Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Road Trip

I had seen some of them as recently as a month or two ago, and I hadn't seen some of them for over a calendar year. I'd never even met a few of them. They were scattered about the country, far and wide. Some were clustered in metropolitan areas. Others were in the middle of nowhere. There were those who were right where I'd left them, and there were those who'd fled. They were free and independent, and they were stifled and oppressed and still had to do the family dishes. But, nonetheless, whoever and wherever they were, I went to see them.

My faithful steed in this endeavor was a '98 Buick Century, purchased more for my brother than for me on the morning of my departure. I also had eight books on tape, a folder full of directions, Korean flashcards, a sweet toothbrush that the Caldwells gave me this year for Christmas, several changes of clothes, a green pen, cookies, an atlas free from State Farm, elephant gun ammunition, and a pocket full of shells, among other more mundane items.

Day the First: Pella, Iowa; July 6
Target: Bettger and Vanessa

I struck out from Rock Rapids in the early afternoon of this Tuesday. In a few swift hours, I found myself in Pella, the Dutch capital of North America. I was greeted warmly by Bettger and his wife Vanessa, whose wedding I rudely missed in January, and experienced all that this thriving metropolis had to offer: delicious home-cooked chicken, the Red Rock Dam, Smokey Row, and “The Dark Knight.” Count it.

Day the Second: Omaha, Nebraska; July 7
Target: Christina, Ollie, Hamm

Come morning we loaded up several vehicles with the possessions of the aforementioned couple, for they were moving to Denver, Colorado, that day, having had enough of Pella for a while:

Me: So. What's your favorite thing to do in Pella, Bettger?
Bettger: Leave it.

The schedule for their departure was the reason I stopped here before backtracking to Omaha to see my esteemed sister. The Bettgers and I rode as far as Johnston, Iowa, before I was forced to part ways with them, as a problem arose with one of the vehicles. I hope that it worked out and they were able to continue their trek, but I honestly don't know if they made it out of Iowa or not.

Nonetheless! I pressed on/back to where Christina resides, next to a strip club and across from the county jail in Omaha. I arrived precisely when she arrived home from work (we'd synchronized our watches earlier) and went in and had a look about the place, since she'd just moved in a few weeks prior. We spent the rest of the evening dining at a fine establishment called Upstream, gallivanting around the downtown area, and trying - unsuccessfully - to tame her newly-acquired beasts, Ollie and Hamm, both of whom thought my feet were fair game at any and all hours of the night. If they were not as cute as they were, they'd have suffered the same grisly fate as the last nocturnal foot harasser I'd come to know.

Day the Third: Benton Harbor, Michigan; July 8
Target: Micah, Kryn, Ben

I sped from Omaha with the speed of a thousand chariots, across I-80 over the plains of Iowa and through the tolls of Illinois. Highlight: some random kid waved at me as he and his mom flew past. After absorbing the nine-hour drive, I arrived in the Benton Harbor/St. Josephs area around 6:00 p.m. local time. My destination coincided with the B.H. YouthWorks! staff's: the beach. Heading up this unruly staff was college roommate and intramural softball champion Micah, site director at this particular site. Under his wing was Kryn, who had had the displeasure of going through Early Bird in Niagara Falls last deadly summer. Another 2009 Niagara Early Bird attendee, my former and Micah's current boss Ben, was in Benton Harbor as well. A happy reunion for all involved. I think. I watched them deliver a masterful club session as the sun set and then bummed around with them for the remainder of the evening. And by “bummed” I mean “purchased pink hair dye” for the next morning.

Day the Fourth: Ypsilanti, Michigan; July 9
Target: various Elies, past and present; Erik

The next day, Friday, I left the west side of Michigan for the east. This day was centered around an actual event and not just a random, unstructured visit. That event was the wedding of Melanie Elie, a member of KMI in Seoul and a teacher at a school in that same city, to her current husband Bryan. The location was in Ypsilanti, Michigan, birthplace of Bloodlined Calligraphy. The ceremony itself was quite short, while the reception, a proceeding that was filled with delicious snacks and Fazoli's, lasted much longer. Two teachers from CCS, Luke and Becky, happened to be cousins of the bride, so they and Erik Johnson composed the list of people I knew at the marriage celebration. Erik and I did our best to talk to people we didn't know and to hit each other in the face playing tether ball.

