As I write this, it's 9:25 p.m. EDT and The Wife are in Detroit. The rest of the Crockheads are home. I should make you wait and tell you this story in order, but I still have Monday and Tuesday to write before I get to Wednesday, and some of you probably want to skip to the end. I'll go back and fill you in on the intervening days later. Or, if the Seoul Report has been toooo loooong, just skip it.
On Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. Seoul time (Tuesday evening 9:00 p.m.) our flight was to leave Seoul for home. Or so we thought. Mr. Cha, the Bride's father, who has been so kind to us, told us he would escort us to the airport. To get there by 8:00 (two hours ahead of takeoff for international flights) we would need to leave from the airport bus pickup point several blocks from our hotel at 7:00. Mr. Cha is usually about 10 minutes early, so we headed for the hotel lobby about 6:55. No, Mr. Cha. We waited and waited and then it was a few minutes after 7:00 and no, Mr. Cha. That was very strange indeed, and then Number One Son showed up. Turns out he and Mr. Cha had been waiting for us at the hotel registration desk on the 15th floor.
We headed off for the bus pickup point at a fast walk, or in my case, as I was practicing running like the Japanese did in the airport, at a little-bitty-steppy trot. We got to the pickup point and there were the bride and her mother with an awful lot of luggage. Since some in our group were not carrying the two bag checked luggage limit, we had told her to bring everything she wants, we could take some of the bags in crockhead names. We barely got there as the bus pulled up. The driver and a helper were piling luggage into the luggage compartment when the helper let out an earth-screeching yowl and started hopping about rubbing his toe. I take it he dropped some of The Bride's luggage on his toe. Poor man. I hope Korea has workers' compensation.
As the bus was going to the airport, I started worrying. If there was a two hour requirement for international checkout that was strictly enforced we were going to be in trouble. Besides all that luggage to handle, I had to turn in two rental cell phones and get my money exchanged. It looked to me like we were going to get there a few minutes after 8:00 and were not going to be ready to check in until some time after that. I could only hope they didn't enforce the rule too strictly.
We got there, I hustled off to find the phone and currency exchange places, the rest got in the check-in line and then someone thought to check the actual time on our e-tickets. Our plane didn't leave until 11:00 a.m. We had gotten confused with the time our plane had left Illinois. So we had plenty of time. And it was good we did because there was a lot of confusion at the check in place. Three of the bags were overweight, but I gladly paid the $200 overweight penalty so that we could get the Bride moved to Illinois in one fell swoop.
When we had everything checked, had our boarding passes, we still had an hour to kill before boarding so we decided to have breakfast. But then the service was interminably long, and I started worrying again that we were going to be late to the boarding place. We made it okay; everyone got on and once again my worries had been unneeded (or maybe the worries were needed; without them we would have been late.)
Our first stop was in Neruda, Japan again where we had a two hour layover. I volunteered to watch the luggage while everyone else disappeared into the airport to buy sushi or God knows what else. Soon, it was getting near boarding time and I was the only crockhead in the boarding area. I started worrying again. The line for getting on the plane was getting longer and longer, snaking around the corner and I was just sitting there, like a fool, with a pile of luggage. I couldn't get on and leave everyone else's stuff unguarded. Finally, they showed up, with their shopping bags full of God knows what and their bellies full of sushi. Since we were in the Super Elite class of World Travelers (the Northwest frequent flyer's program) we got to bypass the long line and board right away with the Super Duper Elite First Class people. So, once again, my worries were either not needed or all that saved us from disaster.
The flight from Japan to Detroit was uneventful. It was only 11-1/2 hours long instead of the 13 hours going the other way because eastbound airplanes get the benefit of the jet stream helping push them along. Still, 11-1/2 hours is a long time to sit cramped in an airplane seat. We were right on time landing in Detroit. Note, I said "landing" not deplanning. After we landed we sat and sat and sat, at least 20 minutes before we taxied up to the terminal. No problem because we had a two hour layover before our plane took off for Champaign. So, I stopped worrying.
Big mistake. I now have definite proof that if you don't worry bad things happen. When we got to immigration, the Bride and NOS had to go in a special line because she is not yet a citizen (although she has her permanent residence visa.) That line was interminably long and interminably slow. The rest of us found everyone's luggage while NOS and The B were still in the immigration line. Since Champaign is not an international airport, we had to go through immigration and customs in Detroit. The Bride and I told the rest of the crockheads to go ahead while we waited for NOS and The B. We saw NOS use his best sales techniques to get a man ahead of him in the line to allow them to go first. Finally, when they got to the immigration man, the process didn't take long.
We had four luggage carts to carry all the luggage, grabbed the carts and ran for customs. By then our plane to Champaign had started to board but if customs didn't take too long and the run from customs to the boarding gate wasn't too long, we could still make it. After I thought we had cleared customs, one of the men sternly told us to come with him. Uh-oh. Turns out it was not a big deal, but The B. was bringing enough money into the country and had, wisely, declared it on the customs form, there were more procedures. Then he spent five minutes telling The Bride and NOS how smart they were to declare the money because if they hadn't it could have been forfeited. By the time he got done with his helpful lecture we were in serious danger of missing our last plane.
We still had to go through security, which we did in record speed and then were sprinting for the gate when The Wife got a stricken look on her face and said she left one of her carry on bags at security. So, she went back to get it while the rest of us headed for the plane. I told her we would try to talk the boarding people into holding the plane for a few minutes.
NOS, The B and I got to the boarding place and everyone but Baby Milton was already on board. I sent NOS and The B onto the plane while I tried to explain the problem to the boarding person. She said that if The Wife got there in two minutes, she could still board. I waited to see if she would make it because I didn't want to desert her by herself in Detroit if she didn't make it.
Meanwhile, the Wife had gotten lost on her way to the security place. So, she wasn't close to making it back on time. The plane was still there when she arrived, but once the doors are closed, they're closed and they don't reopen them for anyone.
But, the boarding person was very nice, particularly for a Northwest Airlines employee. "So, you were delayed by immigration?" she said (not asked.)
"Yes," and also, my wife forgot her bag at security," I said honestly and naively.
"Because if you were delayed by immigration," I can give you vouchers for a hotel room and meals and get you on a plane in the morning," the boarding person said.
Finally, understanding, I said, "Yes, we were delayed by immigration." Which we were.
So, here we are in Detroit for the night, roughly 24 hours after we left Seoul yesterday. Unless something else happens, we fly out of here at 8:54 in the morning and arrive home about an hour later. But I am not going to make the mistake again of relaxing and not worrying.