Hidemi’s Rambling by Hidemi Woods

Singer, Songwriter and Author from Kyoto, Japan.

My Travel hr662

A trip can require an enormous effort. In my case, it starts by making time to plan in a hectic daily life which consumes me with work. Once I manage to find time for planning a trip, a long way to finish it awaits. I search all over the Internet for the best possible deal for a hotel and transportation that suits what I want to do during the trip. I narrow selections, choose the most saving plans, combine them into an itinerary, book everything, adjust my work schedule, and pack. The latest trip I took after that lengthy process was by plane. I could have taken the bullet train since the time that would be taken to the destination was almost the same because the airport was much further than the train station from my home. But that particular airline carried a limited-time sale so that the fare was lower. My choice was decided on a plane for that reason.

No matter how many times I have flown, I feel nervous each time. Although I know that the chances of a car accident are much higher than a plane crash, that kind of logic doesn’t help me. I see many people drink alcohol before the flight and that shows I am not the only person who is nervous of flying. A long time ago, I took a flight to Dallas. Before landing, the plane was sucked into nasty turbulence. It repeated steep dives several times that gave some passengers screams and vomits. I was in a window seat and seeing the wing in the midst of a thick cloud that told me the plane tilted sharply. I heard something fall and break everywhere. Above all, I was most terrified when I saw the flight attendants panic, who were supposed to get used to and be trained for this situation. The plane finally got out of the thick cloud and I thought I would see out of the window broad highways or the edge of the runway that were common views after the plane descended that much. Instead, what came into my sight were tips of green trees. Because I had never seen trees so closely from the airplane, I was convinced that we were going to crash. I vaguely thought it was least expected that my end was Dallas. Then, the plane stopped descending and flew ahead horizontally. It made turns above trees with a move that was more like a bus’s rather than a plane’s. It seemed to spot the runway by doing so, and we landed safely.

For the latest trip I took, I checked in at the airport and was informed that my flight was delayed for two hours due to machine maintenance. I wasn’t sure if the airplane I was going on board would need further maintenance or a backup plane would fly in from somewhere, but either way, it made me uneasy since it came on top of the existing nervous factor that it was a low cost carrier. After I went through the security check and waited at the gate, the further delay was announced. I finally got on board a few hours behind schedule and the door of the plane was closed. Yet, it remained stationary, and wouldn’t move. The captain announced it was waiting for takeoff permission from the control tower. It sounded absurd because it was a small local airport where the runway was empty and only few flights a day came in and out. Forty minutes passed while many things crossed my mind. Why can’t a takeoff be permitted? Is there any problem? Is that the true reason? Does this plane still have some sort of machine troubles? The cabin was dead silent and tense as other passengers sat quiet and strained for the whole forty minutes. I thought this was the very time when we needed alcohol most. By the time the plane took off and safely finished its 90-minute flight, it was already night and I was exhausted. My elaborate travel itinerary got messed up on the first day though I had made it with full of leeway. The massive delay ate up the time for a meal at the restaurant. The express train I had booked from the airport to the city had long gone.

Flights are always accompanied with troubles. Other than delays, I have had my fair share of troubles regarding baggage, other passengers or attendants. Even so, I don’t hate flying. I don’t know why exactly, but I feel like I become a different person each time I take off and land on the destination. It is as if I jumped into a different dimension where a better version of my life exists. I like that feeling so much that I feel stuck circling at the same spot over and over without any changes when I haven’t flown for a long time. That’s why I need to take a plane to a different place once in a while in order to become a better self even if it’s nervous, risky and troublesome. I might as well stay home just to relax as to travel. It would be peaceful, calm and tranquil for me. But I know I couldn’t enjoy that because staying at the same place without traveling feels like being dead. Travel lets me keep changing so that I stay alive.