Everything drew to a close at about 8 p.m., so Erik, Luke, and I tromped over to the University of Michigan campus and bummed around there for a few hours. Nice place. We stopped and watched the Twins lose to the Tigers through the window of some bar. Further and further from first place they slid. I also thought that maybe it would be weird seeing people I knew only in the context of Korea in America, but: it wasn't. Maybe if they were Korean. After a while we became weary and Erik, who had the thirty-seven-disc book on CD “The Count of Monte Cristo” in his back seat, brought me back to my car, at which point I began the night drive through Canada toward Niagara Falls.

Day the Fifth: Niagara Falls, New York; July 10
Target: Michael, Potter's House Christian Community Church

The Buick flew through Detroit as the radio tuned in to 97.9, a hip-hop station run by a DJ who thought he could just yell out whatever he wanted in the middle of every song (“You just put on some new panties, girl? Blue ones?”). I reached the U.S./Canada border and underwent an intense interrogation (“Are you sure you didn't drink at this wedding?”) but ultimately prevailed and drove through the fine province of Ontario. The drive was relaxing; I think I greatly prefer night travel to day trips. I pulled off at 4 a.m. at some rest stop, partly because I was tired, and partly because I didn't want to get to Niagara at 6 in the morning. This is a picture of the night sky above Ontario. Get wrapped up in it:

I resumed the trip at 7 a.m. and arrived at the Potter's House around 9. There was a car wash going on out front. Michael came and greeted me, and our day began. For the most part, it was spent talking and catching up, because, as was the case with most of the folks I had and was to visit, I had not seen my brother in over a year. I also got to meet his staff, eat at this pizza place that they loved, see a bat flying around the church, see the violence of the falls once again, and run into various characters at the Potter's House.

Our conversations were interesting. Michael is a deep thinker, quite self-aware and spiritually in-tune, and hearing his thoughts on YouthWorks! and Bethel and his future and traveling and such made me think about how those things were in my own life. Very good to be with him. It was also weird being back in a place that I'd poured into last summer so much and seeing what Michael's staff had done with the place. Many things were the same, many things were different. I was appalled at one change they'd made, though. As expected, the staff had discovered He Who Shall Remain Nameless guarding the YouthWorks! storage. It didn't seem like they'd connected with him the way we had, but after an unfortunate series of frustrating events (I like to think that it was when the giant coffee maker exploded inexplicably late one night, but it really could have been anytime), Michael's staff had decided that the blow-up doll was cursed and was causing the woes that had befallen them. So they cut his head off:

Day the Sixth: Niagara Falls, New York; July 11
Target: Michael, Potter's House Christian Community Church

We went to the Potter's House in the morning. It was just as it was last summer, which I would love to relate here, but, unfortunately, no one can be told how the Potter's House is; you must experience it for yourself. Cool to be back, though. I also remembered feeling stressed and antsy last summer during the three-hour services, as there was usually much work to be done in the hours following them. On this day, I did not get that feeling. Hurrah. After church we ate a quick lunch and the staff dove into work mode, so I bailed and went to walk around by the falls and take a nap. Around 7 I returned to the church, which was overrun by middle school students and flat tires. I stuck around for the orientations and for club, which Michael has down pat. Very cool to see him in such a role. Afterward, we parted ways until August 10 or so, and I drove to Grove City, Pennsylvania. As I did so, I received two texts from Michael reporting that they'd killed two more bats. The curse was not over, apparently.

Day the Seventh: Grove City, Pennsylvania; July 12
Target: Justin and Gretchen

I was warmly welcomed into the basement apartment of the finest resident director in all of Grove City College and awoke in the morning for the third time to the scent of blueberry pancakes and bacon. The first time had been to my cell phone's alarm, not turned off from the previous day and hidden in the bottom of my bag. The second time had been Justin's phone, which was locked and which I eventually took to the bathroom so I wouldn't hear it. But! A great day followed. Justin gave me a tour of the campus and town. We went on a bike ride. There were discussions of great depth on subjects near and far. The movie “Terminator Salvation” enthralled us, but not as much as the legendary burgers at North Country in Slippery Rock, burgers that had been greatly built up throughout the day but which were far from disappointing. Far!

