Homeward bind

Scott Gardner

As the fall term winds down, spring break draws near, and foreign teachers across Japan make plans to revisit the places of their upbringing (or to get farther away than they already are), I am reminded of the immortal words of Thomas Wolfe: “You can’t go home again...for less than $700 one way.” Or, as my travel agent usually puts it: “You can’t go home again through San Francisco, but you can connect through LA and Denver.”

At the airport I hear other variations on the adage, like “You can’t go home again with more than one checked bag, unless you want to pay $35 for each extra.” I’ve been tempted to pack myself as extra luggage for 35 bucks and save at least $665. But there’s something about going home in a bag that doesn’t sound appealing.

I was looking at flight rates online recently, and one airline was offering a premier travel plan it called “The Works.” For a slightly higher fee, I could check in two bags, stand in a shorter line at the ticket counter, and get a guaranteed “neighbor-free” seat on the plane. Either that means my seat would be somewhere up in the tailfin, or it means they would physically remove the person in the seat next to mine so I could be alone. I wonder if the flight attendants on this airline are burly, hair-gelled guys with dark suits and sunglasses: “D’yez want coffee, tea, or Da Woiks?”

I don’t want to pay for so-called “premier” international flight service, because a) I’m stingy, and b) no matter how royal the treatment, I’ll still end up sleeping in my clothes with a bunch of strangers for six hours. It’s not worth it. In fact, to save money, my wife and I often give up one whole day of our vacation by flying to Seoul and sitting there at the airport waiting for our cut-rate airline connection to somewhere else. Passing time in Incheon airport is not all that difficult. There are hourly traditional Hangul culture parades, which you can either appreciate on their own or turn into a betting game. For instance, after watching two or three parades go by, you can wait for the next one and bet on whether the performer in the red dopo is going to wear his fake beard this time or not.

Or you can play the Flight Numbers game. Players watch the departures board and try to associate a given flight number with some other number that is significant and verifiable in the realm of human knowledge (a historic date, a famous statistic, etc.). While playing this game with my wife last year I found an easy one: Flight 1066. “OK, what’s so special about that number?” she asked. “Don’t you know?” I scoffed. “Anyone with a reasonable knowledge of British history would instantly recognize 1066 as the month and year (October, 1966) that Jimi Hendrix purchased his first Marshall amplifier in London.” She called for a “challenge”, which meant a Wikipedia check, but my smartphone was running low on batteries, and she didn’t want to look it up herself. So she ceded victory to me after the first round and wandered off to find a Hangul culture parade.

Those parades are just one of many reminders that our idyllic experiences and feelings of long ago are gone forever and cannot be reclaimed, except as orchestrated parades of memories. Red dopos don’t sell at Nieman Marcus anymore. Hendrix is dead, along with most of the Marshalls he thrashed. The past is past, and the present has booked one-way tickets to the future. “You can’t go home again.” And even if you can, you absolutely, positively cannot sleep in those old Captain America pajamas that your mom keeps in the trunk at the foot of your bed.