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.553

The frightening experience that I almost lost my precious wristwatch at LAX exhausted me but I had to wait for five hours for my flight because of the cancellations. I was allowed to use the executive lounge for the compensation and stepped in there for the first time. It was located on the second floor of the terminal and a totally different world. It was a quiet, spacious place with large sofas and sparse people who all looked rich. I was afraid that a person like me might be kicked out. There was a buffet that laid out a wide variety of expensive hams and cheese that I wouldn’t reach to get in my daily life. Since they were free here, I mounted them high on my plate and repeated it as much as I could. High-end gourmet coffees and teas were also free. It wasn’t the time for me to care about embarrassment of my devouring. Out of the huge window of the lounge, I enjoyed the view of planes taking off and landing. Out of the opposite side of the window, I saw the downstairs of the terminal. It was under construction and the walls were temporarily boards of wood. The passengers were waiting in the crammed gate area and some were sitting on the floor. Usually, that was me. Now I was looking down from above. I felt sorry and guilty. But at the same time, I found myself gloating. Five hours flashed by and I went down to the gate for boarding. Although the gate was packed with passengers, I got on the plane without waiting in line because I had gotten a free upgrade to the business class as the compensation of the flight cancellation. I was thrilled to sit in a full-flat seat for the first time in my life. Numerous buttons were all around the seat and it looked more like a console rather than a seat. As soon as the plane took off and the seat belt sign was turned off, I eagerly pushed the button for a flat position. With a subtle machinery noise, the back of the seat lowered and my feet were drawn beneath the table of the seat before mine. It slowly became completely flat. Because I’m short, there was still surplus space and I lay down without touching anywhere. It was felt like flying in a coffin, but for a person like me who had flown only in a tiny little seat, it was unbelievably comfortable. Probably because the flight time was less than three hours, nobody else made the seat flat. I was the only passenger in the business class who was rolling over and chuckling in the coffin. After I spent a night in Vancouver, I took an international flight to Japan the next day. This one was a long-haul flight of eleven hours. Quite a few Japanese families are usually on board on the flight to Japan, and they are almost always in a bad mood somewhat. The atmosphere on the plane is accordingly not nice. As I had feared, there was a Japanese family with ill-mannered children this time. The kids were noisy and disorderly, romping all the way. The flight attendants often came to stop their dangerous behaviors, but the parents ignored as if they were strangers, which is too much common in Japan. I remembered how things were going in Japan and started having a feeling of gloom. When the plane landed in Japan and I stepped out of the plane, the first thing that crossed my mind was a strong desire that I had been dreaming the whole thing and the trip hadn’t started yet. I wished I got back on the plane and set off a trip all over again right here, right now. The noisy family was walking ahead and the mother said loudly, “Finally, it’s over! I’m so happy to be back in Japan!” I wondered why they should have spent a lot of money and disturbed others by taking an overseas travel in the first place if they liked to be in Japan so much. Worn-out as I was, I already wanted to find the money to go to North America soon again. I meant, I was supposed to go there…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.551