Day the Eighth: Sycamore, Illinois; July 13
Target: Cassie

I departed Grove City at 7:50 a.m. and plowed through Pennsylvania ($0.00 in tolls), Ohio ($13.50 in tolls), Indiana, ($7.50 in tolls) and Illinois ($4.40 in tolls). I stumbled into Cassie's multilevel home at 5 p.m., exactly when I said I would. She had prepared a top drawer meal, which we consumed with her father. After this dinner, we went for a picturesque bike ride through the city of Sycamore and got ice cream at Ollie's, known far and wide as the quickest waist enlarger in the land.

While it was excellent to see Cassie, I offended her in every possible way and made quite a fool of myself. Not remembering her hatred of sleeveless shirts, I wore one. Strike one. She was intent on making an awesome meal for us to eat, which she did, but I made the mistake of trying to contribute to it by bringing cookies that my mom had supplied me with the week before. Too old, too old! Too disgusting. Strike two. I was also informed that there was nothing I could do to help prepare the meal when I got there, but I disregarded this announcement and tried to put salsa we'd dipped chips in back into the jar, which, I soon learned, will cause all the salsa in the jar to go bad much quicker. Strike three. Additionally, I was instructed to grab a pot holder off the table; instead, I grabbed a lantern that was there. I have no explanation for this. Strike four. The last strike I really had no control over. I'd visited Cassie's home in Sycamore once before, years ago, and on that day she incurred a hideous injury to her leg (by falling while rollerblading). In the same way on this day, a door slammed itself on Cassie's foot, causing her to scarcely be able to walk. I am curious to see if this trend continues the next time I stop in Sycamore.

Day the Ninth: Ceylon, Minnesota; July 14
Target: Jake

At 10:00 a.m. I exited the Sycamore township and burst out of Illinois into and through Wisconsin and back into a state I actually like: Minnesota. At 5:00 p.m. I threw myself into Jake's arms at the McDonald's in Fairmont, Minnesota. We then went to his home in Ceylon and tried to figure out what each of us had been doing in the twenty-some months since we'd seen each other. Our reminiscing was interrupted by an urgent text from Jake's sister that informed us of a need for softball players on her team that evening.

We answered that call, but the team we were on still lost by close to ten runs. Members of former two-time Bethel coed intramural softball champion Slayer (what a long title) would have been embarrassed. I was 1 for 4, which is terrible, but in my defense I hadn't played anything remotely resembling softball in well over a year. Despite the loss, there were many redeeming qualities to the game. A beautiful sunset pervaded the field. We got to play under the lights and consequently felt like studs. A hit went to the outfield, and two players on the other team went for it. The one girl picked it up and threw it toward the infield where it needed to go, but she aimed poorly and threw it right into the flank of the other outfielder. I was on second and a throw made to get me out went over the baseman's head, and as I ran toward third, Jake, the third base coach at the moment, giggled and waved me home with a whispered “Go, Reub...go! Go!” It was like it was a secret. I was safe. And we consoled ourselves after each out, saying, “Well, we're getting closer and closer to shish kabobs!”

Which we messily devoured at 10:00 p.m. after the game. Jake's mom Kay made an incredible meal. She also has their home decorated with more Twins paraphernalia than Tom Kelly's wife undoubtedly has, which I obviously took notes on for later in life. The fam showed me the best Halloween costume that has ever been created: a Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, complete with lights and a fan to keep it inflated. Most people can only dream of coming up with an idea that awesome.

Day the Tenth: St. Peter/Minneapolis/Mahtomedi, Minnesota; July 15
Target: T-Duck, Clayton, Minnesota Twins

The next morning I got up and ate with Jake, but I will admit to going back to bed for three more hours. When I did finally rise, my first stop was at Gustavus Adolphus in St. Peter to see what T-Duck's Summer Fest had to offer. The time here was brief, but it was neat to see that which I'd heard so much about in action. It was also good to chat with T-Duck for the few short moments that we had, and also with his brother and the Dills, whose wedding I'd also rudely missed in August. I also met a couple other random folks; the introductions were mostly along the lines of, “This is Reuben. He's Christina's brother.” Living in people's shadows. I tell you what.

