After reading half of a very good book (The Postmistress by Sarah Blake) I take the time to check the departure board and ascertain my gate assignment. I see that it has been assigned and I make my way over to it. As I do I stop and grab a bite at a place called Bake & Kiss. I wanted to ask if they actually kiss everything they bake, but the ladies behind the counter didn’t seem like they were in the mood for any foreigners asking idiotic questions. I down my tuna fish sandwich and cookie then wait patiently for the boarding to begin. Once it does I shuffle in line with a few hundred other people to take our seats on the plane. My request for an aisle seat having been honored I stand by the galley until my other seatmates have arrived before I settle in. I dig out my Dalmane and pop the last two in my mouth. Better living thru chemistry. I take off my shoes, read a few more chapters in my book and wait for the drug to take effect. I don’t have to wait long and not long after take-off I put the book away, turn off the reading lamp and fall fast asleep. I knew they’d be serving dinner in about an hour and I had faith that the flight attendants would have the good sense not to wake me. They didn’t. The next thing I know it’s about nine hours later and we somewhere between Alaska and the state of Washington headed south towards Los Angeles. I get up and move around a little just to get the blood flowing a little bit. I notice that everybody has their window shades pulled down, but you can see bright sunlight seeping in where it can. I settle back into my seat and watch the flight progress on the screen embedded in the seat in front of me. The poor guy next to me is having a miserable time with his back. He’s gotten up several times to either put on or take off a back brace. When he is seated he is constantly rocking back and forth. I’ve had my share of back problems, but this flight has been pure torture for him.
We start our descent into LAX and I dutifully fill out my immigration and customs form. It struck me as we made our approach to LAX just how smooth this flight had been and touch down on the runway was no different. Smooth as silk. I remember a time when people would applaud a good landing, but I guess that’s gone the way of all things. I get a sense of elation to be back in my home country, but that feeling is stained with the dread that I’m in my least favorite airport. I’ve never liked LAX. It is big, busy and confusing. The signage is worse that Terminal 3 in Beijing in that it’s non-existent. At least at T-3 there was plenty of signage, it was just not written in a language that I can understand. In LAX if you ask 10 different people for help you will, most likely get 10 different answers. First we are ushered off of our plane thru narrow corridors to the friendly folks who check your passport. There is older lady at the door of a large room with an ugly linoleum floor and stark neon lighting who is saying in a rather loud voice that citizens and residents go to the left, visitors to the right. She subscribes to the notion that if you say it loud enough non-English speakers will somehow understand you. Even still, about a quarter of the people who get in the resident’s line have to be subjected to the frustration of being told they have waited in the wrong line. After a cursory check of my passport the young man behind the inch thick plexiglass window welcomes me back home. I wait at the baggage carousel and, much to my astonishment, both bags make it. I find that I build up the high expectation that one or both of my bags won’t make it that it’s almost a disappointment when they really do. On the way out of the baggage claim area you have to present your passport and your Immigration and Customs form to one more guy. He asks if I have anything to claim and I answer in the negative except for the five pounds of Gobi Desert sand that is coating my duffel bag. Once you are past that last hurdle there is a man standing at a station who asks if you are making a connecting flight. I answer in the affirmative and he indicates that I can put my checked luggage on the moving belt behind him. Again, there are no signs that would give you any indication what this was or why it was here. I plop my two bags on the conveyor belt and they disappear into an x-ray machine. I secure my camera backpack and off I go on the adventure of finding my next flight. Luckily I have two and a half hours to solve this mystery.
