Before we continue, I would like to express my sincere hopes that you DO NOT follow my example of booking your trip to a tropical island paradise, filled with half naked girls, quivering and gyrating their magnificent little brown bodies, whose sole purpose is to make you feel like a young man again (in more ways than one), 6 month’s in advance. I am reminded of a line from a song by Tom Petty, “…the waiting is the hardest part”. That statement, although not referring to travel, is the absolute truth. The agony of waiting, perusing the boards for current information, packing and unpacking multiple times, buying all the little things you will need at the last minute, seeing pictures of all the places you want to go, and seeing pictures of all the girls you want to see, its just pure torture. If your smart, book about 1 month (at the most) in advance.
That magnificent day I have waited for (impatiently I might add) has finally arrived. I am awakened that morning from a restless sleep about 9 hours before I have to leave for the airport. I give myself the obligatory (sometimes mandatory) 3 S’s, Shit, Shower, Shave. Eat some breakfast. Clean the house and rid the place of all trash, as I won’t be home again for a little over 2 weeks. I already have a hold on my mail, so that’s one less thing to worry about. Pack and unpack 2 more times, trying to save space for something I can feel deep in my marrow I have forgotten. Hit the Message Board to let all know I am leaving soon and hope to see them in the next day or so. Look at some more pictures a few members have posted, just to get the juices flowing. I have one last cup of hot tea to calm the nerves, as the excitement is almost unmanageable. Turn off the gas, and pour out the milk (and whatever else I know will spoil in the fridge). Call my brother to make sure he’s ready (my ride to the airport and guardian of my house) and off I go.
There is an old axiom that I have heard for what seems like forever. “Murphy’s Law, whatever can go wrong, will go wrong!”. I have come to accept this and believe in it wholeheartedly. On the way to the airport is of course some traffic, no problem, I made an early departure from my house for this sole reason. Then comes the unknown and unannounced and unexpected…..construction on the freeway. A few flutters in the rhythmic beating of my heart and soon (not really) we are out of the construction zone, but we are now 30 minutes behind schedule…..fuckin DOT (Department of Torture). I pull into the airport parking lot, at which point my brother exclaims I have made a mistake and should go to the Passenger Dop Off/Pick Up area. “That’s what you think, were running late and you are going to help me get to the ticket counter in time”. I park, drag my brothers ass out of the car and hand him a suitcase (the heaviest one of course), and we make a mad dash for the inside of the airport.
During my research into taking an international flight, I found that you are expected to arrive 2 to 3 hours ahead of your flight time so as to get through customs and immigration in time for your departure. Also allowing time for the occasional restroom visit, which I know I will have to do anyway, and allowing time to pick up your boarding pass and checking your luggage in. In my opinion, that is a GROSS exaggeration of time. Maybe it depends on the airport your leaving from, I know some are more busy than others. From where I come from, 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the time of day, is plenty of time with room to spare. I will remember that next time (I didn’t realize it then, but yes there was going to be a next time and a next and a next…). Me and my brother (looking suitably pissed) make it to the check in counter, we shake hands, I give him the keys and money for parking (stingy bastard, ie: kuripot, couldn’t spare 2 bucks for parking) he says “Be safe over there”, and then quickly departs. I get my boarding pass and check my luggage through the xray scanners and head to my departure gate. Going through immigration and security was a little unnerving as I was asked time and time again “Where are you headed”, “Business or pleasure”, “Do you know anybody there”, “What are your plans while you are there”. Interrogation complete, I now make a semi trot to my gate.
On the way to the gate, I see all the stores, restaurants, bars and kiosks and am suddenly struck with a terrible thirst. Do I have time for a beer and a smoke? Perhaps I can quickly down a coke. Checking my watch (I don’t know why I didn’t sooner) I gasp at the time. I have now 90 minutes to wait until my flight leaves, assuming it is on time. So into the nearest bar for a smoke and a beer. I didn’t notice right away, it took me a few years to realize, but it seems like everybody has a lighter except me, How do they get it through security? Another mystery of life I guess. After about 4 beers and ½ a pack of smokes (nervous I guess) I grab a coke to go and head for the gate. Plenty of seating available in the waiting area, so I plant my ass and sip my coke and await the announcement to board (still 30 minutes away). Another “reality check”, I have absolutely nothing to do. I didn’t bring a book, an IPOD, a Laptop, a Walkman, nothing. Now is when I realize that I have forgotten something…grrrrrrrrrrrrrr. I have to be satisfied to watch planes take off and land.
15 Minutes til boarding and out of nowhere comes a hoard of people, all making there way to MY departure gate. WTF, where did they all come from. Old ladies in wheel chairs, couples in their early 20’s wearing backpacks, screaming, running kids, crying babies, adults milling around with friends and family. Now the whole area is packed with people. The pretty flight attendants (so I thought) now announce that boarding will begin. 1st class, those needing special attention, parents with infants may now board. Then the next section. Then the next section. Now its my turn, and the line to get on the plane is longer than the plane itself. I could have kept my seat in the waiting area for another 20 minutes. All aboard and taking off now, nothing to do but relax (as I have nothing else to do) for 5+ hours until we reach Los Angeles and what is arguably one of the busiest airports in the world…LAX. To rub salt in an open wound, I notice that everybody, kids included, has something to occupy their time. Portable games, IPODs, Laptop computers, books to read, crossword puzzles, mini dvd players, Walkman radios/cd players. All I can do is twiddle my thumbs and discretely try to adjust my scrotum as the seat is a little cramped.