But I could not tarry, because moments prior to arriving at Gustavus, I'd learned that Clayton, that man among boys, had secured a ticket to the Twins game for me that evening. I got to his house around 4 and ate pizza with his family. And then we went into downtown Minneapolis to Target Field.

Clayton, Brittani, and I arrived nice and early and got to our seats just to the right of home plate. The tickets were obtained by Clayton's sister Ann Marie, who babysits for Twins closer John Rauch, who is allegedly the tallest player in baseball right now. Thanks, Ann Marie. Sunshine also showed up with Hilary; he was not happy upon arriving because the dude checking tickets had been singing when they'd shown up, already a tad late, and he said he wouldn't let them in unless they danced to his singing. How do these people get hired?

The first inning and a half was terrible; Kevin Slowey gave up four quick runs. In the bottom of the second, however, the Twins scored six to take the lead. Later on, in the fourth and fifth innings, the White Sox cashed in on singles and doubles smacked around all over the place to take a 8-6 lead. Despite having runners on all over the place in the eighth and ninth innings, Minnesota could only muster one run and not the two they needed to tie or the three they needed to win. So. Disappointing that they lost 8-7, but still very cool to get to go see them play in their new stadium, which was as well-done as I'd heard it was.

Day the Eleventh: New Brighton, Minnesota; July 16
Target: Sunshine, Kaycee, Orvis, Cole and Kristin, Paul, Avivah, Krista

The next day I got to see a host of great people from the past. It began with a trip to try on suits with Clayton and Paul for an upcoming wedding of sorts. Later in the afternoon, while waiting for Avivah to call, I randomly ran into Krista, who was working with Camp Serve, at the beach on Long Lake. Then Avivah and I met up in Rosedale and caught up caught up caught up. Then Mike and I went to northeast Minneapolis, where Kaycee, her roommate Julie, Orvis, Cole, Kristin, and I grilled brats and laughed a lot and acted like old people, in that we simply sat around and talked. It was fun, and it was awesome seeing all these incredible people, and/but it made me wonder many a time why I'd decided that it was a good idea to leave the Twin Cities and all of them and go to somewhere where I originally didn't know anyone, and where my current acquaintances were dropping like flies and where the turnover of most foreigners each year was so very high.

Day the Twelfth: Appleton, Wisconsin; July 17
Target: Mr. Mark Nola, Lisa

The next morning I had a hearty breakfast at Perkins with Paul and Cole, followed by an oil change at Jiffy Lube and an hour spent at Caribou writing down directions (though not enough) for the coming thirty-six hours. Around 12:30 p.m. I went into St. Paul to find Mark, who was in town and had been all week for a wedding. I showed up grossly unshaven in basketball shorts, a Bethel t-shirt, and crappy sandals and found him among the wedding party, looking sharper than an Edward Cullen fang during a full moon. Despite this, his mom insisted that I be in multiple photos and he introduced me to most of the important people exiting the church, as the wedding had just concluded. What a guy! It didn't stop there; he insisted that I also come to lunch with them, to Thai Ginger in St. Paul. Very cool to see him; I hadn't done very well at tracking him down and wished I would have prior to the half-hour we got to spend together, but. It may have been weird seeing Mark in the Twin Cities, far from Seoul, but at the lunch it was I who was the outsider, being the only white dude and not even knowing who the bride and groom were. Nevertheless! I was grateful for yet another of my friend's hospitality.

And then I launched away from places I knew well, away from St. Paul and Minnesota, into the abyss that is Wisconsin. At this point I discovered something horrible, something that threw a major wrench in my driving psyche: the cruise control in the Century no longer functioned properly. Now, instead of just concentrating on not veering off the road, I also had to pay attention to my speed. My foot grew weary. My mood grew irritable. My only conclusion was that the mechanics at Jiffy Lube, though very friendly, had sabotaged the cruise control on the car. I vowed never to take any automobile of mine there again.

