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I met Sherry, Ann, Paula, Kathy, Jeanne and Kirsten at 8:30 for the hotel breakfast buffet. We broke bread together for the last time. And then, off to my ride:


I left Shanghai tomorrow and arrived today in Chicago, ten minutes after I left. Actually, we left Shanghai at 4:05 PM on 10/31/08 and arrived in Chicago at 4:15 PM on 10/31/08. Cue up Cher: If I could turn back time...

I had an aisle seat on the way back, and to the right of me an Indian couple occupied the middle and window seat. She was in her sari and he was in his turban. As soon as I sat down I said to them, "Feel free to wake me up if I'm asleep whenever you need to get out. I won't mind at all. Just nudge me."

They thanked me, and the man told me he was "a heart patient," and so he'd need to get up at least once every four hours to allow some circulation in his legs. Then he said to his wife, who was in the window seat, "Why don't you let him have that seat?"

"That's okay," I said, "Actually, I'd like to keep my aisle seat. I have a bum knee, and I want to be able to stretch it out in the aisle if I need to," and then added, "This getting old stuff is a bitch." To which he replied, "It sure is." Right before we rolled back, he got up and took an aisle seat that was open in the middle section of the plane; in fact, it was right next to Paula from our delegation.

So, an aisle seat with an empty seat between me and the lady in the window seat now for our twelve-hour flight. Sweeeet. I noticed that she was reading Kite Runner, and I said to her, "That is one of my all-time favorite books." She said she was loving it, and asked me if I'd read the author's next book, about which I'd heard, but hadn't read. "It's even better than this one," she said. "You must read it."

At the very beginning of the flight, for between an hour and an hour-and-a-half straight, we had severe turbulence. I'm talking the kind of turbulence that has the food cart rolling around in the galley area, and at one point shaking so much that a huge bottle of water tipped out of an ice bucket and rolled on the floor, while the flight attendants could do nothing but sit in their seats displaying a face that said, "We experience this all the time. It's not big deal. I'm totally calm, as all of you should be." Yeah, right.

My final bilingual drink on the plane:



In spite of that precarious beginning, however, after traveling over 6,000 miles, we had the most incredibly smooth touchdown ever.



Most ridiculous thing overheard at O'HARE:

Lady to perfect stranger: "I've been traveling since midnight my time."

Uh, your time? Do you own a time zone? Do we know where or when you started your trip? Thanks so much for your sentence with no meaning.

Immigration was a breeze. In fact I saw three, count them, three, immigration officers actually smile, and the one who processed me said nodding at my t-shirt, "Grammar police. What's that all about?"

After explaining it, he said, "Well, I'd like to think my grammar is good." I was impressed that he even cared.

After a ridiculously long wait for our luggage, I retrieved my checked-in bag even though it was checked through to Raleigh-Durham, took it through customs, and then re-checked it without having to go through any kind of line.

After changing terminals, and unfortunately having to go through the carry-on security line again, I got to the top of the escalators by my gate to face a food court. I walked in there to see if there was a place selling "Chicago-style" hot dogs. One of the food stores in there was a Chinese food place, and I said, "Ugh," and veered away from it.

I ended up having a sesame seed bagel instead, and then went whoring for an outlet, which turned out to be an incredibly fruitless search. There were some outlets here and there that looked like outlets, but when you got close to them they were some weird twisted thing that didn't except regular plugs. I had to double check to make sure I was in America. The adapters and converters are all packed away.

I found a very inconvenient one by a currency exchange booth, and sat on the floor to recharge my laptop. I think my battery must be dying. All during this trip, including on the plane on the way back, my battery slowly drains as I'm using it to between 50% and 55% power left, and then just like that (insert finger snap here) it drops down to 4% in the red zone, displays the message that power is low, to save and power off, and then when I hit shutdown, right before Windows completes closing, it automatically goes into hibernation mode.



My flight from Chicago to Raleigh-Durham was uneventful, if you ignore the four people that came on the plane at the very last minute, who were dressed up for Halloween in bicyclist outfits (one complete with the Lycra shorts and a helmet), and spoke so damn loud the whole way back that I could hear every word of their conversations from five or six rows ahead of them. Thank god for iPods and earbuds.

I had a window seat, 13A (which I chose way back when I booked my flight) and the two women who sat in the middle and aisle seats talked to each other the whole way back.

I was falling asleep, and at one point, I put my seat back, only to have it violently shaken by the guy behind me, who said (after the shaking), "I'm sorry, but my legs are too long for you to put your seat back."

I'm not quite sure how I feel about that. In some way it smacks of, "My poor planning has become your emergency." I mean would it be acceptable if an obese person sitting next to me said, as his or her girth was taking up half my seat, "I'm sorry. I'm too fat for you to have your entire seat." I'm thinking this guy should ask for a seat just behind the bulkhead when he travels rather than denying me the amenities that come with the ticket I paid for.



I landed to the newly opened, in fact opened since I left, "Terminal 2." While I waited for Joe outside baggage claim, a minivan pulled up, out of which two kids came running toward their grandparents, who were just to the right of me. The boy had a bag of Halloween candy, and when he showed it to grandpa, grandpa grabbed it and ran with it, with the grandson chasing after him. I watched, thinking, "I would love to have a piece of that candy."

After they got the grandparents' bags in the car, and the grandparents were in, right before closing the door, the little boy ran over to me, opened his bag, and said, "Would you like a piece of candy?"

"I sure would!" I said, and then, "What do you have in there? Ah, Milk Duds. I love those! Okay to take one of them?"

"Sure!" he said, and I responded with, "Thanks, buddy. You're very kind. Happy Halloween."



Joe and I headed right to Flex, where it was Costume Contest Night. After that, we made a stop at Legends, and then onto IHOP, with Henry, for a ridiculously late/early breakfast. I had Pigs-in-a-Blanket, and the pancakes were pumpkin-flavored. Killer!

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