A miserable 5 ½ hours later we land in LA. Now I have about 1 hour to reach my destination…Tom Bradly International Terminal. Since my luggage is booked all the way through to the final destination, Manila, I figured I had plenty of time to get to the next gate of departure. Wrong. TBIT is on the opposite side of the airport. I grab a shuttle bus, which drops me off 1 terminal early and I have to run (what seems like 5 miles, but in reality is only 2 football fields). I thought there were a lot of people at my airport, stupid me. I enter the terminal and head to the PAL (Philippine Air Lines) ticket counters, where as it turns out, ½ the philipino nation is waiting to return to their homeland. Plus they all had brought along every possession they own in huge ass boxes with the word BALIKBAYA written on them. They couldn’t ALL be related could they? No, Balikbaya is some kind of packing crate they use. But the state they were in suggests extended, multiple uses. Some were taped, some were tied with ropes, some were stapled, some were bound with bailing wire (the plastic kind) but ALL were semi crushed to some extent. At this point is when I realize what is awaiting me in Manila, a lonnnngggg asssssss waittttttttttt for my luggage. Through all the lines and passed all the security, I head to my departure gate once again.
Plenty of time to wait now as I decifer the OTHER acronym for PAL (Philippine Air Lines, no, Plane Always Late). About 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time is when they announce the boarding procedure will now begin. Once again, 1st Class, people needing special attention, and parents with infants may now board, then the next section, then the next section and again I stand in a line longer than the plane itself, which by the way is now a larger plane than the one I arrived in LA on. We take our seats and buckle up and head on our way to Guam for re-fueling, before heading to Manila. Again with nothing to do, I discretely adjust my scrotum, several times (at this point I don’t give a shit if anyone sees me doing it) and settle in for a little nap. Another red flag presents itself on this trip, 3 actually. 1. Philipinos can sleep like noone else I have ever known. 2. They can’t control their bladders (or maybe their colons), and make frequent trips to the restroom (henceforth called the CR-Comfort Room). 3. They eat as if there is no tomorrow, snacks, in flight meal, more snacks, more in flight meal, then more snacks. Yet they’re all so skinny.
We passed on the re-fueling stop over in Guam, so as to make up time, and that brought some trepidation to my thinking. Would we make it all the way? Would we crash into the Pacific or China Sea? All first time traveler jitters I suppose. We watched a crappy movie, then another crappy movie, then the first crappy movie again……torture. Please, for God’s sake, bring something to do when you make this voyage. On the entire trip from LA to Manila, I slept a total of about 5 hours during a 17 hour flight. When we landed in Manila (thank the God’s this was now over), we (I should say the philipinos) thanked the cabin crew with a round of applause. A superstitious people no doubt. We made our way out of the plane, at a snail’s pace I might add, and into the terminal.
I would like to make you aware of a few observations about airports and flying. I mentioned earlier about pretty little flight attendants announcing the boarding process. These are not flight attendants, Nowhere on the plane, either from LA or from my hometown, was there a pretty little flight attendant to be seen. Old, yes. Chubby, yes. Rude, yes. False advertising if you ask me. During the flight to Manila from LA, we were made to close the shades on the windows. What is it we were not supposed to see I wander. Possibly near misses? Who knows, as nobody dared to defy the Nazi stewardesses and look to see what was out there.
So we are off the plane now and making our way to Immigration. Another long line, and as some of you know, elderly Philipinos do not like to stand in line. If you turn your head for even 2 seconds they will take that opportunity to cut in front of you. Take my advice and keep your eyes on the prize. Again, “Why are you here?”, “Where are you going?”, “Who do you know here?”, blah blah blah. Onto the luggage claim area. After about an hour of watching semi crushed Balikbaya boxes come streaming down the ramps, I see my luggage come tumbling forward. Grab them and go, that’s my motto. Onto the customs agent now and the inspection of my luggage, another 30 minutes. Finally, out of the airport and into the open air and sunshine to find my (hopefully) still waiting driver.
My first taste of a tropical island slams into all of my senses at one time. In an instant I am drenched with my own sweat. You don’t know what humidity is until you have arrived in the Philippines. I am wearing blue jeans and a long sleeved shirt, what a fucking mistake that was, wear shorts and a short sleeved shirt and some flip flops. I take a deep breath and instantly wish I had not, air pollution takes on a new meaning in Manila. After gagging and coughing for 3 full minutes, I take a smoke out and start begging for a match, and once again, everyone has a lighter except me. Across the way I see a hugeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee whiteeeeeeeeeeeee signnnnnnnnnnnnnn, with my name on it. And some little guy standing there waving to me, how did he know it was me, I dunno.
As this all occurs post 9/11, seeing my name towering over all other people for all to see, gave me some goose pimples to say the least. Security is heightened everywhere in the world, with the threat of Islamic, Muslim, extremist, fanatical groups just looking for an American to take their frustration out on, I ran to the guy and begged him to put the sign away now, I was here. Finally I was here.