tirsdag, september 26, 2006

The Six-Week Limp

Penned 14 hours ago over a Sapporo draft in Tokyo's Narita Airport:

I’ve made it as far as the airport. And I broke a foot to get here. Seriously.

While running for the Narita Express in Shinagawa Station with only 2 minutes between my connecting train’s arrival and the Express’s departure, I felt a pop on the outside of my right foot. As I’ve had this same break twice before it’s old hat. A crappy hat, but a familiar one. One must remember now not to lift the toes. That’s about all. And one must wait six weeks for the ache to subside. Dammit.

But if you’re to break a bone, I’d recommend a small fracture on the outside of your foot up towards the pinky toe. It’s annoying, but it doesn’t pulse and is useless to cast. All in all, not horrible.

Plus, you gain the sort of bone barometer that will allow you to say in your old age, “There’s a storm a-comin’.” Hey: Perk.

The whole day has just been bonkers. I had the same dream twice last night: a faceless woman and I were talking about strange striping that had crept into my hair. The lower ends were blonde, the middle black, the top brown. When I pulled at my hair for a sample, a large tuft of this striped hair came out along with some maggots and mud. Even the faceless woman was grossed out.

I woke up. I went back to sleep. I dreamt it again, woke, and stayed awake. I tried to reread from Pychon’s Crying of Lot 49, but it seemed noiser than even Shibuya. I couldn’t keep a bit of it in my head. It was like a literary Pachinko parlor.

And then it was 10 and I had to get to Shibuya Station. The morning commute was thinning, but I still had a crowd to battle as I huffed and hoofed it like a pack mule up flights of stairs to the third level where the JR connections to the airport depart. I needed to get to Shinagawa Station, at which point I’d change trains for the Narita Express, which had stopped at Shibuya Station up until 14 minutes prior to my ticket purchase. So I had to connect at the next major stop.

This was not an easy feat as the platform is at the top of the station and way the hell away from the normal madness. You scale the stairs in the commuter sea. You walk down a rather long corridor, down more steps (because you’ve gone up so many). There is no one for information but other passengers.

So I get to the platform and find that I’ve missed the Shinagawa train. It’s closing in on 10:30. That’s how long it took to get to the platform: 20 minutes.

I take the escalator up to the ticket turnstile and ask the fare adjustment agent what train I need. “Go to Osaki,” he says. “Platform 4.”

I turn to see the Platform 4 train arriving in two minutes. Back down the escalator. I look up at the platform route marker and see Osaki, yet it isn’t part of the Narita route. It’s a totally different line.

Here’s where one must trust that young businessmen in Japan know a bit of English and that if they do not, they very well may identify someone nearby who knows enough to issue directions. I walked up to one man and asked for his help. He was about 32, my age. He had a sharp suit and an easy manner of waiting. He fit the description.

“I need to get to Narita,” I said.

“Narita,” he says. “You must go to Shinagawa.”

He stared at my ticket.

I added, “They say Osaki.”

“Yes!” he says. Now he has it for me. “Osaki. Then you change trains. You go one station to Shinagawa. One station. And then you take…” he looked up. His eyes blinked rapidly. He said, “Thirteen. That will be your Narita track. In Shinagawa.”

“Shibuya to Osaki. Change trains,” I said. He nodded. “Osaki to Shinagawa. Change trains.” He nodded. “Shinagawa to Narita.”

The train to Osaki would leave at 10:35. My Express ticket was good for the 10:50 departure. Start the Run Lola Run music!

“Yes,” he said. “I take you to Osaki, okay? And show you where to go for Shinagawa.”

This is both typical and wonderful about Tokyo.

So we boarded the train together and talked. He apologized for his English. (All Japanese apologize for speaking good English.) He’d been to the United States once, eight years ago, for his honeymoon. They went to Los Angeles and Hawaii.

“Hawaii!?” I said. I was incredulous. I was jealous.

“Yes, it…it…Hawaii is very nice,” he said. His smile remained and he looked to the side both puzzling through some English—his lips moved—and remembering the trip.

He wanted to know what I found most interesting in Japan. I told him the trains. I told him the way people were kind to one another. I told him people laughed a lot in Japan, that they understood how to be happy. “I’m very comfortable here,” I told him. “I’d like to have a longer stay in the future.”

“My company,” he said, “they have offices in California. So maybe I can go back to California again.”

“Maybe for your tenth anniversary,” I suggested. (US Board of Tourism! I’ll take my check now, thank you.)

He laughed. “I think my wife will say the money is too much.” He made a joyous gesture of handing out money everywhere.

Osaki arrived and we queued for the escalator, at the top of which I had to muscle my bags up another short flight of stairs. (Being a mule or sherpa must suck.) The businessman pointed towards a down escalator to another platform.

“I’m going this way,” he said, motioning to the exit gates, “but you go there. You will get to Shinagawa. One stop.”

I still had two good feet. I was full of hope. Talking with him had been such a nice break from the frenzy. I thanked him, and as we parted he smiled magnificently and patted me lightly on the shoulder and said, “Okay. Good friends.”
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