Thus, the drive over to Appleton, Wisconsin, was lame. I got there eventually and was welcomed in by Lisa and her exquisite mother Lori. For supper we ate fish that Lisa had captured and killed, and then we spent the evening watching YouTube videos, dressing in some of the strangest garb around, and comparing our respective visits back to the Potter's House. Lisa had taken some of her friends in the dead of winter, and it sounded awesome.

Day the Thirteenth: Chicago, Illinois; July 18
Target: Chicago Cubs, Justin, Erik, J-Enger

Rain was pouring down in the morning, but Lisa and I were not disheartened. The skies cleared up as we drove out of rural Wisconsin and into the suburbs of Chicago to get J-Enger in the dangerous town of Wheeling. Once we arrived at his home, we realized that we - or, more accurately, I – didn't have much of a plan as far as getting to the downtown Chicago area. After unsuccessfully trying a few options, I recalled information my father, who thirty years prior had attended the same seminary that J-Enger is currently enrolled in, had e-mailed me, information about the Skokie Swift. Between J-Enger's phone and two Little League-watchin' parents whom we asked, the three of us soon arrived at the Skokie station on the L. We were informed that we should get day passes, which were available for purchase across the street, but as we went to make said purchase, the heavens opened up and rained down upon us.

It didn't matter. We got our day passes, got on the train into Chi-town, transferred, and ended up on Randolph and State downtown. Soon our crew united with another, smaller team, composed of Lisa's friends Mary and Brendy. The latter lives in the area; the former's family had been visiting the city, but they'd left her, and she was planning to go back to Appleton with Lisa at the conclusion of the day. Consequently, she had a suitcase with her, which she left at the hotel there, which is 5.7 miles from Wrigley Field and 15.7 miles from where our car was parked, which is a factor that came into play later, which ultimately didn't matter, which is great.

We went to Giordano's and consumed typically-divine deep-dish Chicago pizza. At that point J-Enger and I broke off from the others and headed north toward the Addison stop on the red line to secure optimal bleacher seats for the Cubs game that evening, while the other three went to do...I never actually found out. Brendy was not joining us for the game, but Lisa and Mary were, as were Erik Johnson and Justin, who met us at the stadium after a day of doing their own thang.

Got to Wrigley. Got our tickets. Got Justin. Got inside. Got seats. Got to see batting practice for both teams. Almost got balls that were hit into the bleachers. This was all between 4:30 and 6:00 p.m., when Erik showed up. At 7:08, two minutes before the first pitch, the two girls came, but we still got to see the first pitch.

The game was not close but it was fun. The Cubs beat the Phillies 11-6. Roy Halladay threw for Philadelphia, which I was excited about, but he got worked. The Cubs scored four runs right away in the bottom of the second, which Philadelphia tried to respond to in the fifth. But between the sixth and seventh innings Chicago scored seven more runs and that was about it. Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto hit bombs for the Cubs. In the ninth Ryan Howard and Ben Francisco both hit home runs but no one seemed to care. Except the fans who threw back the balls afterward. It was a good time. The bleachers seats, as I'd heard, were dang fun. Most of us had never been to this stadium before. Despite growing up on baseball in the Dome, professional games outside are growing on me.

At some point J-Enger, who had a big quiz in his “Suicide Greek” class – a class my dad also took – at 8:30 the next morning, pointed out that one of the train lines that we needed to take closed at midnight. We also had to go back downtown and retrieve Mary's bag, which I later learned was full of nothing but undeclared meat, poultry, and livestock from abroad. The game concluded at about 9:45. J-Enger made the wise decision to split off from us after the game and head for home on his own, as did Erik, who had no reason (except for love) to stay with us. So Lisa, Mary, Justin (whose hotel was downtown also), and I decided to just book it back to the bag's location and fly with great haste back to the train lines that would take us to my car. We arrived at Lake Station, sped to the hotel, snatched the back, walked past a huge bearded bellhop who said, “Nice shirt...'Let's Go!'” to me because of my Rancid garb, and were about to reboard the train when we were suddenly informed that this station was being shut down because of an emergency and that no trains were running to or from it. No explanation was given. It was 11:15 p.m. We were screwed!

