Part of a story about trying to find my way to the Olympics and finding something else instead. This story takes place in January 2010 and part 1 can be found here.
We were at the gate. I checked the time and I had fifteen minutes. I stood up and hesitated for a moment. I was worried about getting yelled at by a flight attendant for gathering my things before the seat belt sign turns off. I threw on my backpack and suddenly felt immense gratitude to my college girlfriend for buying me a roller bag. Before the light was off I was already near the front of the plane. The attendants said nothing. When the door opened, I was one of the first out.
I walked quickly through the cold passage way to the terminal. I had to be at terminal 70. When I exited I felt a moment of horror upon seeing Iwas at terminal 30. I got clear of the crowd of people waiting to board my previous plane. A helpful sign pointed me in the direction and I started to run.
On my back was at least thirty pounds and who the hell knows how much my roller bag weighed at that moment. Between exits 30 and 50 I don’t think I noticed the weight. Around exit 50 I was brutally aware that maybe I should have taken better advantage the indoor treadmill once winter came. I fought the urge to start walking. The plane was definitely in final boarding. Lost in thought, I briefly ran straight into a security guard.
“Sorry about to miss my flight!” I yelled. If he responded I have no idea. The fact I wasn’t dragged off and detained was symptomatic that this incident was a regular hazard of working in an airport.
When I reached 68 I thought there was still a chance. I will have just made the flight. That’s when I saw gate 70, and no one was there. The flight had left ten minutes ago. There wasn’t even an attendant at the gate to tell me where to go.
“Fuuuuuck.” I uttered.
Suddenly a random ideastuck out in my brain. I remembered someone mentioning on the Travel Channel that if a flight was delayed or missed due to weather, the airline was required to send you on the next flight out. Whether or not its their plane was supposedly irrelevant. I went to another desk and asked who I should speak with, and was directed to go out to departures. The panic had dissipated. While this was inconvenient at least I had a path forward.
When I made it through the line I was met with an old battle axe of an employee. This woman was clearly just about to leave her shift and had just about enough of the kind of bullshit that people at an airport can generate. I quickly gave her my story.
“So because of the delay I missed my flight to Japan…”
“I’m sorry but if you missed your flight I don’t know what I can do for you.” she responded.
“But what about (insert travel channel talking point)” I pleaded.
“That only applies if it was delayed for weather by the tower. Your flight was delayed for other reasons.”
“How do you know? You are even looking at a screen?”
“I just know.” she said as she finished gathering her things.
“May I speak with your manager?”
Annoyed, she waived someone over. I explained my plight to the manager as the desk worker walked off. Thankfully the manager said it wasn’t an issue, and I’d be on the next flight. The bad news was that the next flight would be the following morning, but they would set me up with a hotel room. He printed out my boarding pass for the next day and I left to find a place to sit.
I quickly called my parents to give them the full update, and then write an email to my coach and the coach in Japan. I post the requisite Facebook status and relaxed for a moment. I had time to sit and collect myself. After nearly nodding off it became organization time.
The first priority was to hunt down a Brookstone. Why you ask? Quite honestly because there is not a better store for random travel crap. I’m convinced that one day I’ll walk into a Brookstone in an airport to find a combo neck massager-laptop battery.
After getting price gouged over a new laptop charging cord, I discovered a surprise. The cord has an odd adapter I only recognize for being used to plug electric items into a cars cigarete lighter. It had a label “airplane adapter”. In the meantime I picked up the first two seasons of 30 rock, a “nap” flight kit, and doubled up on any of the other charging cords I thought I might need. After opening up my stuff and reorganizing everything, I make my way to the hotel.
Shortly after getting into my room I discovered the only thing to have ever challenged my lack of belief in a deity: BBQ chicken pizza. After briefly considering whether or not to go to a practice that evening and realizing my uniforms were all still in my checked luggage, I decided to relax. There would be enough judo when I make it to Japan.
The next morning I took a cab to the airport. This time the weather was clear, my bags were already checked, and I made my way to the gate well before boarding.
As people started to gather I noticed there weren’t many people at the gate. As luck would have it, there wasn’t many people on the flight. When I finally placed my two feet inside the doors of the plane, a sense relief washed over me and I walked to my seat.
As the plane began to take off all of the excitement I had felt the day before returned. I was finally going to Japan.
I was informed that there so few people on the flight we were permitted to move around seats inside the cabin as long as we didn’t go into first class. It felt like the universe was making amends for all of the chaos from the previous day. Remembering the airplane adapter cord I had gotten the previous day I asked the attendant where I could use it. She led me to the proper seat, and I went about making myself comfortable for the next fourteen hours.
The flight was long, but without the threat of losing power in my laptop I was able to fill the time. When I was almost done powering through the first season of 30 rock I looked out my window.
The flight status screen indicated I was over Alaska. While I had never been, my father when he was my age had worked the docks for crab fishing boats there. I thought about his stories of working the docks and the frontier nature of Dutch Harbor when he was there in the 80s. Deadliest Catch was a popular show at the time, so he and I would watch it together.
As much as I was enamored with the beauty of the scene below me I began to think about the ecosystems below and the ice. I was a biology major at school and recently changed my concentration to ecology. At the time it was because I was worried I couldn’t hack it in the biotechnology concentration.
I had struggled to balance Olympic judo and college and my GPA had suffered. Though I had performed well the previous semester, I still couldn’t seem to hack organic chemistry. Even if I passed organic, I thought I would never be good enough at it to do biotechnology. Despite this I was committed to finishing my degree. I had a life long interest in animal conservation and thought maybe ecology would be a better fit. That’s when we came out over the Bering Sea and my mind began to wonder about climate change.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. When the plane touched down in Japan it still didn’t totally feel real to me.
Customs seemed orderly enough. It was late at night and there wasn’t many people. I began speaking with the group of people in front of me out of boredom. When they asked what I was doing in Japan I bragged that I was there to train to make the Olympic team. When I asked why they were there, they responded that they were doing some shows. It turned out they were the pop rock band “Boys Like Girls”. This being winter 2010, they were right about at the height of their popularity. They were from Andover, which was the town I grew up next to. While I had some mutual friends, I had never met them myself and to meet them there was a surprise.
After exiting customs everything started to feel real very fast. When I approached baggage claim someone was already waiting for me. Somehow my bags had made it onto the plane from the day before. Whether the JFK airport baggage crew secretly has access to the kind of technology to travel through wormholes has never been confirmed but this might be evidence. I pulled out my phone and saw that I was officially on another cell network. It was then I rememberedI had a bus to catch.
Thankfully I had instructions on which bus to use and my friend Taka would be waiting for me when I finally arrived in Tsukuba. I boarded my bus and soon I would be checked in and comfortably sitting in the athletes dorm.