Friday, November 18, 2011

The next chapter, "Lost in Transition"

Alright, so I had a bit of a slow start getting to Japan. I didn't have much luck with the jobs I had lined up so I made up my mind and came on my own looking for work. The day I decided to leave was arbitrary; November 9th, 2011. I had a 6am flight from Chicago O'hare. Heading to Tokyo, by way of Toronto. Why Toronto you might ask? In fact, a dear uncle pointed out that very fact, stating "But aren't you going the wrong way!" Yes, but with good reason. It was some $250 cheaper to fly this route than a direct flight from Chicago O'hare. In retrospect I should have just taken the direct flight.

Here is how that first day unfolded: After not sleeping well for two days prior due to the excitement of the trip coupled with my manic-panic packing and repacking mode, my body gave in and overslept one hour on the day I was to drive 2 hours to Chicago ORD for a 6 am flight to Toronto and as we all know international flights require extra time for customs and baggage inspections. I made it to the airport in record time from Whitewater, WI (1hr40min). It would have been faster except I got lost driving the last 2 miles of the trip, which any of my 5 siblings will tell you, I am notorious for doing. A troubling trait I wish I could shake. Anyway, I arrive at the airport at 5:20 AM, but I went to the wrong terminal (Terminal 5 which I normally fly out of when going to Japan). Arriving at the ticket desk at 5:35am out of breathe, the lady explained I could not make my 6:00 AM flight and pointed out this is an INTERNATIONAL flight...I almost said "yeah, but its Canada" but decided to hold my tongue. She was right after all. In all of my preparations to leave I never really equated my jump to Toronto the real "leaving the country" flight. I mean it was only 1hr50min flight compared to the 13hr flight to Tokyo.

In any case, it was this ill-prepared mindset that got me into trouble. I missed the 6 o'clock flight. Ticket-counter lady noticed my flight out of Toronto was not departing until 12pm and thought I could make the 8am flight from Chicago to Toronto in time to catch the Boeing 777 to Tokyo. I did not object since my former roommmate and dear friend(aka Grandma Gabrielle) had already driven off into the sunrise taking my cellphone which I purposely left for her to cancel service.

The ensuing flight to Toronto was uneventful. Although I did have one pleasant exchange that may have bordered on flirtation (I am pretty sure, but maybe not), age about mid to upper 30s, a business-like blonde woman, gave me a compliment on my ring as we were walking onto the jetway. I thanked her for the compliment and confirmed that her last stop was indeed Toronto, her home. Since a line had formed and we were standing on the jetway with nowhere to go, carry-on baggage in tow, I continued the conversation describing my intentions for work and travel to Japan. She responded by asking my age. I told her forthwith, 25 years. "So young!" she declared. Not quite the response I had hoped for (I mean, what young adult really wants to here that. Seriously...thats why I put the ring on, hellooo?). I thought, "It's not the years but the mileage," but decided it was a moot point when she suddenly asked me to return the compliment. I almost stammered trying to be polite, saying "Oh yeah, you look young...too, you must be what 30, 31?" While I was really thinking 36,37. I don't think any angels will weep for that little white lie, but, well the guilt, I could have been me who cut down the cherry tree. The rest of the trip to Toronto was uneventful. Then we landed...

With the time change (which previously had been overlooked by myself and the Ticket-counter lady) it was 11:05 AM when I exited the plane, receiving "Good luck in Japan" from one particular well-wisher. I thanked her, and zoom through Canadian customs I went, claimed and re-checked my bags at 11:20 AM. Then sprinted desperately to the wrong terminal, again.
11:30 AM Arabic, elderly female tells me my gate is way on the other side of Toronto's Pearson International. Run, run, run to the other side of the airport. Through the metal detectors. Stop to have my hands swabbed for bacteria (a seemingly common practice there). And finally arrive at my gate at 11:45 AM. I hand the lady my ticket and she stares at me as if I am a ghost.
"But we already off loaded you."
"What does that mean? Is there no way I can get on that plane right there?"
"No, you can't fly without your bags internationally. Plus you should have arrived at least 2 hours before."
"...story of my life."

