I was last in the United States in September and October of 2009. At the time I’d just wrapped up my last year working in ESL Teaching in Gwangju and was on my way to spend just over a month exploring Idaho, Oregon, Arizona, and Vegas with my then girlfriend.
Almost three years on and there are some similarities between the two trips beyond simple destination. Just like 2009, I find myself again working as an ESL teacher – albeit this time in Nanjing, China. But where I used to have to battle to get through the working days in South Korea, my life in China is of a substantially higher standard.
And, more than that, there’s also some romantic undertones to this whole trip. While the main goal of the trek is to attend the wedding of my good friends Rob & Emily in Chicago, I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a substantial part of this trip that hadn’t been planned with the express purpose of seducing a pretty girl from Maryland. Hell, it’s on my bucket list.
And while the pretty girl and I did get a cheesy movie moment when I finally touched down at Reagan International Airport in Arlington, it would be getting ahead of myself to leap straight to the kisses and dramatic spinning. Let’s step back a bit.
Oh, United Airlines how I loathe the. Let me count the ways!
Having learned the lesson that China Eastern Airways is basically the worst airline on earth the hard way, I paid a few hundred dollars more to avoid their tiny seats and bland food in favor of flying to the US with United Airlines. While they don’t necessarily have a sterling reputation themselves, I figured anything would be an improvement on my past experiences with China Eastern.
I guess I can say it was worth the extra money, but not by much.
Things got off to an inauspicious start when I noticed the comically small in flight entertainment screens. Having been somewhat spoiled in previous flights with Qantas, I was underwhelmed to see something only marginally bigger than my iPhone screen on offer. This was only worsened by learning that the sound on my screen didn’t work. There’d be no in flight movies, TV, or radio for CWB.
Not that it would have greatly improved my flight. United still use the out-dated scheme of having all movies start simultaneously, meaning you’ll miss chunks of your selection unless you’re really on the ball. I decided not to let it bother me. After all, I was travelling with my Kindle, iPad, and iPhone for company.
I drifted off almost as soon as I got on board, and was dismayed to wake up almost an hour after boarding and find us still on the ground. Hell, we hadn’t even left the gate. I can’t say where the fault for this lay though, so I’ll give United the benefit of the doubt.
We did eventually take of. Food was soon brought around and United Airlines earned their second strike. Of the four flight staff I had the dubious pleasure of interacting with, all but one of them was surly, rude, and generally disinterested in doing their job well. They snapped at passengers, talked down to them, and regularly spoke too loudly to those who perhaps had trouble understanding their rapidly spoken instructions.
The food on board was tolerable, I guess. But between the awful in flight entertainment situation and the unprofessional attitudes of the staff – it just wasn’t a pleasant flight experience. I lost myself in a good book and tried to tune the whole 14 hours out.
Fitful sleep and Jaime Lannister kept me company, and we eventually touched down at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Our late departure meant we had landed around 45 minutes later than expected – leaving me 45 minutes to get through immigration, collect my baggage (which hadn’t been checked through despite me requesting it be), and somehow get from international arrivals to domestic departures – both of which lay about 10 minutes train ride apart!
Suffice to say, I didn’t make my connecting flight. In fact, as the flight took off, I was still standing in land to have a disinterested old lady usher me through immigration with some terse questions and not even the hint of a smile. I snatched up my bag and joined a lengthy queue at the United Airlines desk to rebook my flight. I wasn’t the only one in line.
To their credit, the staff at the desk were quick to amend the situation. The guy at the desk initially tried to book me onto a 7pm flight, but I coolly reminded him that it was 6.35 and the terminal was a good twenty minute walk/run away. He quickly switched me to a 9pm flight and it was off and running again.
Cheesy Romantic Scene
Regular readers will perhaps be aware that there’s a certain pretty girl from Maryland who added fuel to the fire for this trip. While I’d always been planning to be in the US for a wedding and I would never turn down an opportunity to explore such a fascinating country, the girl in question was a big draw for me as well.
So, heart racing and feeling painfully aware of just how stinky a man can become after 17 hours in the air, I emerged from the arrivals area and saw her standing in front of me. Wearing a dress and looking so pretty I wanted to cast aside my luggage and ravage her, my host/romantic interest bounced eagerly from foot to foot as our eyes met.
The music didn’t swell and that first kiss wasn’t quite as dramatic as one might have come to expect from the movies, but there was a certain level of cheesy romance to be had as we saw one another for the first time. After three years of chatting online – first as friends and then more romantically – it was fantastic to finally have met her in the flesh.
And I’m relieved to say that – almost two weeks on – we’re still getting along like a house on fire.
Bags were collected, hands were tentatively held, and soon we were driving through the darkened streets of Arlington and en route to Annapolis.
Coming to America will always feel like coming home to me. Maybe it’s because Australian TV is so crowded with US imagery or maybe it’s because both of my visits have involved being picked up at the air port by pretty girls and living more like a local than a tourist. Maybe it’s my fascination with the United States’ patriotism and independent spirit or maybe I’m just a fatty who likes fast food.
Whatever it is, it felt fantastic to be back in the United States with five weeks of adventure and romance ahead of me. Bring it on.