Well folks, after some 18+ months living in Japan, I have returned to the good ole U.S. of A. for what I consider (prior to the trip) to be an imposing three-week "business" trip. Actually, I am doing my Navy Reserve active duty training here in the states, but that is all you need know about that.
And where oh where is this illustrious training being conducted you ask? Why, where else would a Navy training facility be: Ogden, Utah.
Yes, that is right folks. Nary a stream in sight, and the largest body of water being a lake in which nothing could possibly sink. As a Hawaiian might ask: "Wha' betta place?"
The journey began yesterday, about 0830 local time, when my ride to the tiny Misawa City Airport (and its one whopping gate) showed up at the door. It sent the boys into a tizzy, and they got real, real anxious when daddy started moving the luggage outside and they realized they weren't coming. But after a few quick hugs, I left the tail-waggers behind and snap, a couple minutes later I was at Misawa Airport (small town), only to realize, d'oh...that I'd gotten to the airport at like 0840 for a flight that left at 1000. This isn't the states folks, there were no lines, no waiting. Nope the efficient Japanese has me all set in minutes. So I waited. And it wouldn't be the first time for the trip. Its drizzling and overcast and generally crappy outside, and I wonder if the plane will be on time. HA! No delays here.
The flight to Tokyo's domestic airport, Haneda, was uneventful, I was snoozing most of the way. Got off the plane, our bags showed up in minutes, and then we (I am traveling with another service member, he's active duty and his name is Seth) hit up the little automated machine for our bus pass to Japan's international airport - Narita. Of course, it is about 40 or so minutes away. And guess what? It's raining here too. The weather is even crappier than in Misawa.
Well, we get to Narita and it is between 1300-1400....I forget the exact time, forgive me. So I glance at our itinerary. Oh, good lord. the Flight to San Fran doesn't leave until 1800! So its a 6+ hour lay-over, from start to finish. Aiya...so what to do? What else? Go to McDonalds! It is easily the busiest food joint in the airport. In retrospect, it was not the greatest decision, as I don't often eat greasy fast food. The burger and fries tasted great going down, but that "full feeling" sorta expanded into that "bloated" feeling after a little while. Anyway, washed the McD's down with a white vanilla frappuccino from Starbucks (the second busiest stop in Narita).
What's that you ask? don't I like to sleep on planes. Hell yeah I do. So why drink coffee before a flight? Because the GD flight was over 4 hours away from commencing. That's why. So we make our way through security, again, fast, efficient and perhaps most important: informative, with little placards and announcements running to inform travelers what they needed to do: have passport ready, take out laptops, etc - that sorta thing.
And things couldn't have been more different after we landed at San Francisco International. Granted I don't think San Fran should really be the first city for someone to visit when returning to the states from a long absence. Why is that? Because like many cross-Ocean passengers the first place I wanted to visit after clearing customs was the restroom...and to my unmitigated surprise, what little facility is available for fellas inside the men's room?
A bio-waste hazard needle recycle bin. What else?
I mean what the fuck? Little bins for the intravenous drug-users on travel? First off how the fuck does a heroin addict afford a plane ticket. Second...why the hell is the local government providing tacit assistance to this shit? I figure it has to do with the anti-A.I.D.S. efforts, but you know what, if you're using a needle in your drug habit...you're way beyond what I might condone. This isn't for the dude who occasional smokes some dope on the weekend. This is assistance to hard-core drug addicts.
But that is a rather minor quibble compared to the wonders that awaits travelers as the TSA Security Checkpoints. First off, nothing makes a U.S. citizen feel more at home than being sneered at as they make their way through the security line. Returning servicemember, businessman or housewife on vacation; everyone got the same look from the TSA folks. It is hard to describe...but I think the most apt description is that TSA agents looked at travelers the same way you or I might look at our bottom of our shoes after stepping in dogshit.
Gee how I love America.