When I left Anaheim on my latest trip, I got up 6 a.m., took ‘Uber’ again and then caught a bus to LAX. I know so well that the bus to the airport seldom comes on schedule here, which made me too nervous to have room in my mind that should feel sad to leave California. I took the bus because I had purchased the ticket by a round-trip discount, but I thought I would most likely use ‘Uber’ for my next trip. That thought told me I was determined to come back here. Actually, I was searching for a way to move in and live here somehow throughout the whole bus ride. After I arrived at the airport, I joined a long line for check-in. I heard a conversation between a customer in line and an airline employee. “Excuse me, I need to show this passport of mine for the flight, right?” “Let me see, well, no, yours has expired.” “Whaaaat?” I was envious of those easygoing people who hadn’t cared to see an expiration date on their passport up until they got to the check-in counter for an overseas travel. I started to prepare for this trip well over eight months ago. A couple with a baby was checking in before me. The counter person said to a woman, “You can’t check in as your name on the reservation is different from the one on your passport.” She replied, “That’s OK. I made a reservation by my maiden name, that’s all.” “That’s not OK, you can’t take the flight.” “Whaaaat?” The couple and the airline employee began to make numerous phone calls. At one point, they were required a marriage certificate. At another, the woman resorted to pity for an exception, saying, “We have a baby.” Every try didn’t seem to work though. I was envious of those people who casually made a flight reservation. When I made it online, I checked the spelling of my own name on the screen at least ten times. As too many careless passengers occupied the counter, it took so long to have my turn to check in. I intended to show people how smoothly things could go by careful preparation I had carried out. Then I was told, “Both your flight and the next one on the schedule have been cancelled.” “Whaaaat?” It was a clear fine day without a speck of cloud. I wondered when this airline’s planes flew if they didn’t in such nice weather like this. The good thing was, the flight was to Vancouver and I had purposely moved an international flight to Japan to the next day so that I took it with any delays since I didn’t trust this airline. Two flights were cancelled altogether and the next one to Vancouver was five hours later. The counter person told me that the larger airplane would be used because of the two cancellations and my seat would be in the business class. I was also allowed to use the executive lounge. To me, five-hour waiting would be nothing considering the business class and the lounge. I was even grateful for the cancellations. I was headed for the security gate cheerfully with my head full of the coming goodies, and never prepared for the biggest ordeal of my trip that had awaited me next…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.547

When I lived in California and flew from Japan to LAX regularly a long time ago, its immigration was like procedure for getting in a prison. Going through it had been tense confrontations with an arrogant authority at a dark place. The immigration at Vancouver Airport is distinctively different from that, which is the main reason I purposely stop over there on the way to LAX. It’s a bright, cheerful space with a waterfall, streams and greenery. It looks like a shopping mall rather than the immigration. Another reason for me to stop over and stay the night in Vancouver is the flight time. It takes ten hours from Japan to Vancouver, which is one hour shorter than to Los Angeles. In my experience, this one hour is decisive for the amount of fatigue. After I got off the plane in Vancouver on my latest trip, I bought food at Tim Hortons in the airport. There was a line at the counter and I joined it watching the menu board above. Because I’m short and my eyesight was blurred from a long flight, I had a difficulty to see the menu. A woman ahead of me in the line noticed and kindly suggested stepping off the line for a moment and getting closer to the menu. As I hesitated, she insisted saying, “That’s okay! Go ahead!” I thought she implied that she would save the position in the line for me. By the time I was getting back to where I had been, more people had joined the line. I was standing in front of the kind woman expecting she would let me cut into the line. She said nothing and ignored me. I looked into her face and she avoided an eye contact by looking around and staring at the ceiling in an awkward way. People in the line behind her looked at me dubiously to see if I would cut in. I felt deceived and went back to the tail of the line. When I was finally handed what I had ordered, two muffins were missing. I told the salesperson and he stared at the register that I had no idea told him what. He grabbed a muffin and gave it to me. Still, one more was missing. The same process was repeated and I got the right order. Kind, but unreliable. That’s Canada I know, all right. As a result of my choice for a cheap hotel, my sleep was disturbed by a loud noise of the air conditioner. I turned it off, and then there were noises of cars running on the street right down the window. I woke up every time a big truck passed by. I got up 3 a.m. next morning, packed and checked out. The hotel boasted its free hot breakfast but my departure was too early for the serving time. Thankfully, there were bags of to-go-breakfast at the front desk and my partner and I grabbed one for each of us. Back at the airport, we checked in and I checked my suitcase. Then I realized we were having the security check right after that. In front of a ‘No liquid, No produce’ sign, I opened the bag of breakfast. It had an apple and a bottled water. I just couldn’t stand to throw them away, but wasn’t allowed to go back to the concourse to have them either. My partner offered our bottled drinks to the airport staff who walked by. They thought about it for a while but declined politely due to the rule. My greed for free breakfast made us gobble them in a hurry in front of the security check. I had never had one apple and 500 ml of water that fast. I got on the plane to Los Angeles and was taking breath in my seat when a flight attendant spilled orange juice all over my partner’s brand-new pants. They were his favorite pants that he would wear all the way to the end of this trip. His face looked both crying and laughing. The plane approached Los Angeles and the familiar sight of brownish, scorched-looking land came into my view. Good and bad memories flooded into my mind. Right before the touchdown, I saw the signature structure of two arches and the control tower of LAX. Totally unexpectedly and suddenly, a surprising feeling seized me. I felt I was home. I felt as if I had returned from a long trip of ten years to my hometown that I had given up coming back again. It was a warm feeling that I had never had before. My eyes were filled with tears. I had never understood those who talked about how wonderful homecoming was. I didn’t know what they were talking about though I was born in Kyoto and have lived away from it. I have never felt anything special every time I go back to Kyoto. I just feel indifferent or rather disgusting. Coming back to Los Angeles, I understood what homecoming is all about for the first time in my life. If I had been traveling alone, I would have cried out loud. I was stunned at the discovery of my hometown. The plane landed and a tear of joy was on my face as I finally came home…

