My sister drove me to the airport in Oklahoma City. We’d left the house before dawn, the bobbing oil wells at work pumping light into the sky as we hummed along the highway. The handful of tallish buildings that make up downtown were barely visible on the horizon.
At the airport, I found that United had once again canceled my seat reservations. Not a single flight’s seat assignment had survived, and I ended up forking out $119 just to get a seat that wasn’t a middle seat on the long flight from Chicago to Tokyo.
During the inevitable stage of TSA initiation maneuvers, the guard asked me if I had a shirt on underneath my sweatshirt. When I said yes, he told me to take off my sweatshirt; prudery is apparently a more important motivation than actual security. At the gate, near the store selling headrests decorated with the US flag, not only were members of the military allowed to board first, the airport staff told everyone in the waiting area to give them a round of applause. Everyone clapped, looking around to see if anyone wasn’t clapping; I kept looking at my phone. I’d stopped asking questions by the time they said I could only have two carry-ons and would I please stuff my camera bag inside another bag to comply and then take it out again on the other side of the door. I suppose that’s the point; wear people down with enough idiocy and they’ll fall in line just to save the trouble of arguing.
The bright, perky woman at the gate in Chicago recognized my W&L sweatshirt, and told me she was a “W&L mom”. I felt embarrassed by her chatter as other people were behind me waiting to be served. She told me that my seating assignments had vanished because United was changing its seating configuration from 2-5-2 to 3-3-3. “Be glad you’re on the 3-3-3…they’ve got seatback video screens!” she told me, apparently unaware that the rest of the world has had those in airplanes for years now.
We were on our way to Tokyo when I realized that I hadn’t gone through any sort of customs or immigration checkpoint. Is that normal? I have no idea. I watched movie after movie over the course of the flight along the top of the world,movies like Captain America, Transformers 3, Lost Swordsman, Hangover 2, sprinkled with various TV programs like Monk and Family Guy episodes I’d seen before. I concluded that I was glad I hadn’t seen any of the films in the theater as it would have been a waste of time. But there on the airplane with nothing to do for half a day, they were a welcome distraction. Another distraction, though not a particularly welcome one, was the announcement, “Is there anyone on board…”
…who can fly a plane? I added mentally during the ensuing, unsettling pause. But the message went on, “…who is a doctor or medic or fireman?” That’s odd, I thought. Half an hour later they came back on, asking for diabetics with insulin, and I wondered if someone had had his or her medicine confiscated for security theater performance-related reasons and were now in trouble as a result. But we didn’t hear any more.
In Tokyo, we all went through more screening, scuffling the churchwalk line into the X-ray machine once again as Japan doesn’t seem to trust the original airport screening. It was a good thing I didn’t have a connecting flight any time soon; in fact, I wouldn’t have minded a day or two in Tokyo to decompress, but I didn’t have the time. Instead I lay down on a sofa near the gate for a couple of hours trying to figure out how to utilize the free wifi.
The flight back to Taipei left, and arrived, early. Having no checked baggage and utilizing the new facial recognition-powered automatic immigration gates at the airport, I literally didn’t have to break step until I stepped on the bus back to the city. Chenbl was waiting for me, and I was crossing the bridge at Bitan only an hour or so after we’d touched down. It was good to be back, a relief to be in familiar, comfortable surroundings once again.
So that’s my trip to the US; two weeks of bizarrity in the land o’ plenty. Hope you enjoyed the show. I’ll probably have a video of it up at some point.