The journal notes which follow are thoughts drafted with a pen on paper, old-school, while flying over the Pacific during the last leg of our flight from Travis Air Base to Yokota Air Base on Aug 11, 2017. Our visit to Washington was definitely a working vacation – lots of sweat and effort to turn over our home within 5 days to new tenants. All the laughs and adventures visiting with friends and family definitely overshadow the strains of pulling it all together! Capping it all off was the adventure of finding a way home, ultimately choosing space-a uncertainty over a pricey ticket which would have gotten me back in time for my kendo grading exam. Sorry to have missed that, but my reflections over the Pacific solidified my sense that it was the right choice in the end. I hope you enjoy this recap…and thank you for staying in touch with our family from so far away. You never know when we’ll show up on your doorstep 🙂
I emerged from dozing under my navy fleece to the bright glare of the overhead lights on the KC10 refueling plane lending us a ride back to Yokota, Japan after nearly a month in the States. As we passed over the Aleutian Islands, a young reservist in her green flight uniform was handing out snacks. I eagerly thrust my hand up with a smile and made toddler-style grabbing motions because I wasn’t coherent yet at all. I LOVE CHEEZITS! In my opinion, nothing beats space-available travel on a military plane, but the boys were out to convince me otherwise. They prefer commercial, but after this flight I think their margin is slim.
Yesterday, the boys were giddy with excitement as they plugged into the on-board WiFi and charging ports of our Delta flight from Seattle to Sacramento. I had coughed up $257 each so we could catch a military space-a flight back to Japan from Travis Air Force Base. They were in good spirits despite the lugging of bags only to end up going nowhere – they had gotten another day with friends, unfettered down time, blackberry picking to make cobbler, and now a flight with ACTUAL TICKETS. We knew when, where and on what plane.
Two days prior, we were not selected for a flight after spending the night waiting for roll call, sleeping like hobos on the floor amidst empty Starbucks coffee cups and snack wrapper trash. You can only make cold tile floor so comfortable, so Ben and I lined up the three hockey bags and tried to make a twin bed. When I roused from a doze, I sensed that I had been asleep perhaps a little. Enough to function I guess.
When we marked present at 2:30am, we were the only ones hoping for a seat on the flight leaving Seattle. By roll call at 5:30am, though, 44 people had arrived and also marked present. All were competing for 27 seats, those remaining after all the duty passengers had been accounted for (people on orders, moving, etc.). So, we shoved our cart full of gear away empty-handed and regrouped. I searched flights, debated options with myself, and dialed Delta. For $2352 we could be in Tokyo in 17 hours. Seemed attractive after humping 122 pounds of luggage (all but 43 pounds of which were sports gear – hockey and kendo). But just before providing my credit card I realized that a cab could take us back to our friends, the baby pigs, the island, a bed, some sanity, and time to rethink the plan. There needn’t be such urgency. I hung up after apologizing to the agent, called Paul, our long-trusted driver, and said simply “we’re at baggage claim, can you come get us, please?” It’s a little odd arriving at baggage claim after not going anywhere, but we were happy to pile into the Suburban and make our way back to the ferry. Soon, Sam and Ben were out cold, slung across hockey and kendo bags as the ferry eased back to Bainbridge.
A 3 hour nap left us wide awake, but not rejuvenated. I stumbled into the kitchen at Kumiko’s and made coffee, starting the day for the second time since we left at midnight. I began researching options to get us on a military flight, perhaps through another air terminal. I found a flight from Travis in northern California, plus a few other flights west which stopped first in Hawaii, then Guam or Alaska. I also researched freighter travel…I really really want to do that sometime… Direct is great, especially on the fast KC10 refueler, but I wasn’t going to be choosy this time. The $800 to get to Travis was worth it. However, the on base lodge was totally booked. I had tickets to Sacramento, a car booked for the leg from the airport to the air base, and a plan to mark present at the terminal the night before. Sleeping arrangements would have to unfold.
At the SeaTac gate we hunted for working outlets to charge our phones. The lady to my left offered one she’d found in the wall which actually worked. We struck up a chat when I saw a big sticker “MILITARY” adhered to her laptop. After a stint as an Army artillery officer, she now works for Amazon, but is an aspiring opera singer. After she moved on, a young man sat down and noticed my AMC (Air Mobility Command) bag tags on my backpack. Thinking nothing could top the unusual occupation of the seat’s prior occupant, I rather distractedly answered his queries. My attention became riveted when he mentioned that he works as part of the air crew. AT TRAVIS. Realizing we were headed to the same place, I offered him a ride share in our car, which I’d already arranged. He gave me some excellent tips for optimizing space a travel. I continue to be amazed at how NICE the people at Travis are despite it being a very busy hub. I’m sure they get endless calls from eager travelers.
The flight, a bit rough even by my new friend’s standards, offered a chance to meditate in prayer on our good fortunes, and all the people we love, both in Japan and Bainbridge. While out jogging a few days ago, I ran nearly through a leaf suspended on a spider thread.
[IMPORTANT INTERRUPTION…BEN WAS JUST INVITED TO SIT IN THE JUMP SEAT DURING LANDING! YOU CANNOT DO THAT ON A COMMERCIAL PLANE, BOYS!]
