Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Monday, January 04, 2010

The (Jet) Trail to Oregon 2009, Chapter 1

I FINALLY made it over to visit the old stomping grounds. After four years of having my till-then annual pilgrimage torpedoed by budget concerns, death in the family, and Japanese mourning requirements, I was finally able to get myself on a plane to Oregon and back again. It literally was "myself", too; with the wife and kids tied down by various things (not least of which the lack of functioning passports), it wound up being a solo venture. Most likely that helped matters. The trip was booked much later than it probably should have, and I thought it miraculous that I could even pull it off.

Pt. I: The Trip Over
My departure wound up being an ironic comedy of errors. Jealous of my travel plans, my wife and kids had decided to take a short trip of their own together with my father-in-law. We wound up leaving the same day, but they headed out almost at the crack of dawn. I didn't have to be at the airport until early afternoon, so I slept in. By the time I got up, they were already well on their way to Hiroshima, where they would stay a couple of days. I then found that bags I'd hoped to use for my trip were gone, and I had to dig around for suitable replacements. People also kept showing up to see my father-in-law, and it wasn't always easy to get rid of them. By the time I finally got out of there, it was already too late for me even to dream of taking the bus or train to the airport, so I just drove there directly and parked, hoping it wouldn't wind up costing a vital organ afterward. I also realized halfway there that I'd gone off without my camera. That was just the beginning...

Portland is the nearest international airport to my parents' home in Waldport, but the domestic-only Eugene Airport is a lot closer. (There is a local airport at Wakonda Beach, but it's just a grassy field.) It used to be that I could only get to Eugene via San Francisco, so my last few trips home went that route. Imagine my surprise when the travel agency told me my flight would be routed through Portland! The reason was that Northwest Airlines had been bought out by Delta, expanding the number of routes. Stopping at Portland was certainly an option, and would certainly be less of a hassle, but I figured going on to Eugene would make things easier on my parents. I booked the connecting flight.

A little over a week before my departure, I was informed by my father that they were already planning to be in Portland for a family-related event. That meant there was no need for me to continue on to Eugene. It was already well past the cancellation deadline, but I figured I'd go ahead and make things easier on everyone, including myself. I went into New Tokyo International Airport (in Narita), put my passport in the newfangled "e-ticket" check-in machine, and then asked an attendant how I could go about canceling the connecting flight to Eugene.

You'd think it would be a simple matter of removing my name from the list. Nope. I managed to bring the whole system to a dead stop while staff ran about arguing over what to do. They also charged me an extra $500 for my troubles (which is probably more than the Portland-to-Eugene fare cost).

Live and learn.

In the end, I was given a window seat next to one of the over-wing exits on a Boeing 767. That meant extra leg room. Unfortunately, the insulation on the exit doors isn't as good as it is elsewhere in the cabin. I'd taken my sweater off at the airport (and packed it) because I was sweltering. Once the plane was at cruising altitude, however, I FROZE. And the little wisp of a blanket that they provide now wasn't much help at all. (How I miss the old flannel ones!) I wound up putting my heavy jacket back on, which wasn't very comfortable. Between that, the ample turbulence, and the toddler a few rows back that started wailing every fifteen minutes, it wasn't easy to get much sleep during the nine-hour flight to Portland.

There was also the matter of the new security rules. Thanks to that jackass that had tried to blow himself up on a plane over Detroit only a couple of days before, new laws had just been implemented. I'd been warned that security procedures at the airport might take longer, but they weren't that bad. All they did was go through my bags a couple of times and give me a good frisking just before I boarded the plane. (Interestingly, it was done by a female staffer. At Heathrow back in '94 that was NOT the case.)(DON'T TOUCH ME THERE!!!!) The real change came during the last hour of the flight before landing. All of the passengers were required to remain in their seats belted in with absolutely nothing on their person (but their clothes)(What were you thinking?), arms on the rests, and legs unfolded so as to be easily visible, all bags stowed. In my case that meant shedding the blanket, though I was allowed to keep my jacket on. Apparently some people either had a problem with the new rules or didn't understand the instructions, because a number (mostly non-Japanese Asians) kept getting up to go to the restrooms or get things out of their bags. The flight attendants were constantly having to order people to sit back down and buckle up, and the Captain kept having to reiterate over the PA that the plane would not approach the airport unless everyone complied. That didn't stop some people from just waiting until the flight attendants moved on and then getting up again, some more than once. (I kept hoping one or two idiots would be cuffed in their seats by an Air Marshal, but they weren't.) The last "hour" wound up taking a bit longer as a result, and the crew's nerves were clearly starting to fray. I don't know if it was really an effective deterrent against terrorism, but I was glad when we finally touched down under an appropriately gray Western Oregon sky. I was even gladder when my bag was one of the first to appear on the carousel.

