Saturday, August 11, 2018

the odyssey

While I'm tempted to write in painful detail about my long and frustrating trip over to the States, I'll try to keep matters relatively brief.

United Flight 892 from Incheon to San Francisco went without a hitch: although I was flying standby, space-available, I managed to get one of the best possible economy-class seats: aisle bulkhead. An aisle seat gives me a chance to escape quickly if necessary, and it also allows me to manspread. A bulkhead seat means there's a wall in front of me, but it's far enough in front to provide plenty of leg room. It was still a coccygeally uncomfortable eleven-or-so hours in the aircraft, but we arrived at SFO twenty-five minutes earlier than expected, in large part thanks to the jet stream.

Alas, we squandered our lead thanks to a perfect storm of circumstances beyond our control. First, we couldn't taxi into our arrival gate because the berth was still occupied by another plane. The captain said it would take about ten minutes to move the plane. When that time came and went, the captain then announced that the offending plane hadn't moved because of a widespread computer failure that was causing problems all over the airport. We were told we'd need to wait anywhere from another thirty seconds to another thirty minutes before we'd be parked at the first available open gate. Forty minutes later, we finally taxied up and disembarked. By that point, I knew it'd be nearly impossible for me to make my connecting flight: even if things had gone right, I'd have had only about 35 minutes to reach that next flight. Passport control proved to be a long, drawn-out, chaotic mess; passing through security to get to my connecting flight's gate proved to be just as molasses-slow. By that point, I was resigned to missing my flight to Dulles, which I did.

This is where things got even more tangled, partly because I hadn't figured out how to avoid roaming charges on my phone. I had followed several sets of instructions found online for how to suppress data roaming while allowing WiFi, but none of those directions worked: despite turning data roaming off on my phone, I kept getting text messages from SK Telecom, my Korean provider, informing me that I would be charged roaming fees. My stopgap solution was to turn my phone off most of the time; turning it on only very intermittently and using data roaming to send quick emails and text messages to friends and relatives. In doing this, I missed an email from my cousin saying she had rebooked me on a different flight to DCA (National Airport as opposed to Dulles). Having missed the email, I missed the flight. Per the advice of a gate agent, I went to the United customer-service counter to get rebooked on any flight heading to DC.

The line for the customer-service counter was interminably long, but I eventually got to an agent, who informed me that all flights to DCA were already done for the day. There was, however, a flight leaving at 4:30 p.m. and arriving at IAD (Dulles) around 12:30 in the morning. The customer-service agent booked me for that flight, and I somehow made it on board. With sporadic Net capability, I kept my brothers and cousin and friend abreast of my schedule, and by some miracle, I did make it to Virginia, albeit thirty minutes late.

I got into a Washington Flyer taxi, a very spiffy-looking SUV, which proved to be as expensive as I had expected it to be: the fare, not including tip, was close to $90. The taxi drove me to the Mount Vernon/Fort Belvoir Best Western hotel where, after some deliberation, I booked a room through the night of the 22nd, choosing not to stay with my brother David because I'd have had to dog-sit for three dogs, one of which apparently needs to be walked every 90 minutes. I flatly told David that I didn't come all this way to do unpaid dog-sitting, so I was opting for a hotel.

Close to 3 a.m., after checking in, I wandered over to the local 7-Eleven to get the one thing I had been craving: a nasty, salty Jamaican beef patty. No patties were in evidence when I looked at the hot-food section, but the cashier said he had some and could hook me up. Nearly weeping, I ordered three.

I ate my junk food, then tried to sleep. I slept for maybe three hours before waking up and calling my brother via my room phone because I still hadn't solved my cell phone's roaming-charge problem. I arranged to walk over to David's place for lunch. Before leaving for the States, I had Amazon'ed over a Chinese-made mobile WiFi hotspot that I was gambling would solve all my problems. When I got to David's house and met him plus all the dogs (David's dog Penny plus Sean's dogs Maqz and Woodrow; Sean and his hubby Jeff are vacationing in Southeast Asia), I unboxed the hotspot, got it going, and sure enough, it solved all my problems.

David ordered lunch from the local burger-and-ribs place, called Johnny Mac's. I got a bacon cheeseburger and a chili-cheese half-smoke with a chocolate milkshake and a side of mac-and-cheese plus barbecue beans. Wow, that was amazing, and I wolfed it all down before I even thought to take pictures. That was, without a doubt, the best fucking meal I'd had in a long while, not to mention an awesome way to welcome myself back to the States.

I'm doing a shopping run with David this evening to buy some small necessities to help me during my two-week stay. Later on, when I've got my new driver's license and a rental car, I'll be engaged in some more ambitious shopping at places like REI, the outdoor/sporting-goods store where I had bought all my hiking equipment in 2008. Also, once I have a car, I'll be hitting some old stomping grounds, like Front Royal and Skyline Drive. I might even drop in on my old Shenandoah Commons Apartments landlady Teresa; she was a nice person.

So while I'm tired and jet-lagged and a bit frustrated by the travel snafus (none of which actually had anything to do with my flying standby), I'm glad to be in the States and glad to be on vacation, visiting family and friends. And now that I've got my WiFi hotspot, normal blogging can continue.

More later.


Charles said...

Congrats on making it! Glad to hear that everything went smoothly with the stand-by experiment, at least. Sucks about the other snafus, though. But at least you are there now.

Kevin Kim said...

I'm here, and things are good.