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    Tropical Storm Tour: Heading Home

    Wednesday, September 30, 2015
    Los Angeles, California

    An information counter in a China Airlines lounge at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei, Taiwan.
    An information counter in a China Airlines lounge at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei, Taiwan.

    By the time we entered Tapei airspace around 12:00 am midnight, the pilot announced there was a lot of air traffic, which meant we had to circle around the city a few times in a holding pattern. Once we did finally land, it took forever to taxi to the gate, because we kept having to stop because of the aforementioned traffic. Then, to add insult to injury, we had to wait close to half an hour at the gate before we could de-plane because the crew and equipment were not ready. Around 1:30 or 2:00 am, we finally made it into the gigantic Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport, where it was a mighty long hike–at least a half mile–to gate D1 for my connecting flight from Tapei to Los Angeles.

    Arriving there, I encountered not one hint that a flight to Los Angeles even existed. A bunch of people were crowded around the front counter questioning the clerks about the status of their flights after the recent typhoon. I waited in “line” there, which was really just a big cluster, for at least a half hour before I got to ask the clerk where my flight to Los Angeles was. She told me to go check at gate A1, which was another really long half-mile schlep through the halls of the airport. When I asked the other clerk there if she knew anything about my flight to Los Angeles, she told me that she did not work for China Airlines and knew nothing. When I asked if she knew where I could find a China Airlines staff member, she said no and rudely brushed me off as she went back to frantically shuffling a stack of papers.

    Gate A4 at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei, Taiwan.
    Gate A4 at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei, Taiwan.

    Walking all the way back down a half mile from gate D1 toward the A gates, I recalled a China Airlines lounge close by where I might be able to get some help. As the automatic huge Star Trek doors slid open, I stepped inside, only to be greeted by a chaotic scene comprised of a bunch of agitated passengers pressed up against an information counter firing off questions to the clerks about the status of their flights. After close to an hour, it was my turn at around 2:00 am. The clerk informed me that the next flight to Los Angeles would be early the following afternoon, which was about 12 hours away, and that in the interim, they would fetch my luggage and put me up in a hotel. I remained standing for a while until the clerk told me to go have a seat in the lounge and to wait until she made an announcement.

    One good thing was they had an assortment of crackers, bread, cakes and other snacks and drinks available for free. Since I was really hungry by that time, I gobbled up a whole truckload of those things. By 5:00 am, the prospects of getting a hotel room had evaporated, so I went back to the counter to retrieve my boarding pass and a statement from one of the clerks to proceed to gate D1, where my flight would depart at 1:55 pm, about seven hours away. So, I schlepped all the way back down there again, where I found one of those reclined seats designed for stranded travelers to get some shut eye. And I was lucky, too, because several people showed up right after me and claimed all of the other ones.

    As soon as I covered up with a blanket to get some shut eye, two middle-aged cleaning ladies appeared and promptly started talking very loudly–some might have described it as shouting–to each other as they picked up rubbish off of the floor and emptied the trash cans. So, nobody got any sleep for at least a half hour until they finally finished up cleaning that area and moved on to another. I woke up around 9:00 am to the strains of another cleaning lady, who was busy sweeping up with a dust pan with a broken top that made a loud, rattling noise. So, when the dust finally settled, I got around maybe three hours of sleep.

    Barbie gets pulled by a friend through Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei, Taiwan.
    Barbie gets pulled by a friend through Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei, Taiwan.

    Prying myself up off the recliner, I sauntered off with the spirit of Leonard Nimoy in search of the departures sign to see if Los Angeles had appeared yet. Nope, it sure hadn’t! When I walked all the way back to the China Airlines lounge, a new clerk repeated to me the same info from the a few hours before: my flight would depart around 1:55 pm from a different gate, A4. Then she gave me a voucher for a free meal. In the immediate area, the pickings were slim, so I settled for a weird pizza-like pastry with berries on top instead of cheese and vegetables, and a paper cup full of a sugary orange juice-like drink. It was better than nothing. I followed up that with a few more crackers from the lounge then headed all the way back down to gate A4 to see what was up.

    There were a crap ton of people–at least two or three hundred–waiting there, with a crowd pressed up against the counter badgering the three clerks at all times. A couple of different middle-aged Asian guys periodically yelled very loudly at the clerks, all to no avail. That was really lame. There was no need to yell at the clerks. They have no control over the weather! There was still no tangible info on the flight to Los Angeles, other than that it would depart at 1:55 pm. Another middle-ager, this one a super self-absorbed lady with a glitzy looking cover on her iPhone, kept shooting “sultry” selfies complete with pouty lips, some of them with me in the background. But, I caught on right away and blocked my face in all of them. I actually saw the pics as she scrolled through them. Then she moved seats and promptly tried to take some more. She was really blatant about it.

    China Airlines flight 0008 from Tapei, Taiwan to Los Angeles, California at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei, Taiwan.
    China Airlines flight 0008 from Tapei, Taiwan to Los Angeles, California at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport in Tapei, Taiwan.

    A while later, a China Airlines jet pulled in, but several people remarked how it looked way too small to hold all of us, and they were exactly right, because that jet was headed to Hong Kong, which is of course much closer than Los Angeles. Finally, around 3:00 pm, a China Airlines clerk announced that our flight to Los Angeles would be boarding over at gate D3. So, for the umpteenth time, we had to schlep another half mile across the airport. At least this time there was a little light entertainment in the form of a beautiful blonde Barbie from South Africa now living in Los Angeles who got pulled on a luggage cart by her girlfriend, who was adorably twirling her around the whole way.

    Over at gate D3, we were in for another long 90-minute wait. A really talkative guy named John from Huntington Beach sat next to me and chatted me up the whole time. He is a merchant marine who lives part of the year in Thailand and part in California. He video-called his girlfriend in Thailand, who works at a place that rents out time in those odd water immersion tanks, in which people just float and relax and / or experience sensory deprivation. Finally, at 3:00 pm, we actually got to board the jet, which was a new Boeing 777. A really funny coincidence is that John and I were seated right next to each other, which was nice, as we occasionally talked during the 11-hour flight across the specific, I mean Pacific Ocean. We each also slept at least half the way.

    I spent the other half typing this journal entry and watching a movie or two with no earbuds. I can’t wear those things because I have tinnitus and listening to loud sound makes the permanent ringing in my ears sound even louder. The two meals we were served were pretty bland, but it was, again, better than nothing. Customs inside LAX airport went slowly but smoothly. I was stoked that United States citizens still don’t have to get their fingerprints scanned in. Miraculously, my backpack appeared on the luggage carousel and when I stepped outside, it was a warm, gorgeous sunny Southern California day, which was the perfect ending to another super fun four-month trip through Southeast Asia.

    Words and photos ©2015 Arcane Candy.

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