Almost everyone on the plane moved on to a connecting flight. The shuttle bus going to the main terminal contained only about a half dozen people, most of whom were stressed-looking flight attendants. My parents and sister were waiting in the lobby, and they definitely seemed glad to see me.

The drive to Waldport wasn't particularly eventful, especially since I was only half awake the whole time, but it was still good to see the old country for the first time in four years.

Pt. II: On the Coast
I stayed at my parents' house in Waldport for most of my visit. I would've been perfectly content just to hang out there and enjoy some peace and quiet away from the usual grind. However, things weren't quite so dull. The first full day of my stay was cold but calm and clear, so we hiked around Cape Perpetua on the Giant Spruce Trail and around Devils Churn. The tide was high and the surf extremely rough, so the Churn put on quite an explosive display. After that we went down to Florence and had lunch at a pub-restaurant called the Firehouse (so named on account of the extensive collection of fire-fighting paraphernalia adorning its walls). After that jet lag started to catch up with me and the others were tired, so we just chilled out at home.

The next day was a typical one for the Oregon Coast, i.e. rainy. It was also very cold. That didn't stop us from shooting up to Lincoln City to hit the outlet mall. Mindful as I was of the restrictions imposed by the new security rules, I tried to keep my shopping to a minimum. I failed. It was all I could do to limit myself as much as I did. When we finally pried ourselves away and went shivering back to the car, we went back down to Newport (my birthplace!) and had brunch at the Pig n' Pancake. (I had eggs benedict with local dungeness crab instead of ham. Mmmm!) Then it was mostly more chill-out time at home. That evening we watched with amazement as the news reported unexpected snowfall in Portland and the total shutdown of traffic that resulted. Luckily, all we got was rain.

The day after that was our final shopping day. We went to a number of stores in Newport's main drag. Then I asked to be taken down to the old town area at the waterfront, a place I always like to visit, but we arrived to find it all torn up for road construction. I therefore limited myself to a little gift shopping at the Made in Oregon store there. Then it was back home to work on different things.

On my final full day in Waldport, which happened to be New Year's Eve, my sister had to work, and my mother had to take her turn doing volunteer work at the Alsea Bay Historic Interpretive Center. A strong southwestern wind was blowing, which brought the temperature up but also kicked up a storm. It was rainy and nasty all day with occasional thunder and lots of tree branches (if not whole trees) coming down. The only event of the day for me was a post office run followed by a quick drive-by to see the storm-driven ocean. Evening was a bit more eventful. It was a quiet New Year's Eve but enjoyable, spent watching classics and concerts on TV while drinking my sister's famous margaritas.

Then it was time to gather my stuff together, because the next day meant the next chapter of the trip. (To be continued...)


  • I am glad you got a dose of the coast in. Good for the soul.

    Word verification: hicing - cold hiking

    By Blogger Don Snabulus, at 12:04 AM  

  • Five hundred dollars to cancel a flight? Hmmm.

    Oregon Coast sounds cool.

    By Anonymous Dave, at 5:29 AM  

  • Yay! This is what I'm waiting for! Your story going "home" for holiday :)

    What? You had to pay USD 500 just for canceling? I would cry hard if I'm in your position coz' that's almost double amount of my average salary per month!!!

    I don't understand with people who can't follow simple orders... Everytime when I flight, there's always a warning to turn off cell phones, electronic devices but some people are just so ignorant though they already know that it might caused interference.

    By Blogger Selba, at 10:12 AM  

  • You're right -- it would have been more than an ironic comedy of errors had your whole family gone with you. I'm glad you survived the flight in spite of the frigid conditions and the wailing toddler.

    By Anonymous nikkipolani, at 2:50 PM  

  • Next flight I take I plan to wear my Eldridge Cleaver pants. :o

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 4:54 PM  

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