Until Justin called us and said he'd also been kicked off and out. He, being the Christ-like man that he is, said he'd drive us to my car at Skokie, much to his wife's chagrin. So we walked back to the Essex Hotel, where he was staying, and back to Skokie we went. And then to Wheeling. We urinated in J-Enger's bathroom and debated breaking into the pool at his apartment complex. I got into my car and prepared to drive to Iowa, and Lisa and Mary got into Lisa's car and prepared to drive back to Wisconsin, but then Lisa rushed out of her car and came over and slapped me in the face, and then left for Wisconsin.

Day the Fourteenth: Spirit Lake, Iowa; July 19
Target: Mom and Dad, Best Place in the Known World

I drove from about 1:30 a.m. to 3, which was enough time to leave the tolls behind and enter Wisconsin. I slept for some four hours at a rest area and then plowed through, despite having no cruise control, to Spirit Lake, Iowa, my favorite place on the face of the planet. I had talked to my parents on the phone and they said a massive storm had blown through the Spirit Lake/Okoboji area the Saturday before, a storm that included sustained wind between 70 and 80 miles per hour and that had left many a lake dweller missing his or her boat. When I drove onto the beach, the clean up had clearly been going on for quite some time, and it was concluding at our cabin. Soon the debris from the tree that had fallen was gone, and all was well. My parents arrived a few hours later, we went to eat at Pizza Ranch, and our week of vacation at the lake began. Holler.


Day on the Road: 14
Showers Taken: 9
Hours Slept in Car: 13
Loads of Laundry Done: 1
Traffic Tickets and/or Violations: 0
Vehicular Accidents: 0
States Conquered: 10
Different Locations Slept In: 10
Miles Traversed: 3,978
Books on Tape Completed: 4
Dirty Jokes Made by Cassie's Dad: 2
Youtube Videos Watched: 18


Most of my stops followed the same trend: my hosts fed me and housed me and went way out of their way to make me feel welcome. I arrived with nothing and offered nothing, usually. Each day I parted ways with folks I was really into, but I could not be that sad because I was immediately on my way to see someone else I was really into. I have awesome friends. This is a major factor as far as what to do and where to be in the future. But, as for now, I feel very fortunate to have gotten to see them. A thousand thank you's to everyone who let me stay with them and made time for me. You are better people than I am.

"Your road trip sounds unheard of. Something only a Haggar could pull off. One with no discretion for long distances in a vehicle or countless hours spent looking at the same crop land. Here's to you, dear American, and your quest for adventure."

- Nasty Nate

Monday, July 5, 2010

13,505 Miles/21,730 Kilometers

Disclaimer: long and boring. You've been warned.

In March I explained my plan to go to Spain and visit Nasty to Mr. Song, the man in charge of everything important at my school. I said I'd pay for part of my flight and he said that was cool. So we sent the necessary information to the travel agent that CCS plans through. She got back to us a few days later. She'd found sweet flights from Incheon to Madrid, it was true, but on the way back, instead of a flight from Spain over the Atlantic to the east coast of the United States, she said that a flight back to Seoul and then to Minneapolis was cheapest. Mr. Song and I spent a good five minutes scratching our heads over this at first. But, in the midst of the school year, far from reality, I thought to myself, "Whatever. I can leave my luggage in Seoul, then," and agreed to this plan. How silly.

So the time came and I flew to Spain and saw Nasty Nate. The ten hours en route from Seoul to Munich was by no means fun, but it was tolerable, perhaps because of the presence of several knockout female flight attendants. However, when the end of my time in Spain drew near, I began to mentally prepare myself for the consecutive plane trips from Madrid to Frankfurt to Seoul to San Francisco to Denver to Minneapolis.

As previously stated, I'd already undergone some traveling turmoil- a three-hour delay on an 11:00 p.m. flight from Ibiza to Madrid- but it was without relative consequence. On this trip, though, were any of my flights to run tardy for that long, I'd be up the proverbial creek. However, I had no choice but to grit my teeth and leap forward recklessly into the void.

