January 1st, 2008
Halifax to New York
JFK, Terminal 8
Halifax was an ordeal.
But New York had a pretty sunrise.
I hadn't flown for nearly two years, and I was in for a shock as to how much things have changed. Everything at Halifax was hellish. From having my bags weighed and red-tagged "Heavy" at the check-in counter (they were both 7-8 pounds over the limit), to being turned away at the baggage deposit for having too many carry-ons, to the shoe removal at pre-board screening (a new thing for me), it was one awkward experience after another. Being unable to keep your things on a baggage cart while hoping that they don't notice you have so much stuff - all in a sleep-deprived state - is a recipe for travel disaster.
Yes, things went from bad to worse with lighting speed. Suddenly I dreaded that I wouldn't be making it to Japan after all. After a bunch of rigmarole and some futile attempts to repack my carry-ons (my checked bags had already gone down the chute and were out of reach when I was officially turned away), I had to pay $80 to put a third bag through to Narita; it's a small price to pay, I suppose, to be able to travel comfortably and have my computer with me. I had forgotten that bringing my computer meant an extra carry-on, and that's what screwed everything up. Perhaps the $80 will teach me to smarten up. Compared to the price of the ticket, it's not that bad, and I have a hunch that they were giving me a break about it. (I noticed from the badges that the check-in people wore that they weren't under the employ of AA; they were outsourced! That basically means they have even more crap to deal with if they're caught bending the rules.)
Oddly enough, the most pleasant part by far was US Customs, which we can now pre-clear in Halifax. A simple declaration form, a couple of basic questions, and that was that. Although it's not like I'm picking on the AA people; they weren't making the rules. It was stupid of me to even try my laptop plus shoulder bag plus backpack. In the confined spaces of air travel, it's somewhat dangerous. It's not so much that there isn't storage space available (although our CRJ would have been a squeeze if it was full), it's just bloody awkward.
While F. and I chilled out in the special US departure lounge, I thought about how good it would be to finally get to my apartment and get all my things put away. And then I remembered that I'd have to go through all of this again in Tokyo! And would I be able to chill out at all, ever? Perhaps this whole program was going to be a disaster. I wasn't prepared, and I had left everything until the last minute (although cranking out Artifact didn't leave me with much choice, and I certainly don't regret finishing that). My thinking was cloudy and somewhat anxious; now I was afraid we would make it to Japan. I don't know what I would have done had F. not been there; initially I was keen on the idea of travelling alone, but I had forgotten how much "fun" it is to travel (well, relocate, really) with so much paraphernalia in tow.
Anyway, at least here in New York there's nothing to do but relax by our gate. No security, no customs, no hassles. It should always be this way. I'm planning to return to North America by bananna boat.
I'm going to call my cousin BJ soon and say hello; not all the sake in Japan could tempt me to leave the secured area to meet anyone, but I'm sure she'd appreciate a local call. (Then again, what is a local call when long distance is mere pennies a minute?) And when I get to Tokyo Narita tomorrow, I'll call our old friend Masae; she lives near Narita and wants to meet up with me there. I probably have to get out of the secured area anyway (and I know I have to repack my stuff; I don't want to have to go through what I went through in Halifax ever, ever, ever, ever again - of course repacking will make my cases heavier; let's hope they don't notice...). [UPDATE: Heeey, my excess baggage coupon goes through to Osaka Itami after all! SWEET! That's a *huge* load off my mind (and, doubtlessly, wallet).] Back in the CWY days, it used to be that I could do things like sneak a sleeping bag in with my coat as I carried it - thank goodness I wasn't naïve enough to try that this time. It's easier to just buy new things like that at your destination.
Well, meeting up with Masae will shed at least one pound; Mom gave me a little painting to give her.
A digression. This AA flight was operated by American Eagle, which is sort of their equivalent of Air Canada Jazz. But Eagle seems to have a more tropical / sun destination outlook, and it has a distinct brand identity - right down to its own in-flight magazine! Can you imagine what this would be like for Jazz? Instead of English / Spanish, though, it'd have to be English / Acadian. The magazine would have stories about Deer Lake, Sydney, and Yarmouth instead of Antigua, Cancun, and Barbados.
Speaking of bilingualism, what's going on in the States right now can't be called that. Yes, the Eagle magazine was translated into Spanish, probably because of its Latin American destinations - but the main AA magazine, American Way, was only in English. (But there was to be a wholly separate Spanish-language magazine, Nexos, on the Tokyo flight.) Not only that, the Spanish in the first magazine was in a fainter font, so that your attention would be drawn preferentially to the English. And here in the JFK airport, the Spanish is clearly a second language, because the Spanish is the small, faint "Puertas" below the large, boldface "Gates." Can you imagine the hue and cry if this was going on in Canada? But French is protected in Canada because it is the language of one of the two main European founding empires. Spanish doesn't seem to fit in to the United States so neatly; but then again, I don't know much history - ought it to be an official, legally-protected language? Are there publicly-funded Spanish-language schools? What a mess. It makes the Canadian language turf wars look rather idyllic.
F. is exploring. When she gets back, I'll try and find a place to plug in. When I try to connect to the wi-fi here, my system goes haywire.
Your Transiting Pal,
PS: Ah, well, the reason my system goes haywire is that you have to pay for the Wi-Fi. OK, cool. So where do I go? No one knows. Not a sole AA agent or store clerk knows a jot more than that it's there. For crying out loud. I mean, in Halifax, the Wi-Fi is free. It ought to be free here, too. I guess you'll just have to wait a few days!
But don't worry; I got my revenge. When I called BJ from a pay phone, I used Canadian quarters. =)