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Hidemi’s Rambling No.546

The flight to Vancouver where I stopped over on the way to Los Angeles was unexpectedly comfortable. The plane wasn’t crowded and the flight attendants were all nice and attentive. In my old days that I had traveled between Japan and U.S. back and forth every three months, I used to fly an awful airline that I chose for its cheap fare. That airline’s flight attendants were generally terrible. They were chewing gums and walking with stepping on the back of their pumps. They threw a bag of peanuts at a passenger and a requested drink was often off. I once witnessed they crammed a large number of cans and bottles of drinks that they hadn’t given out the passengers into their own bags right before landing. They must have had a spree with them in a hotel room that night. When I asked for a small bottle of brandy once, I was told it had been all out. A man sitting behind me asked for it right after that, and the same attendant pleasantly handed it to him. I asked my partner if it was racism. He told me that it wasn’t a grave thing like that but the attendant simply couldn’t lie twice in a row and had to give it unwillingly. That airline no longer exists after it went bankrupt several years later and was taken over by a rival airline. The flight I took this time was completely different. Adding to the good service, it wasn’t a bumpy flight and I didn’t feel sick as I had worried before. The only glitch I had was when dinner was served. Although I had requested beef beforehand, an attendant said to me, “We have extra chicken, too. Would you like it?” I reckoned that I could have chicken added to my beef and said yes. And I ended up having just chicken, not beef. Beside that small thing, I had enjoyed the flight all the way, which was quite rare to me. It almost blotted out all the unpleasant happenings before departure and I even got to like this low-cost carrier. But as always, nothing goes so well without an incident when it comes to me. It happened when the plane landed on Vancouver. The seat belt signs were turned off and the attendants were preparing for the doors. The passengers were standing on the aisles with relieved expression on their faces and their bags in their hands, waiting for the door to open. As the door opened, instead of the ground staff, half a dozen men and women dressed in black rushed inside the plane. They were wearing bulletproof vests on which the letters POLICE were written and carrying weapons that seemed firearms and others. The air inside the plane instantly froze. The flight attendants looked surprised too. One of the police shouted “Everyone, go back to your seat and stay there!” We all sat in our seats again, with a straight back for some reason. No one was talking and they were just looking ahead with shifty eyes. The plane was filled with extreme tension in a complete silence. I remembered a news sequence I watched on ABC World News a couple of weeks ago. It eerily looked just like this situation. The police rushed inside the plane aiming guns and it also occurred in Canada. I began to feel panicky, imagining that a shootout would start in any moment or a plane would explode. I thought I knew something bad would eventually happen. I would have never set my feet on North America with this trip after all as troublesome preparation had hinted. As I was being swallowed by fears, a young woman appeared from the back of the plane. She was walking with both her arms held by two policemen, accompanied by another policeman who was carrying her bag. After they left the plane, the rest of the police asked some questions to the flight attendants and got out. Then all the passengers were allowed to get off the plane. My partner and I finally reached North America and took in air of Vancouver. I wasn’t sure what happened to the woman, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t easy for me to get here…

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