I arrived at Madrid-Barajas Airport at 11:45 a.m. and got checked in without any hitches. My flight was scheduled to leave at 1:50 p.m. but didn't get going until about half an hour after that. There was about an hour and a half between my arrival in and departure from Frankfurt, but I had to find somewhere to get my next boarding pass in there. So when Spanair (the same airline that I'd flown from Ibiza to Madrid) didn't take off quite on time, I immediately began to worry about not making my connecting ten-hour flight to Seoul. I spent the two hours and twenty minutes of the flight worrying about that and not speaking to the stranger next to me, the latter a trend that would continue almost unblemished for most of the "day."

We landed in Frankfurt at 4:35 p.m. and I wandered around for about twenty minutes in a cold sweat until some old lady told me, in a voice that screamed, "You're a moron, dear," where to check in with Lufthansa. Which I did. I then wandered around for about a half-hour more. I wasn't that impressed with Frankfurt Airport. Directions and signs were less than clear. Oh, well.

I got on the plane for Seoul, but not before switching from a seat next to a beautiful Korean girl with excellent English to a seat next to a tall Swedish man with excellent boundary problems. Ivan Hoys, his passport told me. We didn't talk. The plane left at 6:15 p.m. local time and got to South Korea at 11:35 a.m. local time, ten hours and five minutes in the air. Seventeen hours of the journey had elapsed.

I reclaimed my luggage from where I'd left in it some locker at Incheon International Airport, took a survey from some woman on how my stay in Korea had been, and read more of "Going After Cacciato" during the five-hour layover. We left Seoul at 5 p.m., bound for San Francisco. I cannot lie, the personnel with which this United Airlines flight was staffed was noticeably unimpressive, as opposed to every other crew I'd encountered so far, all of which had been basically a nonfactor, causing neither smiles nor frowns to appear on my face. But this flight, one that originated in Korea, seemed to be catered much more toward English-speaking flyers; there was lots of confusion about the immigration cards and most of the P.A. messages were in great English and quiet garbled Korean. The staff didn't smile at all. And one flight unattendant came sailing down the aisle with his cart o' drinks and smashed into this Korean kid who sat across from me; instead of apologizing or checking to see if the child was okay, the guy just bellowed flatly, "Watch your arms and legs, please!" and moved on to maul others. Boo.

After ten hours and fifteen minutes of not speaking to anyone on this flight, I hustled off the plane at 11:15 a.m. local time to go through the inconvenience of removing my checked luggage from the safe hands of the airline, getting it inspected or whatever in customs, re-checking it, and sprinting to the next flight to Denver at 12:45 p.m. I don't like this inconvenience of unchecking checked baggage, and it did cause me to board the plane after everyone else had already buckled their belts, but I understand why it all must be done, and the staff at the airport was helpful and jolly. I got multiple comments on the Emily's Lebanese Deli shirt I had on, and not just on the smell. I got on the plane and was pleased to discover that the flight was only about two hours long. And I sat next to a sleeping Chinese man who didn't want to talk to me. I could handle this.

We got to Denver at 4:05 in the afternoon. The wireless in the airport didn't work. There were birds in the terminal. I killed time until 8:10 p.m., when the last leg of the journey began. On the plane I sat next to a normal lady who'd gotten on via stand-by. On the other side of her was this really awkward young man. We all made small talk for a while, but the really awkward young man forced me to tune out fairly quickly. A few bewildered looks passed between the normal lady and myself. The plane landed at 10:50 p.m., forty-two hours and fifteen minutes after I'd originally entered Madrid's airport. As I walked down the hall toward freedom, I heard the really awkward young man remark to some helpless passer-by, "Whew! I had such a long day. I left San Francisco at 9 a.m. this morning and had a long layover in Denver. I am so tired!" I wanted to backhand him.

I exited the confines of the terminal and was swooped away by my glorious parents and Sunshine to better parts away from the airport. Thank the Lord they came.

Such ends the international scene in my life for the next month and a half. Not that pleasant of a conclusion, but everything went fairly smoothly. I was well fed and watched some good movies but wished I had brought some high octane drugs to help me sleep. Did I get a lot of frequent flyer miles? Yes. Was my personal hygiene in tip-top shape? Hardly. Would I do it again if I had the choice? Probably not. It depends on whether my thriftiness outweighs my tolerance of inconvenience. Only time will tell...