Yuka

We’re on a flight back from Las Vegas, and I’m exhausted. When we planned the trip we had this brilliant idea that we would book six am flights and just play poker all night before flying out. Rock star. Two weeks before the trip it seemed like a great idea. At one am it seemed solid. By three it was the worst idea we’d ever had. And at five thirty, planted in seat 22C, I am too tired to care anymore. I pull my hat over my eyes and begin the intricate dance of trying to get comfortable enough to sleep in an environment that feels specifically designed to prevent it.

Eyes closed, I’m half dreaming about poker, which happens when you play for sixteen hours in a day. I feel someone sit next to me. The middle passenger has arrived. Maybe I should look over, just in case.

The airplane gods have smiled upon me. The girl next to me is around my age, pretty, and Japanese. I can’t sleep now, can I?

In Japanese, I say “You’re Japanese, aren’t you?”

She answers in English that she is. I don’t think she noticed that I spoke in Japanese. I say something else in Japanese and she’s impressed that I can speak. Japanese people are always impressed when I say things in Japanese. Chinese people never care that I say things in Chinese. It’s universal.

My fatigued brain is operating at about 10%, which means that my usual kindergarten-level Japanese has regressed significantly, and even my English is a bit strained. We chat for a little while, but eventually sleep wins me over and I pull my hat down again.

The plane lands and we chat a bit more as we taxi and walk to the train station. We should hang out. Yes, we should. My name is Tynan. My name is Yuka.

Fast forward and I’m looking out my RV window as I drive to pick her up. She’s looking for me, but wasn’t looking for a house on wheels, so she doesn’t spot me until I wave out the window. It’s her last day in the US. I describe the museum I’m planning on taking her to, and she tells me that she’s been there before but really likes it.

It strikes me that I’m feeling something I don’t feel often-selflessness. Maybe it’s because I’ve had such great experiences in Japan or maybe it’s because I feel like orchestrating her last day in San Francisco is a strange sort of honor, but for some reason I want to make sure that she has an insanely good experience today. And a museum she hasn’t been to isn’t going to cut it.

With no real plan, I drive to the beach. I like it there and she hasn’t seen it. At least she’ll see something new. We get there, park the RV by the ocean, and walk out to the sand. Yuka seems excited to see the beach, which she hadn’t visited before, but she’s so polite that I probably could have brought her to a junkyard and elicited the same reaction.

Remembering a little adventure that Todd and I went on the year before, I start walking for the cliffs. If you wait for the waves to recede, you have a few seconds to run around the corner to the next little patch of sand. You wait for another recession and run again, repeating the process until you get to the other side.

I explain the plan to her and she follows my lead and takes off her shoes. The waves go out and we run to the little sandy patch around the corner. Fun! The waves go out again and we sprint, only to find that there isn’t another sandy patch. The freezing water climbs to our knees. We laugh. The water goes back down and we continue to run forward. This isn’t like when Todd and I did it. As the waves roll towards us we realize we have nowhere to go, so we scramble up the slimy seaweed-covered rocks.

The waves are crashing against our rock, so we huddle at the top, planning our next move. We’re going to get wet whether we go forward or backwards, and I’m not sure how much farther it is to the other side.

All of a sudden there’s a scream. I look over and Yuka has slipped on the seaweed, slid down the rock, and fallen into the ocean. The look on her face is pure horror. My impulse is to jump in and save her, but I have my phone in my pocket. She stares at me, floating up to her neck in freezing sea water. I grab her hand and help pull her up.

We survey the damage. Her cotton capri pants are soaked, of course. Her exposed shins are dripping with blood. Her shirt and sweater are soaked, as is her backpack. Somehow her iPhone and camera are okay. She’s in remarkably good spirits.

“This is exciting!” she says. I admire her good attitude-the ocean is freezing in the summer. And it’s not even the summer.

We continue on with less worry about getting wet. She’s soaked and I feel almost obligated to join her in solidarity. We finally reach the other side, laughing, covered in sand, salt, and water.

I cook lunch in the RV by the ocean, something I’ve been meaning to do since finding those parking spots, but somehow never got around to before. I apprehensively try the shrimp crackers she brought me, and am surprised at how good they are.

During lunch she mentions that she’d never been to Golden Gate Park, which borders the ocean, before. We don’t have enough time to walk it, and driving it in an RV isn’t all that interesting, which leaves one option.

Getting two people on my electric skateboard isn’t easy. It’s only 36″ long, and has such a twitchy throttle that it’s nearly impossible to start with a passenger. So we develop a routine that has to be performed every time we stop. I scoot to the back, barely balancing with my two feet touching. Then I start going very slowly. She runs next to the board, grabs my hand, and jumps on. From there it’s easy.

The electric board draws a lot of attention with one person on it. Add another person and a hilarious mounting routine, and everyone we pass comments on it. Many take pictures. This makes me happy because I feel like it gives Yuka part of the American experience: drawing attention. Japanese culture, for the most part, discourages this sort of thing.

We zoom around the park, stopping to point out interesting things like the Buffalo or the polo fields, and once to feed a mole that was popping out of the ground. Seriously.

And, just as suddenly as she had fallen into the water earlier, we hit a bump and go flying off the skateboard. She’s in front of me, so I land on her, adding injury to more injury. Now I’m bleeding, too.

Later on I drop her at the train station and say goodbye. Besides having a great day myself, I’m happy to send her off with a story that I know she’ll enjoy telling her friends back in Tokyo. I can’t help but wonder what her host family will think of her walking in the door, soaking wet, bleeding, and smiling.

###

Not the most practical post, but I needed a break from programming / technical writing. Hope the story amused you.

I have a few new travel gadgets, one of which is AMAZING. Not enough has changed for the full yearly gear report, but I may do an incremental update in the next month or two-I’ve got visits to 9 countries coming up in May!

TaskSmash codes (for those of you who don’t know what these are, they’re invite codes for a social productivity site I built.)

23F37EB6

686A6B43

F1130CBD

A2573DD3

8D0566D1

439ACC3C

1F7B664A

70F1AECB

959E3034

022B3842

E3AEBF08

35A37A7A

B069A54A

7B3D3500

501C4BB4

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