The next flight was not until the next day. I rescheduled. Then I sought and found my baggage. With my bags surrounding me like a State Street hobo, I sat dejected. Deciding if I wanted to either stay 24 hours in the airport or start tapping the $250 I saved by flying this ludicrous route, give in, and get a hotel room. Although I would not have acted on it (probably), the thought did cross my mind like a flash of lightening. "If only I had exchanged contact info with my ring admirer." But immediately dismissed it thinking "She wasn't THAT young."

Two hours later, I had made up my mind. The best thing to do before a long flight is to rest up. I have tried staying up the night before the Chicago to Tokyo flight, and believe me, it just makes me one grumpy traveler. So I went down to the airport exit to see what hotels had shuttles for the airport. And something wonderful happened. A lady who volunteers at a traveler's helpdesk in the Pearson Airport recommended a hotel, the Comfort Hotel Airport North, where she had just made a reservation for another poor, unfortunate soul, lost in transition. I now know she had worked a steal of a deal, one night non-smoking for $76, $20 cheaper than their online price. And her services for making the reservation, completely free and volunteer.

The hotel was pretty decent too. You think I would have learned my lesson by now about trying to save money while traveling. I think I got pretty lucky. And when I saw the Woodbine & Mohawk
Racetrack/Casino across the street, I felt like I hit the jackpot with this hotel. I spent a couple hours at the casino playing with the free chips I got from the hotel. I didn't exactly hit the jackpot. In fact I lost it all on the slots. (I hate slot machines so much). But for a while there I forgot just how unlucky I was this, well, until I lost $30 on slots. Time for a pick me up, I thought, and I walked across the street to the mall on my way "home" and ate a giant, delicious Cinnabon while watching them made fresh. There is so much butter that goes into a Cinnabon, I kind of wanted to stop watching right then and there but I couldn't. My theory is that they have aerosolized some drug disguised by the cinnamon which makes their cinnamon roles so mesmerizing.

I also grabbed breakfast for the next day at an omnipresent and popular food chain called Tim Horton's. This chain reminds me of a preppy Dunkin Donuts shop, great donuts and sandwiches. I recommend trying the maple cream filled. Not that it was spectacular or anything (by no means was it a Japanese Mr. Donut), I just thought, "It tastes like Canada." And if Dunkin Donuts is what America runs on, you can be pretty certain that Canada runs on Tim Horton's.

After a terrific nights sleep and a hot shower, I was raring to go. And I am pleased to announce I made it to the airport with well over 2 hours to spare. Lesson learned Fate, you harsh mistress. Oh but you, my dear, had one last hand to play, didn't you? Yes, because I had to check in again my bags were scrutinized far more closely than they had the day before at Chicago when I was running late. My bags were well over the 23 kilo limit for international flights on AirCanada. In fact, my bags both were over 30 kilos (some 65 pounds). The most I have every carried. Never again. Phoenix, my ticketing lady, said it would be $100 per bag. I couldn't believe it. I expressed my discontent and this sweet, sweet lady heard my tale of woes. Because she also had a son living in Japan at the time, she was lenient and only charged me for one bag. I could have hugged her I was so elated. In the end though, I had spent all of the $250 I saved. With the baggage fees and such, it wasn't worth the hassle. Now if I hadn't overslept, I might be singing a different tune.

The flight went smoothly and I finally got to watch a few sequels I had missed earlier this year. Namely Cars 2 and Hangover 2. I sheepishly admit I enjoyed both to the extent that I was laughing out loud on the airplane. Yes, I was "that foreigner" on a flight full of Asian tourists fresh from Niagra Falls, laughing loud and long because my headset was turned up all the way and I couldn't hear myself. Perspective is so important. The flight went smoothly. I cleared customs and picked up my bags without a hiccup. Always pretend to know very little Japanese so the Customs agent does not sit and ask you a ton of questions as their English usually isn't their strong suit. I, thankfully, have mastered this skill on prior trips.
And when all of this charade was done, I was finally released from customs and entered Japan. I affectionately call this chapter "Lost in Transition."

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