock, I cracked open my window shutter a bit to have a peek outside. Next thing I knew, Mr. Red Face was shouting at me to shut it. I said a quiet apology and complied, leaving him ranting on semi-intelligibly in a mixture of English and Chinese to everyone around him as they tried desperately to ignore him. Sometimes he'd try to talk to me, asking me if I understood various Chinese words, and I'd just give him a polite shrug and go about my business. After the videos were all done and the plane was starting its descent, I went ahead and opened my shutter halfway, seeing as the people ahead and behind me had opened theirs. Suddenly a loud, screaming torrent of angry-sounding Chinese was being directed at me. I kept my back turned, but one of the flight attendants had to come and calm the guy down. (Needless to say, I was thankful for the big Chinese guy in the seat between us, and I was perfectly content to let him have part of my leg room!)
Once again, while the plane was in its final descent, Mr. Red Face stood up, got his bag out of the overhead bin, apparently had trouble getting it back in again, and threw a screaming tantrum. Once again the flight attendants calmed him down, got his bag into the bin, and got him into his seat. He then sat and gibbered and thrashed his head about until the plane was at the terminal. Once there, he got up, got his bag out of the overhead bin, and then started pulling my
bag out! I was prepared to scream for assistance, but apparently he thought better of it and put my bag back. Needless to say, I waited until he was well on his way out before I left my seat.
The overwhelming majority of the passengers on that plane (including Mr. Bermudas-and-Birkies-in-winter and his Chinese group)
headed off for a connecting flight. There was almost no line at immigration, none at all at customs, and once again my suitcase was one of the first on the carousel. It was virtually a smooth walk from plane to parking lot...where I was hit with an almost $200 bill for eight days of parking. (My fault, I know...)
My cell phone's battery was dead, so I just drove straight home from Narita only to find that my wife and kids were out shopping...in Narita. Oh, well. At least I had some time to chill out.
A big thank you to everyone who put up with me during the trip! You're the best, and I hope to see you again soon!
And that, my friends, is the end of the story!