Day 14 - Departure
written by Scott

Oh, it has been a long day. The clock says that it's 10:20 PM, and sure enough it's dark, but it's been dark for about six and a half hours...

At that point I was interrupted by cosmic phenomena. For a while I'd been seeing a strange false horizon out the window, and another glance revealed many horizons-- the northern lights! I've never seen them before, not for certain, and certainly not this clearly. We seemed to be flying among the luminous curtains and waves-- some seemed to be below us, though that might have been a trick of the horizon. Ali noticed that above us there was a rippling, as we could see the shimmering directly above the plane, too. We're far enough north that we must be catching the edge of the aurora oval.

So it's been a long day and it's just been set back to morning. My body thinks it is 12:45 AM, but the sun rose about a half hour ago and it's up now for good on the calendar day we left, EST. It's quarter-to-eleven and we land in a few hours.

While our relationship with the practicalities of time is a bit fluid today, the practicalities of space and mass have been very certain and very difficult. Plainly put, we have too much stuff. We packed about a third of everything last night, but this morning the remaining 2/3 took a lot of time and some ingenuity. I headed off to the post office to return the TV Remote that Ali packed away from the Nozawa Onsen Hotel while Ali packed. The Post Office folks probably hate us after our attempt to change money yesterday, and if they didn't then, they must after I walked up to them with a remote in one hand and an address in the other. A very nice lady eventually got me sorted out, I bought a box from them (they don't sell envelopes!) and returned to the ryokan to get padding. We finished packing about 30 min. after checkout, and about 30 seconds after Mr. Grumpy at the front desk called up. We dragged everything down to the lobby and went on another round of errands-- me back to the post office to mail the box and Ali out for bean-laden munchies for our offices. The various bean-bentos are a great idea for office-gifts. They are too perishable to be shipped, so you can't get them in the States easily, and they're very much a product of Japan and Tokyo.

By then we were beginning to get antsy about the flight, since it was after 11 and we'd intended to leave for the airport at 11. We lugged our stuff to the subway, which was a herculean effort. I don't know what all the bags weigh, but the (new) Black Bag which was mostly full of clothes and some light gifts weighed in at the airport at 16 kilos. And I lugged it on a neck strap, while carrying my regular bag with as much weight while Ali pulled her bag, which was the heaviest of all. And then there were the carry-ons, the two backpacks and two paper bags. Note to self, Scott: don't ever do that again.

We got very unhelpful JR seat reservations in Ueno Station after deciding that it was safer to stick to JR since we had no cash with which to pay another subway fare. That was probably the low point of the day: standing in Ueno station with no direct trains, a plane to catch in three hours and two seat reservations which are scheduled to get us to the airport a half hour before the plane departs. We decided that the ticket agent was full of it (or at least vastly underestimating the urgency of our situation), and hopped the next train to Tokyo and then the next train after that to the Airport. Guidebook be damned, our JR passes got us on the Narita Express. We got a cart, took our time, and checked in without a hitch.

Since then it's been all flying, reading [Ghost in the Shell], and watching movies. [Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow] is a better 'bus movie' than theatre movie, I think, but we both enjoyed [The Bourne Supremacy] .

Next up: customs, baggage claim with crossed fingers and then the ridiculous slog with the luggage to a Taxi, as neither of us has any intention of attempting the subway with that luggage. Hell, I might get a cart-- just see if I don't.

We did get a cart. In fact, we got a scary cab driver as well-- a fitting welcome back to NYC. He started to drive off with me still stepping into the car, then drove like a maniac into Brooklyn. Missed Ali's street, then asked three times whether we were sure he should turn left at the next two lights. Nice enough about helping with the bags, but yikes.

I can't end on that note, though, so Ali and I will have to write up some closing thoughts about the trip.

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