Territories No One Wants in Risk

by Eli Hodapp

Today is my first day of actual travel in what feels like entirely too long. I was at O’Hare’s international Terminal by 10:00 AM, nearly two and a half hours before my flight took off. I was there so early that there was no one in line, and checking in before everyone else on my flight afforded me the benefit of sitting on an aisle in a row with an empty center seat. Pretty primo, if I may say so myself.

Stepping back a bit, my first experience with Korean Air this morning was scratching my head while looking at the above sign, apparently forbidding chain saws. I suppose every sign exists for a reason, although I’m not entirely sure if Korean Air has had such a massive problem with people checking chain saws that it necessitated a sign or if they’re just thumbing their nose at the similar domestic airline signs that specifically forbid Loony Toon-style rockets, backyard barbecue propane tanks, and other ridiculous things I’m pretty sure no one has brought to an airport ever.

I regret not asking.

Not really knowing what the deal would be with food on the plane and whether my scheme to request a diabetic meal would sufficiently satiate my zero-carbohydrate needs I figured I’d grab some form of sub-par airport breakfast. Since O’Hare’s international terminal basically feels like a jail you’re spending thousands of dollars to be in, their food pickings are slim. You’re essentially looking at McDonalds or weird over-priced no-name pizza place. So, I opted for McDonalds.

I’ve read about the confusion that takes place at fast food places when you order things without a bun, but I’ve never experienced it until today. All I wanted was some meat and cheese, so I ordered a double quarter pounder, plain, sans bun. This lead to a ten minute long explanation of what I meant by no bun, why I didn’t want a bun, and how crazy eating a slice of processed American cheese sandwiched between two burger patties for breakfast was- A point I conceded.

My burger bowl definitely got some looks as I sat there eating it, but, whatever.

I finished up my food and headed to security, since the international terminal’s food court is actually outside the security checkpoint- Another thing that makes no sense about this arm of O’Hare. It’s good that I stopped to get McDonalds as apparently there was some massive security drama that stopped the whole checkpoint. Allegedly, some woman was bringing a sandwich bag full of powdered boric acid in her carry-on and it spilled everywhere when it set off the machines. I’m not sure why you’d bring boric acid on a plane, but, I suppose boric acid woman would feel equally confused if she saw me with my burger bowl.

I did my normal invasive pat down procedure instead of getting blasted with radiation, and had a pretty friendly TSA agent who was very proud of himself for catching someone with a boot knife they somehow forgot about. According to him, that’s apparently fairly normal, as a shocking number of people somehow have missed the memo that it’s not acceptable to carry your knife with you at an airport- And somehow don’t realize this until they’re getting frisked.

Once I made it through security I bought a bunch of water and almonds then headed to my gate only to witness the same hilarious division that always seems to take place in international travel in how ridiculously easy it is to spot Americans. When I picked up on this a few years ago, I always try to dress nice while traveling, but the contrast between incredibly proper Korean men and women along side proudly branded plus sized Pink sweatpants is as jarring as ever.

I’ll be curious if Americans in Asia are as bad as they are in Europe.

All of the Koreans I had the pleasure of dealing with today were remarkably friendly and overly polite, almost on the verge of being creepy. The plane was incredibly nice, the guy who sat next to me was pleasant, as was the person on the other side of the aisle. The man in front of me even asked me if it was OK every time he leaned his seat back. It’s strange how these little things that seemingly take so little effort to just be nice to other people you don’t know feels so… Foreign.

The stewardesses on Korean Air are dressed super-smart, with levels of attention to detail when it came to how their uniform was kept to how their hair was done that was just out of this world. I’m talking not even a single loose strand of hair out of place, I have no idea how they manage to stay so insanely proper over the course of a fourteen hour intercontinental flight.

I felt sort of bad for doing the whole diabetic thing because of how needlessly attentive they were to me. I mean I just had the travel agent check the diabetic meal box because I figured it’d at least follow the general idea of my no carbohydrate thing. I didn’t mean to put anyone out with constantly asking me if things were OK for me, or if they could get me something else. I was just expecting to be served a tray of slop with a “D” written in sharpie on it or something.

The Korean meal that the real Korean people got looked super interesting and elaborate, with all sorts of different packets of things that get mixed together in to a huge bowl of rice and other stuff. I asked for one of the tubes of red pepper paste that everyone was dousing their food with just for fun, but decided I’d save it instead of using it to make my already weird diabetic meals more so.

My flight had a very strange and unexpected polar flight path, but I guess it makes sense that it would be the shortest way. Flying out of O’Hare we kept a direct north northwest bearing until we hit the northern coast of Alaska at which point the plane came down along the coast of Russia passing all those weird Eastern Russian areas no one wants in Risk, between China and Japan, and finally to Korea. I was momentarily bummed that I didn’t have a window seat, figuring we’d just be looking at the Pacific for eight hours but I’m not sure lots of snow and ice is any better of a view.

Because we’re traveling west, it’s been light out since we left O’Hare. I’m not really looking forward to seeing how jet lag treats me, as I’ve essentially completely missed having any kind of “night” and instead have just massively jumped forward in time. I’m happy to be able to say I’ve crossed the International Date Line now, for no real reason other than that being something you’d always look at on the globe as a kid.

I think I might’ve slept an hour or two, maybe. I definitely turned a movie on, and fell asleep at some point during it, then woke up with a banana on my tray table.

I’m not sure how the banana is related, but it feels relevant.

Now for my next trick, I’ll make it to my hotel without speaking Korean…