Travel: Welcome To The U.S.

I had arrived two minutes early to meet my nephew at SFO, only to discover that his flight was now running almost forty minutes late. I did the math in my head, and figured that, with baggage claims and customs, I would likely not be meeting up with him for at least another hour. At that point, I went outside and smoked a cigarette, and tried to decide if I was hungry enough to pay airport prices for something quick to eat. I was not. I put out my smoke, and wandered around the airport, trying to figure out where exactly it was that I was supposed to meet him. There didn’t seem to be anywhere that looked even remotely like where I was supposed to go. On my sixth lap of the lobby, I finally noticed some escalators off to the side, and figured since I still had plenty of time, I could afford a little exploration. I rode it down, and discovered the place that I’d been looking for. I checked the screens to see which of the exits he was most likely to wind up using, and then camped myself in front of it. After a while, I thought that it might have been a smart move to bring some paper and a pen to make a little sign, as my nephew and I had never met before, but quickly filed that line of thought away as it wasn’t particularly helpful at that moment.

12:37 came and went, and the screens still reported that the plane hadn’t even landed yet. I began jonesing for another smoke, but decided against it. Knowing my luck, they’d have landed, gotten through customs, and my nephew would be walking all around the airport (without cell service) trying to find me in the eight minutes it would have taken to get back to the designated smoking area, do my thing, and then get back to where I was supposed to be. Instead, I watched flight after flight of Koreans and Indians exit the customs gate, and was constantly bumped, nudged, and forced to move out of the way of people who did not know how to get out of the way while figuring out their next move. I pounded another Red Bull which I’d stashed in my backpack, and suddenly realized that I had no idea where to find the nearest restroom. Just then, the screen changed the status of the flight for which I had been waiting to “In Customs,” which meant that I would have to stick around, as he would be walking out of that hallway any time between right then and who knew when. I looked for a nearby seat to plop myself down upon, but the massive influx of travelers had taken that option away from me as well. I queued up behind the limo drivers with their fancy signs and tablets, and looked down at the only photo I had of this nephew whom I’d never met.

I was just about to give up when I saw someone in a fancy jacket walk into view. He looked vaguely familiar, though I was sure I’d never met him, and for a moment I felt really racist when I thought maybe all Mexicans looked the same. He walked around the roped off barrier, and then locked eyes with me again. I was almost sure that this was my nephew. He walked toward me, and I asked, “Unai?” At almost the same time, he asked if I was [Tex], and we both shared that awkward chuckle of two people meeting for the first time. I noticed he was coughing, and we both thought that he was a little parched from breathing in recycled air for the duration of his flight. I offered him my last can of Red Bull, which he pounded like a pro, and then we went off in search of a SIM card for his phone. There was a little kiosk about a hundred yards behind us, so we went to check out what nonsensical prices they were charging. The cheapest offer for what he needed was $80 for eight days, only four of which he would be needing. We decided that we could do better (and he had to grab a bottle of water), so we rode the escalator back upstairs and found the nearest shop so that he could finally be gouged in America.

He offered to buy me drink to replace the one I’d offered him, but I took a look at the price and politely declined. I wasn’t about to let him pay $6 for a twelve ounce can of Red Bull. Unai bought his water, and we walked outside so that I could smoke a cigarette. He bummed one off of me (six hours of travel will build up quite the desire), and we talked about his flight while calming the nicotine beasts inside of us. He got a security guard to take a picture of us (which, sadly, I do not possess), and then I whipped out my trusty Nikon and got one of him.

BTW, that bottle of water cost $3.29
BTW, that bottle of water cost $3.29


When our nerves were finally calmed, I led him to the BART, got him set up with his ticket, and got us onto the train. I’d been told that he’d wanted to be shown around San Francisco, but he told me that he’d rather just drop off his oversized luggage, and save the trip for another day. But I was able to show him how to transfer when we switched to the Richmond line (in case he wanted to do a little exploring on his own) at the very next station, and then spent the remainder of the ride trading stories with him. I’d been nervous that I’d be stuck with someone whom I was not allowed to ditch, and that I’d have to be nice to him, or my wife would never forgive me. As it turned out, I had a blast, and was glad that I had been able to go and meet him the airport. We got off at El Cerrito del Norte, picked up a couple of bottles of cider from Safeway, and I introduced my nephew to the AC Transit.

A short while later, we arrived in Not Quite Richmond, and make a quick detour to a different market to pick up a couple of two liter sodas. We were loaded with beverages, and the sun was beating down as we finally entered the home stretch of our journey. We got to the apartment less than ten minutes later, where Unai was practically tackled by his aunt, who hadn’t seen him for the past eleven years. Once he was settled, Flor served us all some dinner, and sat and chatted like a family until the sun the went down. Well, almost.

We did make a quick side trip to the MetroPCS store, but I’ll save that for the next post. We finished up that evening, and my sister-in-law drove my nephew back to their apartment, which had been pre-designated as his place of residence while he was visiting this time. We made plans to meet up in the morning, and I went right to sleep. After watching a couple of hours of M*A*S*H.


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