Our Packing Efforts in Lima: C-
We basically didn’t do any, and still screwed it up. I called the moving guys and asked if we needed to have everything boxed up when they arrived. They said no. How about if we arranged stuff in piles? No, they said. But shouldn’t we at least bring the upstairs stuff downstairs? Again: no. So all we did was make lists of what was going to be packed and sent by boat — yes, the slow boat to China — and what was going to go with us in suitcases, and what we were going to throw away or give away or just kind of leave behind. Then we lost those lists, and ended up shipping empty tequila bottles, and carrying heavy winter coats in our suitcases, and leaving behind a stack of diapers.
Packing Guys’ Packing Efforts: A++
I’m sorry for that extra plus, but these guys were just too polite and careful and organized to be believed. They dropped nothing. They packed everything — seven cubic meters of stuff, with each ridiculous knick-knack individually wrapped — in five hours. They thanked us sincerely for the pizza, and also for the lemonade. Bravo, Packing Guys!
Farewell Parties: B+
More of them than necessary, surely, but all very nicely done, good food, good booze, limited requests for speeches. Well done, family, friends and co-workers!
Lima to Miami: B+
Attentive flight staff, no child-haters seated in our vicinity, Chloe and Thomas both slept a fair amount of the time. Congratulations, American Airlines! (By the by, I have nothing against child-haters — I used to be one — but it’s better for everybody if they’re not seated anywhere near us.) With better food this could have been an A.
Miami to D.C.: C-
Staff again attentive, only one moderate child-hater in evidence, but ‘random’ carry-on baggage searches and shoe-removal and pants-button-opening and full-body wanding (as nice as that sounds) as a response to 9-11 is — has someone already mentioned this? — totally fucking lame. We have traded a 50% decrease in human dignity for a .000000041% increase in security, folks. John Ashcroft, I hope someday I’m your waiter, and I hope you order the soup. Also, Chloe stomped on my feet the whole trip.
D.C. to Chicago: E-
Another search, snotty flight staff, child-haters in abundance, the works. Hey, Mr. Tall Brown-Haired Condescending Asshole United Airlines Flight Person, the only reason you didn’t find a loaded diaper tucked away in the seatback in front of me is because I couldn’t be totally sure that you’d be the one to plunge a finger in.
O’Hare Airport: A-
Saying goodbye to your wife for two weeks just sucks, but Lu had to head straight for Beijing to take her post, and I wanted to hang with my folks for awhile, so we didn’t have any choice, and this goodbye was as brief and businesslike as can be imagined, and I will forever be grateful. Also, the food and coffee at airports is so much better than it used to be — don’t think we haven’t noticed, Airport People!
Chicago to San Francisco: B-
Yet another search, this time a double, both at the wing entrance and at the gate. George W. Bush, I have now dropped partial trou for you a dozen times, and what do you have to show for it? Nuttin’. Shitheaded flight staff nicely offset by actively friendly and helpful fellow passengers fore and aft.
San Francisco Airport: A-
United Airlines managed to lose the stroller that we strolled to the very door of the aircraft in Chicago, (though of course they brought the strollers sitting to either side), and upon arrival Chloe had had about enough of traveling and small spaces, so she ran around and around and around, with Adela (our nanny), carrying Thomas, chasing her as best she could, while I wrestled our six full-sized 70-pound bags off the carrousel and stacked them beside our five carry-ons. But then: how to get everything and everyone to the rental car place? Impossible. Also: stupid and pointless. So instead of even trying, I parlayed the missing stroller into a guilt trip on Very Nice Missing Baggage Man, and he assigned me a short but strong Filipino man, who got all our luggage onto a big cart and then just hung out with Thomas and Adela, watching the luggage, while Chloe and I took the Air Train (Bonus Points for Excellent Name: 2) to the rental car place, where Very Cool Avis Counter Woman upgraded us to a bigger minivan for no extra charge, and threw in a free second child seat. Back at the airport, Short but Strong Man and Similarly Short But Strong Friend loaded everything into the minivan, and I over-tipped them (or possibly under-tipped them — how much does one tip these days? Counting the wait? I gave them twenty bucks each, which seemed like a lot considering that they weren’t actual sky-cab guys but more sort of janitors or something, but maybe it wasn’t even enough) and we’re off.
San Francisco to Potter Valley: A
Only thing keeping this drive from being an A+ was that Adela fell asleep while I was describing the marvels of the redwood forests farther north. They really are something.
Potter Valley: B+
Some great times had, some weird times had. Mom and Dad were terrific, though a little more easily annoyed with schedule disruptions and juice spills than I expected. Also, me screwing up the pancake batter one morning somehow got turned into Murder One, and they were never quite sure how to treat Adela. But the weather was mainly gorgeous, and my sister and her family came over for the long weekend, which was excellent, Chloe playing with her cousin Alex, them sticking popsicles in each others’ ears, etc. Family drove from all over for a dinner that was superb all around. I went golfing with some friends from my folks’ church, and shot in the low seventies — good thing I only played the front nine. Chloe got in some naked croquet on the front lawn, and the hills and oaks and deer and quail and beer were just exactly what they needed to be. And I only had to kill the one rattlesnake — sorry about that, little dude, but my priorities are different these days.
Imaginary Internet Friends Who Actually Put You Up In Their Real-life House in San Francisco: A+
You are the splendidest.
San Francisco to Tokyo: A-
This flight was graded on a very steep curve, because any ten-hour stretch with two babies is, by definition, going to just absolutely bite. That is: of course we had the stupid fucking bag search/shoe removal/wanding/ pants-opening experience. (And will someone please explain why we keep getting dinged like this? I’m not talking about failing the metal-detector test and then getting wanded, but about consistently having tickets that somehow pre-select us for wanding. Is there some new Terrorists-with-Toddlers profile we’re fitting?) And of course the kids got cranky and bored and noisy at times. But our seating arrangements were dreamlike: to the far left, Guy Who Slept the Entire Time; then an empty seat; then Adela and Thomas, so Thomas got his own seat to sleep in; across the aisle, in bulkhead seating we hadn’t even requested, me, then Chloe, then two empty seats, then Friendly Guy Who Loves Kids. All this on a flight that was really pretty full. And the staff was kind-hearted and competent, and the food was good, considering. Only big downer: Chloe used up her last three diapers during a brief spate of diarrhea — the result of Dad being too profligate with the Gummy Bear bribes — while we were still six hours away from Beijing. Fortunately, just then the Benadryl kicked in, and she slept until we arrived in Tokyo, and there, while waiting for United to declare our stroller definitively lost, again, I casually mentioned to a Chinese-American couple, also with two toddlers and a lost stroller, that I urgently needed to find somewhere to buy diapers, and did they know anywhere in the airport that I could find some. Of course, being nice, they loaned us several.
Tokyo Airport Bathrooms: A++
Not to get all hyper about it, but these were the coolest bathrooms I’ve ever been in. Adjustment knob thing on each faucet such that you can choose the temperature of your water down to the last degree, ample if weird foamy soap, warp-speed hand-dryers, multiple baby-changing tables even in the Men’s Room… Well done, Tokyans! Also, got a chance to pay back a favor, as the Chinese couple’s youngest toddler spit chocolate milk all over the dad, and I’d brought along a spare shirt, so I gave it to him and it was way too big but still looked better than the one with the chocolate milk.
Tokyo to Beijing: A+
I don’t remember a thing, meaning I must have slept the whole way, so it was terrific.