Monday, March 19, 2012


It has become very obvious that the cultures of my "home" country, the United States and the country I am visiting (Japan) are far varied in attributes and habits. I first came to Japan approximately 40 years ago, as a buyer for the Six Flags amusement park company. I found a society based on respect, high moral character and reverence for elders, along with valued historical traditions. This largely remains today, with few exceptions.

Driving is an adventure and other drivers defer to oncoming traffic, if not allowing a turn would back up traffic or cause a roadblock. When this happens, "every" driver" thanks the other person, allowing the driver to "break" in line. There is no "cutting you off" on the freeways and toll roads. There are many small streets and decisions have to be made as to who either pulls over or backs up, to prevent the emminent collision. They politely bow to each other and the driver that has the easiest task to perform, usually makes the extra effort.

The population is healthy beyond belief and walks to all mass transportation stations, shopping sites and are more than likely walking 10 miles a day per person. The diet is healthy and with the walking they live long lives and continue to walk and exercise all day. On the trains you can hear a pin drop as it is disrespectful to yell or talk loud and it presents a calming effect, unknown in my home country. Young people rise and offer their seats for the elderly. The population is more concerned with whether others are put in situations that they would deem inconvenient as opposed to self gratification.

Children walk alone at the age of five and six and are completely safe, as the crime rate is insignificant in this country. The habits, activities and customs are based on logic and common sense, without overbearing regulations that constrict business or life. An example, is last night we ate at a sushi place, that has a conveyor belt which carries the individual sushi plates by all tables. If I was at home, no health department in the country would allow this exposure (there would be a huge sneeze guard, just in case someone sneezed or coughed on the food).

In Japan they understand that would be unacceptable and wear masks to keep their mouths and noses covered if sick or to prevent illness. In addition, at home in my country, I am sure that there would be mischievous acts performed on the sushi, as it passed by tables of unsupervised children. These acts would be inconceivable in Japan. All Japanese children understand discipline and are very reserved in public, regardless of their age.

Conversations are literal and one doesn't fear they may be shammed into believing something that isn't true or misled into accepting a situation that is entirely wrong in nature (basically being defrauded by lies). That does not enter the minds of the Japanese population in most cases. They are honest and open in their thoughts and conversations. It is a culture of peace and tranquility and are very concerned with what impression is being left with others.

Being in this culture, has made me realize the enormous change we as a free society have made, since my youth. In my youth our country was respected by the entire world and looked up to by other countries as a leader in all aspects. Now we expect our government to subsidize our lives and in most cases place our needs and wants before those of our neighbors, friends and relatives. It is a sad commentary and I completely understand why Josh has made the decision to move to Japan and adopt the culture of this country. Hold on, have fun and enjoy the ride my son! Thank God for Google+.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Trip to Tokyo

Kim and I started, with the best of intentions and hired a shuttle to get us to the airport. We needed to be there two hours early, so they told us they would pick us up at 3:05 AM. Needless to say, we didn't get a great deal of sleep. The shuttle arrived early and picked up one additional person and the driver knew we would be early, so he stopped and let us get coffee at a Speedy Stop (chain I used to run). It was so hot it scalded Kim and my mouths. Great start!!! We arrived at the airport at 4:00 AM, not the 5:00 AM we thought. It wasn't even open. Checked in and went to the gate and waited an eternity (about three and a half hours), until our flights took off.
My American Airlines flight went to DFW and then Chicago. Kim met her Mom in Los Angeles and went straight there. I began to worry in Dallas, as I had about 50 minutes for the connection in Chicago and the crew was 15 minutes late, on their gate transfer. We boarded and do you think they checked the engine out when the crew was late? Oh no, that had to be done "after" the pilots arrived (another 30 minute stall). I kind of got the feeling I wasn't going to make my connection at that point. The stewardess asked me if I wanted something to drink and I said no just wanted to make my connection to Tokyo.

I then received an attitude the rest of the time I was on board. Only one of the stewardesses was civil, after my statement. She told me about an hour out that we still could make it. As we arrived in Chicago we were sent into a circling pattern for another 30 minutes because of "weather issues" earlier in the day. That did it and we landed 16 minutes after the Tokyo flight took off. I was told by the gate attendant to proceed to gate #K6 and get with the schedule people. When I arrived at gate #K6 I discovered it was actually a phone and computer bank, with no actual people to discuss the situation with.

I called the posted number and the lady told me she could get me on the same flight the next day and I would have to go to a live gate attendant to receive a hotel voucher,"if they determined it was a mechanical issue". She  told me she had sent instructions to pull my bag, to the baggage claim center and to go to the #6 area. I went to the next gate attendant and she gave me a hotel voucher, a dinner voucher for $12 and a breakfast voucher for $7. I thought okay that should be good. She then told me the baggage area that the phone lady was sending me to had been changed and I was to go to baggage claim area #5.

