My Summer Vacation

by Tony Silva

I’d gotten to the airport plenty early, had my passport and docs in order, even had my seat assignments, so the delay was pretty curious. I’d been trying to be “friendly” with the young lady at check-in, and maybe I’d pissed her off, teasing her about the chance to practice her English. More keyboard pounding and indecipherable telephone mumbling. “Do you prefer a window or an aisle seat?” I tell her “aisle,” but it’s not the answer she’d hoped for. Just as I start to fear the worst, she cups the telephone receiver and says, “The plane from Tokyo to Chicago is full...but the only seat we have in Business Class is a window seat. Will that be OK?”

OK, I’m on my way. The luck had actually begun a bit earlier, as I was going directly to Narita, rather than dealing with the Haneda shuffle in between, which I have done before and is no way to start a trip. It continues when I get the baby-care aisle with no one seated next to me. Actually no clear view out a window, so I'm really craning my neck trying to get a token glimpse of Fuji-san (aka Mt. Fuji) - but the flight is only a hour, and the view improves when Attendant Ryoko is at her station, reflexively smiling whenever our eyes happen to cross. I might need to explain that the Attendus Nipponicus bears only the most distant resemblance to Attendus Americanus. Trust me on this. Maybe it's the unions.

Sayonara, Ryoko. No hassles at Narita, I know the routine, the only hiccup trying to remember whether the brother smokes Kool Lights or Kool Milds, and what the possible difference might be. I have enough time to connect via Boingo, manage some Skype and Twitter, and contemplate my good fortune. Over a beer. A very slight boarding delay has the passenger throng restless, so it's especially gratifying to be able to thread through the crowd and board in the first swallow. I'd like to think my nose was no higher in the air than usual.

Shuffled on and saw my own little passenger pod over by the window, cute little Ten-Kay, enough legroom for the tallest man on earth, actually a small separate living environment that I'd inhabit for the duration of the thirteen hour flight. The controls for my seat consist of an ideogram approximating the human body seated in and airplane seat dotted with twenty, count 'em, twenty buttons to control all possible adjustments, including lumbar support, and, yes, my brothers and sisters, massage location and intensity. Yes, it reclined to a full flat position. If there were passengers in front of or in back of me, I never knew.

Of course, champagne was served on take-off. Ms. Nakajima introduces herself to each of the passengers in her area, asks our names and plans, does some small talk, and hands us our oshibori. With her hand, not a damn pair of tongs. The notion of Japanese service is a stereotype, and at times it can actually run counter to Western expectations (and preferences), but there are times when one has to just sit back and to one's very core, appreciate. (See Attendus Nipponicus vs. Attendus Americanus, above.)

I had another glass or two of P-H while I played with the seat controls like a little kid and selected my trip audio on my iPod. I settled on finishing Perfectly Irrational, by Dan Ariely, a couple of Mac podcasts, and a shuffle of the playlists listed below.

Nakajima-san offers us the menu for the flight. DO look. Just accept that the description of the Japanese items lose much in translation, and that the food itself was exquisite. Or whatever is better than that. Think 豆乳豆腐 (tounyuu tofu)and not "Soybean milk custard and sea urchin." I notice partly because of the time I've spent in Japan, of course, but even for the less experienced palate, this is one of those meals where one actually can taste and, here's that word again, appreciate the difference in the flavor and texture of even the rice. Of course, the Piper-Heidsieck on takeoff was also quite satisfactory.

Flying west to east over the northern Pacific, somewhere over Montana I pop my window shade open and enjoy the accelerated sunrise over the midwest. Beautiful. Someone recently remarked that flying Business now is what everyone used to experience in Coach. Maybe. Toward the end of the flight as morning light starts to fill the cabin, I observe that we, the blessed and anointed in Exec Class, are ourselves, in fact, being kept down in our places by the curtains separating us from the truly elite in First Class, always drawn tight. Must have been a decent 6000 miles for them, too.

And best of all - now looking at three weeks with my people.

In-Flight Playlist

ZZ Top
Summer songs playlist
Johnny Cash
Warren Zevon
Kings of Leon
Michael McDermott
Pink Floyd
Jr. Walker & the All Stars
Robert Earl Keen
Dave Matthews
The National
Beach Boys
Pinetop Perkins
Thin Lizzy
Laurie Anderson (We're going down!)
Guy Clark
Howlin' Wolf
The Kingsmen
Low Millions
Junior Kimbrough
Townes Van Zandt
David Honeyboy Edwards
Jimi Hendrix
Jackson Browne
Neil Young
Grinderman (Nick Cage)
Sam Cooke
Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros
Alvin Lee
Rolling Stones