Nippon Sayonara | Japan | Living in Mexico

Nippon Sayonara

I'm writing this in Atlanta, where we're taking a breather after 22 hours of travel from our Kyoto hotel. Tomorrow we'll continue on to San Miguel via Houston. Arriving at the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport Country Inn and Suites (South), we bid farewell to overstaffed lobbies, smiling bowers, young men in suits leaping to open doors and hand us umbrellas. We'll miss the heated toilet seats, the key cards you just wave at the door.

Our room in Atlanta smells like disinfectant. The lone employee at the front desk was kind enough to switch us from the first non-smoking room he gave us, which had been previously occupied by a prolific smoker. We are ruefully aware that in the morning, instead of a breakfast buffet featuring smoked salmon, baby salad greens, custom-made omelets and croissants, we'll be getting cello-pak danish and bad coffee in styrofoam cups. 

This was our first international arrival at Atlanta, and if it is the will of Allah, his name be praised, it will be our last. Something in the airport design makes it impossible to simply clear passport control, collect luggage and go through customs. I mean, you can do all
that easily enough, but then you have to get from the international arrival terminal to the main terminal, and because of the airport topology, the shuttle and the other five terminals are all in a secure zone. This means you have to go through security twice. First, you have to give up your already-cleared checked baggage (but NOT your hand baggage) where it is x-rayed yet another time.

"Sir! SIR! Bring your bags over here. SIR! You'll have to claim your bags AGAIN when you get to Terminal 'T.' SIR!! NO!!! Take your carry-ons WITH you!!!!"

So you have to stand at a baggage carousel
twice at the end of your international flight. Then you get in a line full of guys just off the KLM 747 wearing Tyrollean hats so you can take your hand baggage and your personal self through yet another security checkpoint.

Going through security is bad enough for most people, but for me, it's one step short of a cavity search because of my defibrillator. I'll set off the walk-through sensor every time, and when I tell them it's because of my defibrillator, they freak out and lecture me because the scanner's magnetic field briefly shuts down the implant. I mean, come on! Every time I see the doc, he waves a little magnet over it to shut it down while he checks this and that. It
always starts back up. It's some liability thing, I guess.

Because of the magnet sensitivity, they can't wand me, either. Instead, they have to frisk me. To call what they do to me "frisking" fails to capture the intensity of the experience. It's more like shiatsu. They squeeze
everything. They make me sit down and take off my shoes and they squeeze the bottoms of my feet. I asked the last guy if he'd do it for a while longer.

[In the God-fearing US of A, they always go looking for a male security officer/massage therapist to do the hand job. Frankly, this always feels a little gay to me. In Japan, it's often done by women. On our return flight, after I partially disrobed in front of about 2,000 travelers, a sloe-eyed Suzie Wong type came up to me and asked, semi-breathlessly, "May I touch you?"

"Oh Yes," I murmured.

Then she gave me a most thorough going-over, including a palm-up squeeze in the crotch that left me dazed with wild fantasies.]

In Atlanta, they do it
other. In Atlanta, harpies screamed at me to get into the right line. When I reached the screener, I told a security officer that I needed hand screening. He glowered at me. "You're in the wrong line, Bud. Go around to this other line over here."

I walked around the end of the table where everyone was putting their pocket stuff in gray plastic boxes for the x-ray machine. A uniformed woman asked, "Where do you think YOU are going?"

I said, "I'm going over to the other line, where
that man (indicating the glowering officer) told me to go."

She said, "Well, then you have to go
out the door of the security area and go through the line again. This (indicating the passage I'd tried to take) doesn't look like an entrance, does it? Go around the outside!"

Hmm. Taxpayer as errant schoolchild. Nice.

I told her I would go around as she requested—
if she would treat me like one of the good citizens who paid her salary and ask me politely. So she did and I did. Sometimes you just have to be assertive.

Skirting the harpies and pushing through the Tyrolleans, I made it over to an area fenced off for hand checks. Ahead of me was a severely developmentally disabled person in a wheelchair. (The caregivers' term of art for such people is "feebs.") (Oops.) Anyway, this semi-sentient being who, unlike me was devoid of bionics, could be wanded; or so I thought, except that he or she (we'll never know) could not get out of the wheelchair, being so completely disabled. The wheelchair, which was made of steel, caused a continuous alarm to sound in the wand whenever it came near.

Doesn't this happen, like,
all the time? The agent with the wand scratched her head for awhile, before giving up. This one's too much for me, boss.

So the feeb got a hand job instead, while I waited, amused at the concept of terrorists smuggling weapons into the airport food court using a vegetative-state person as a mule. I particularly liked it where the guard removed the person's baseball cap and carefully felt the full circumference of the band, looking for small sharp objects.

Kind of makes you ask, which one was the smart one, don't it?

After the wheelchair and inspector left, I waited patiently for awhile, wondering if Jean was aware that I had taken my laptop out of my carry-on, and if she had recovered it after x-raying. Nobody seemed to realize I was there, so finally I called over to another uniformed woman to let her know I was waiting to be touched. She firmly told me to sit down and wait, and someone would get to me when they became available. So I obediently sat and waited and waited and finally, 300 pounds of black man came over, put on rubber gloves, and asked me to spread my arms and legs.

This was one of those defining moments in life, when everything seems to freeze. Something bad was about to happen, and I was powerless to stop it. I knew at that moment that I was Bubba's. To do with as he would.

Ok. It wasn't all that bad. Bubba was professional and sort of friendly but not
too friendly if you know what I mean, and I got through it all and rejoined Jean and my laptop. We left the airport, me grumbling all the way to the hotel.

Jean tipped the shuttle driver three bucks for horsing our overweight bags onto and off the van. Good thing, 'cause she left her coat behind. A few hours later, she reported her loss to the lone employee at the front desk, fully aware that her coat was gone forever. The desk clerk called the shuttle driver, who reported that he
had her coat, and hustled right on over with it. Another five bucks. And proof, once again, that there are good, honest, helpful people, even in the U. S.

However, I note with regret that in Japan, the shuttle driver would have been
offended had we offered a tip. Sigh. 

Being in the vicinity of the airport without a car, our dining options were limited. Jean found a take-out menu for what city dwellers call "Chinese." "How about Chinese tonight? You want some Chinese? Or Domino's?" She ordered egg rolls, Kung Pao Chicken and Hunan Smoked Pork.

I've had some fairly execrable Chinese before, and the stuff delivered tonight ranked right up there with the worst. The egg rolls were thick tubes of soggy, greasy dough with a few lonely vegetables inside. The two entrees began life as the same dish: Stir-fried onions, a couple of dried hot red peppers, green peppers, mushrooms, canned water chestnuts and canned bamboo shoots, all submerged in a pint of gummy, salty brown sauce. For kung pao chicken, they added chicken chunks and peanuts. For Hunan smoked pork, they added Amurcan
unsmoked pork and black beans. We also got two cartons of steamed rice on which they had thoughtfully dumped soy sauce so we wouldn't have to. They included two plastic forks as well. Oh—and the mustard for the egg rolls consisted of little plastic packets of Heinz's. There you have it. 30 hours ago, we ate an exquisite shabu-shabu dinner. Tonight we ate swill.

It would be nice to take the best from each culture, leaving all the crap behind, thus making one really great country. There's an expression in Japan: A man wants an American house, a French mistress and a Japanese wife. Just so. 

New rules:

1) Don't ever go through ATL
2) Don't stay in airport hotels
3) Don't eat ethnic food in Georgia (except maybe chitterlings)