The leaf, suspended by the web filament, recalled a sense of suspension in my soul. I have strong ties, to two homes. Dave and I enjoy adventure and have some perpetual unrest, yet we share a desire to answer the questions which are inevitably posed by both friends and strangers with more conviction: Where is home for you? Do you want to go back to Bainbridge? Where do you hope to go next? It occurred to me that one doesn’t need to choose. One can be suspended by many bonds, to many homes and people. The casual question imparts a demand for clarity, a choice, but any response thus far has felt rather contrived, stock. The kids seem to have absorbed this life effortlessly now, drifting from couch to couch,home to home, sleeping anywhere, anytime, even in a sun-filled loft in the middle of the day. Home is where you find it, where you build your nest today.
As the Sacramento-bound plane pitched through thunderstorms over Mount Shasta, I gave thanks for the many people who love my family and have shown tremendous generosity. In giving love, it is easily received. Like draining a battery allows it to more fully recharge?
Thank you to Arlo and Kumiko for folding us into your lives and home. We worried a bit about the boys being accepted back into their web of connections, and being with you allowed them to ease right back into the flow. Fires, cocktails, naughty kitty cats, perfect steaks, stick shift practice, tetanus shots, and piglets, what an amazing time! We’re thankful for the new family enjoying living in our home for the next two years. (As we cleared trails for the two young boys, we made a few video greetings which you’ll see in the album.)
Neighbor Kai popped over often to lend a hand, and Kumiko and her son Kai helped me clean walls, baseboards and bathrooms, and filled holes in the drywall for painting. Sam landed nearly immediately with Alex and his family the first week we arrived. Sara washed Sam’s incredibly fragrant sneakers and dried them on her new favorite contraption. Thank you! Welding camp was a huge hit for Sam and we look forward to having his metal crafts in our garden in a few years. Ben stayed with his buddy Julian probably half the visit, resuming their banter like only days had passed. My mom and Richard invested themselves in helping us pull all the details together for restoring the house. They drove up from California for a month and immediately dug into getting lights and sprinklers going, fixing everything in sight, and coordinating with contractors.
Upon landing in Sacramento, our new AMC friend, Rory, found us at baggage claim and took us up on the ride offer. We stuffed 5 people and all our gear into a tiny Prius and headed to Travis. Unfortunately, no rooms had opened up at the lodge. Rory heard me on the phone and offered “I have a spare bedroom with queen bed, a futon and a couch if you want to crash there.” Totally floored, I began to discover what motivated this kindness. His family had also gone on crazy space-a adventures. He knew what it was like to drive through the night, wait for roll call, and take circuitous routes. A plan emerged – drop Rory off to check on his fish, go to the terminal, mark present, hook up with Rory and gather intel on the KC10 the next morning, then grab dinner and crash. Rory used his behind-the-desk connections to find out if possible plans to carry haz mat cargo to Yokota would preclude passengers. Still looking promising, we went to Chipotle and grabbed our backpacks for the night. I smiled to myself, happy he was impressed that we’d packed 72 hours of stuff into our carry-ons. “You guys are better than the officers we transport,” he said. You don’t want to be stuck with bags inaccessible in the cargo bay during an unanticipated stopover. We fed his koi fish, talked about Kim Jung-un, “fire and fury” and slept. This morning he dropped us off enroute to an appointment. The morning sun warmed grazing cows and illuminated the golden hills of Vacaville as we approached Travis’ back gate. How to thank Rory? We exchanged contact information and I fully expect he’ll show up in Yokosuka for Coco Curry, on us!
Roll call was a relief as all hopeful space-a pax were selected for the flight. I think the key to happiness is hoping you DON’T get a seat so you have to go through Alaska first 😉 The KC10 is a powerful plane and we enjoyed feeling it surge into the air a few hours later. The boom operator invited us to go checkout the refueling area in the belly of the plane. Imagine a widescreen TV of the sky at your feet as clouds roll by. The “boom” (operator) is only 21 years old and is trained to guide a hose into a plane needing fuel at 575 mph. In turbulence. Another female crew member is a reservist in college studying agriculture science (she enjoyed my piglet castration and rooster spurring stories!). This is her part-time job paying for school. She’s 23. Now, as I look around the plane at the active duty and retired military members, I feel a sense of family. With all due respect to my kids, charging ports, windows, and WiFi are great, but you can’t sleep on the floor of a commercial plane. You can’t visit the boom’s lair. You can’t watch landing from the jump seat. In fact, you can’t even see the pilots. And no one drops CheezIts from heaven, right into your grabbing hands. I’d trade WiFi and windows for this experience any day. Thank you, Travis, and AMC.
We’re reconnecting our filaments to Yokosuka now as we figure out the hockey and kendo schedules, and reluctantly note the first day of school (Aug 28), but we retain strong ties to Bainbridge and beyond. We have fond memories and know the weeks will fly by as we look forward to seeing friends and family again. I am blessed that my phone was full of messages asking when I’d return to Japan – I’d been on WiFi only for weeks so had missed data-dependent text messages. As I type this journal entry, I’m enjoying reconnecting with the shrill call of cicadas and the scent of pepper trees, stimuli which are no longer so foreign. Please come visit us?