Friday, July 27, 2012

Change Is Normal

After a week in Fukushima I had finally gotten back out on my bike. Her tubes still held air, despite sitting in a shed since last September. Her front derailleur was still stuck; I’d meant to work on loosening her up last summer but, as often happens with things, I never got around to it. The worn back tire was a different matter; if I was going to get any riding in during my time here I couldn’t ignore it much longer. I always let my tires wear down further than I should before I replace them. So far I’ve avoided major catastrophe.

Ishida-san was manning his bike shop alone, of course. His look when I walked in was one of delayed confusion. Wasn’t I supposed to be gone by now? Had I left and come back? Misunderstandings are the common by-product of my middling Japanese. I picked out a new tire (‘That’s a good one, lasts a long time,’ Ishida-san said, just like every other time I’ve ever bought a tire from him) and I rode across town to find a present for my niece and her fiancee. I wouldn’t be able to make their wedding in Florida; this would be a sort of first for me, since I usually take any opportunity to travel.

Further toward the north side of town I found, after ten minutes and twenty-two side streets, the hair salon where I was to meet my wife. I was late. My wife would be later. I rolled to the convenience store at the end of the block to pick up drinks for my sons. On the magazine rack I saw the faces of the same celebrities so popular a year ago – in typical fashion, Japan loves new things brought to them by the same old people.

The woman at the hair salon – a personal friend of my wife’s, who I had met once before – asked about the new baby and living in the States and how long we’d be in Fukushima. I asked her mainly about her salon, as I couldn’t remember anything else about her, if I had ever known. Business was good, she said. Better now than it was in her first year, before the earthquake. ‘So people are…around? Like before?’ And still getting haircuts?

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Life is back to normal.’

And, I guess, on the surface it is.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Talk is Cheap. Our Fees are Not. Hey, Valuable Customer, Listen To This!...

'...And may the odds be always in my favor...'
Every time I want to fly west from Japan I go online thinking ‘This time, dammit, I am not flying a Chinese airline.’ And every time the cheapest fare is on another eponymous Chinese airline and I say to myself ‘Okay, dammit, but this is definitely the last time…’ And I promise in advance I’ll be making up for any and all unrequited expectations by going college with the free in-flight beer. (Apparently they know this and return the sentiment by going gorilla with my Samsonite.)

Flying between Japan and New Jersey is a more subtle tragedy.

In his State of Our Awesome Airline address in the beginning of this month’s issue of Hemispheres, United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek goes on a rant against the dark powers at work causing his industry to lose $55 billion dollars a year. Poor guy. As I’m reading (a guise to make my kids become uninterested in me and not from any sense of commiseration with a man who just wouldn’t feel right paying himself a penny more than $1.2 million a month), that same smarmy Smisek appears on my personal in-flight video entertainment system screen. ‘We’ve got the most lay-flat seats in the industry,’ he tells me as I fight to wedge my feet around my knapsack, shoved under the seat six inches in front of me. He goes on with his State of Our Awesome Airline addendum by touting how many new planes they have, and how many new Economy Plus seats people somewhere are putting onto those planes. Conveniently he makes no mention of the sticking my twenty-pound two-year-old with the same fuel surcharge Bob the Elephant across the aisle pays, or the shitty disposable ear buds passengers are given for free…for now… or the fact he’s about to stuff my kids full of saran wrap greaseburgers for the next thirteen hours.