I went downstairs and the guys running the baggage center told me "No it will be on #4 baggage claim area and could take 45 minutes to pull". After an hour I went back to the baggage center and talked with a different guy. He told me that no one had contacted the guys in the back to pull my bag. So the lady on the phone, the gate attendant and his co-worker didn't make contact with anybody? HHMMM?? He told me it would be out in the next 30 minutes and if not, to come back and see him. After 25 minutes (a total of 85 minutes) I finally got my bag. "Go outside and look for the hotel shuttles".

Ask transportation guy outside of airport "where is hotel shuttle"? About 2 miles that way (pulling my bags and carrying my back pack, etc). By this time I was ready to kill someone. I get to the hotel shuttle area across from the Hilton finally and the shuttle actually got there within about twenty minutes. So...I arrived in Chicago about 1:36 PM and it was now about 4:30 PM.

I was exhausted by the time I finally arrived and checked in at the hotel. Went downstairs and asked the lady if they took my dinner voucher. "Yes sir". Open menu and cheapest item is $21. So if I take a taxi or I order at the restaurant I am out money. Looked at breakfast menu and nothing costs under $15 so I plan to eat breakfast at the airport.

Got to airport three hours early. I wasn't taking any chances. Bought a bagel with cream cheese and a water ($7.39). All I had was a $10 bill (for extra $.39) and cashier got furious, in addition to not knowing how to ring the coupon. Supervisor told her I don't have time to get my overring key, so just make it a paper overring. Cashier doesn't speak English well enough to interpret. Thank goodness I speak a little Spanish.

Loaded and got on plane. Flight is 12.5 hours from Chicago to Tokyo! Filling out customs form and I pull out money to count (like I have over $10K I am bringing in). My lucky silver dollar falls between seat and connection between seats. No one can find. My lucky silver dollar was given to me on my wedding day, 33 years ago.

Tell stewardesses I am not leaving plane without my silver dollar. All customers exit plane and two maintenance guys come on board and look at me like I am stupid (maybe by this time I am). They find my dollar after 10 minutes of tearing apart the seat, etc. Fly through immigration and customs and there is my son Josh with Kim and her mother. All is well now!!!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

An Untimely Death

Reflecting on the recent shooting of teenagers, where three of the teens passed away after the event, made me stop and think about the untimely death of my mother. How it played on my mind and those of my family, has never been lost with time. I sincerely pray that no parent has to suffer such a traumatic occurrence.
Most of all, I will never forget my grandmother wailing in our parent's bedroom, that a "child was never supposed to go before their parent". She uttered these words time and time again. It became embedded in my heart and sunk in my brain. It will never go away. I cannot fathom the loss of a child and being a very brittle person, I am sure I would crack up, if I experienced such a tragedy.

My mother went in for a "normal" surgery to have scar tissue cleaned up from her spine, as it was pinching nerves and causing extreme pain (a trait that all generations have inherited, including my brothers and our sons, I am sorry to say). I stopped by the hospital to say hi, on my way to Dallas to visit my boss for dinner. I look back and wish I would have stayed, rather than leaving and shared more time with her. I will never shed the guilt of this event and in my mind, taking it so lightly.

The call came at 3:00 AM and my father told me at that my mother had passed and I was to contact my brothers and let them know. I was still in shock when I called George in Austin, to tell him and couldn't raise Pat, so I dressed and drove to his house to let him know. No one answered my knock. Thank God I knew his bedroom and which window to bang on, as he shared a house with two other guys.

From then on my brothers and I consumed mass quantities of alcohol and somehow got through the ordeal of "planning" out the funeral with our Dad. That is a horrible thing to do after a loved one passes and everyone should make arrangements ahead of time and not have your family suffer through this. I actually walked out of the casket display room, where the samples were kept and would not, could not and did not participate in this function.

The day of the funeral came and we had the service. At the cemetery when I placed my rose on her casket (we each decided that putting a yellow individual rose on her casket, before they placed her in the ground, would be appropriate as she loved yellow roses) and I somehow pricked my finger with a thorn. The blood flowed and I took this as a sign that she somehow was aware, I had laid the rose on her casket.

In the limo Pat and I broke completely down and George and my father were steadfast and helped Pat and I from falling completely apart. After all, we had to face the family back at the house. George's time came later. I am not sure about my father, except for during the "planning" session when he literally fell apart one afternoon.

My grandmother again started her statements about a "child was never supposed to go before their parent", when we got home and suffered a stroke a few years later, before a second stroke that literally left her in a vegetative state for two more years. I know down deep that my mothers untimely death more than likely aided these events.

For at least 10 years or so, my personality changed on the eve of my mother's death and my poor wife had to suffer through this for years and years. I would fall apart each year thinking about her untimely death, her dying at such a young age and my guilt at not staying. Each year I think about it on September first and it becomes more and more easy to digest as the years pass. As I sit here on the two year anniversary of my father's death, I am thankful I had the memories of this fabulous woman that I have. I still miss you Mom!