I look at the boarding pass that I got in Beijing and the flight number is preceded by the letters AA. One of my biggest problems with LAX is that the monitors showing arrivals and departures only show those for the terminal that you are standing in at the present time. They don’t show any other flights or what terminal they are arriving at or departing from LIKE THEY DO AT EVERY OTHER AIRPORT IN THE KNOWN UNIVERSE! I’m a bit puzzled by the AA since going to Mongolia I flew United with a UA prefix to my flight numbers. Oh well, I guess I’ll try the American terminal as see what happens. This brings me to my other big gripe about LAX. Unless you want to walk to fifty miles to your next terminal you can take the “Airline Connection” shuttle that is about as consistent as my golf game. The other busses to the hotels and the car rental places come by every five minutes or so. The one that takes people to other parts of the airport with people who are actually trying to catch another flight comes by about every other ice age. No matter, I still have lots of time before my next flight. Finally the shuttle appears and I board it and I get off when the computer generated voice tells me that I’m at the terminal serving American Airlines and a couple other carriers. I enter the terminal, find a departure monitor and find that, yes, I am in the right place. I subject myself once again to a TSA screening and I’m off to find my gate. In short order I’m seated at my gate awaiting the call to board. At the appointed time we all shuffle onto the plane, stow our stuff, ignore the safety briefing and take off. The flight to Denver is uneventful and I read a few more chapters in my book. Arriving at Denver I follow my fellow passengers to baggage carousel number seventeen. At one o’clock in the morning we look more like a zombie invasion than airline passengers. The suspense begins again as I wonder if my bags made the connection in Los Angeles. Thankfully they did. I retrieve them, wait for the hotel shuttle bus and enjoy the cool, fresh air outside the terminal. I decided to spend the night in Denver and make my surprise arrival on Tuesday morning since it was Labor Day weekend and I knew that Donna had spent the weekend at her sister’s place up in the mountains and I wasn’t sure when she’d get back. Besides, when I was hatching this plan I didn’t figure I’d be able to get a ride back to Colorado Springs with such a late arrival.
While doing a blog post back in UB I saw one of Donna’s best friends was online on FaceBook. I started a conversation with her and told her of my evil plot. She thought it was an excellent idea and offered to assist in the chicanery by coming to pick me up. That was incredibly gracious and generous and I immediately took her up on it. We made arrangements for her to meet me at one of the hotels near the airport at eight o’clock the morning after my arrival and we’d make the final leg of my odyssey back to Colorado Springs. I was in the breakfast area the next morning and Jan shows about a half hour early. It was a surprise and a relief to see her. I devour a waffle and a glass of juice, grab my bags and we are on our way. It usually takes about an hour and a half to two hours to make the trek from the airport in Denver to Colorado Springs. With Tuesday morning rush hour I figured it might even take longer. Much to my surprise we make the drive south in record time. We take a circuitous route around the block at our condo thinking that Donna would be at her desk and could see us coming if that were the case. We have a security door at the entrance of our condo building so Jan was going to have to call Donna and make up some excuse for dropping by so early in the morning since I didn’t take any of my keys with me to the other side of the world. Luckily one of the ladies who lives in our building was coming out just as we got there so she let me in. Even better, no need to call Donna. Now the only worry is: Is she home? As an event planner she frequently has morning coffee with clients and I know she has a huge event the following weekend so there was the distinct possibility that she wouldn’t be there. I get in the elevator and punch the button for the sixth floor. I put my bags down in front of our door and retrieve the video cam out of my camera bag then ring the door bell. I turn the video camera on and push the “Record” button and point it at the door. I wait and wait. And wait. Finally I hear her undo the safety chain on the door, unlock the dead bolt and ask, “who is it?” I don’t say anything and then I hear a surprised little shriek. She had looked thru the peep-hole in the door and seen me. She whips the door open and with a look of sheer joy on her face says, “What are you doing here?” I should probably explain that the tone in her voice is one of concern, not the tone usually associated with a question like that. She throws her arms around me and tells me what a wonderful surprise it is to see me. Again she goes back to her concern with my early arrival. I assure her that no, nothing is wrong, I only came back early to surprise her. She assures me that I succeeded. We spend the rest of the day unpacking, talking about the trip and relaxing.
Being back home is great. Returning home after visiting a country like Mongolia one is faced with all the things we take for granted. I have spent the last few days decompressing and eating things like Thai Green Curry and my favorite breakfast consisting of, mainly, a green chile and aged, sharp cheddar omelet. It will take a while to get my sleep schedule back on Colorado time and I’ve got some serious work cut out for me in sorting out all of the images (2000 +/-) I took while I was there. I have a show scheduled next month and I need to get some of them printed and framed for it.
In a day or two, after I’ve collected all my thoughts, I will post an epilogue to the trip. I certainly hope that you’ve enjoyed the blog and coming along on the trip with me. I am not a writer and I know, after rereading some of my posts, I’ve left you scratching your heads at times. For that I apologize. Thanks to those of you who have left kind comments and asked questions. It was nice to know there were people actually reading the blog and interested in the journey.