I’m currently camping out in the air terminal of Andersen Air Force base in Guam. Why Jing, what are you doing there? Shouldn’t you be home in Japan, snuggling with your Jose and your precious baby treasure cat? Well, I’mon a non-traditional vacation. This vacation is not constrained by silly things like dates or a game-plan, but involves more improvisation and camping. I’m trying to Space-A travel to my hometown of Virginia Beach.
For my non-military fans, let me explain what Space-A is. Space Availability travel allows military members and their dependents to hop on military flights for free. In essence, you’re a legal stowaway. How it works is that you hang out in an air terminal somewhere, put your name on a magical list, and wait for the flight you want to come. If it has seats, and you are high enough on the list, then you can climb aboard and fly off into the wild blue yonder. Downside, if your plane breaks or mission plans change, you’re stuck waiting somewhere for an indefinite period.
My space-A-dventure began at Yokota a few short days ago. Jose got the day off to sit and wait with me, but I’m at the bottom of a very long list. Lots of families move or go on vacation in the summertime, and with airplane ticket prices to the states being over $1000, everyone wants a free flight home. Including me. I’ll sit and wait, baby. I didn’t get the first flight, but the second was leaving at 3:00 in the morning. Showtime 2:00 am. Oh yes, I’m there. I am so Amazing Race.
I drove two hours to Yokota without Jose this time and arrived at the terminal just when they opened the doors. No luck getting on the early one. But while waiting, one observes an interesting dynamic among prospective passengers. Some are anxious, some are optimistic, most are tired and some are running around the terminal like crazy people (they are kids). Others are information junkies, and like to speculate about the condition of the planes and other details they can’t possibly know anything about. Others are grumpy, others annoyed, still others are friendly and like to chitchat. Everyone’s got a story, and a destination.
When they read the list of passengers that can get on the plane, it’s called Roll Call. Roll Call is almost like listening to a raffle. You are desperately hoping to hear your name, even when there is little logical possibility that you will get it. At Yokota, people gather around the desk, and a man who speaks barely discernible English reads a list of names poorly on a crackly speaker even when there are plenty of native English speakers standing all about. One by one the heads of families come forward giddily and say yes or no, and every time someone doesn’t respond, a few voices in the crowd prod the voice to move on to the next name. At the end, the happy, lucky passengers go off to check their bags, while the disappointed wander away to ponder upon their next possibility of a flight.
About 4:00 am on the first day, a flight came for Guam and Hawaii. However, only 15 passengers could continue on to Hawaii, and 15 passengers could go to Guam. I managed to get a seat to Guam, and as I walked up to the counter, I wondered if I should take it. Would I have a better chance of getting home from Guam? It is slightly closer. But what if I got stuck for a week? It could be expensive to stay in Guam. I asked the passenger terminal guys for advice, but they had none to offer. I didn’t want to call Jose at 4:00 in the morning just to ask him what I should do. And so, in mere seconds, I thought about what my trip should be like. And I thought, it should be an adventure! I slapped my passport down and said to the amused passenger terminal Airmen, “What the hay! Let’s do this!”
Four hours later, I was in Guam. Turns out, there are a lot of people waiting here too. But, on the nice side, the terminal is always open and has a deli attached that is always open. I’ve been camping out here, made friends with fellow travelers, and even got to work out and go to Mass today. I also got to take my first shower in two days, which is a huge relief to me (and other terminal occupants, I’m sure.) Even on the way back from the gym, a nice guy pulled over and gave me a ride back to the terminal. Turns out he was the base deputy commander. And besides, Guam is lovely.
And so I prepare for another night curled up in a chair, hopeful that tomorrow will bring me a chair on one of those flights on its way to mainland America. Motherland of mine, here I come.