8:30, she said, which meant Huck would get there a little early to stuff into the inevitable line that rails the embassy first thing in the morning. The doors don’t even open until 8:45 of course, but the lady on the phone didn’t tell him that. He’d find that out tomorrow morning.
So, 6:50 on December 22nd Huckleberry rose to confront an alarming sound phillibustering from some vague corner of his morning vision where his hands fumbled, something tumbled, and finally it all calmed down. Huckleberry put water on heat using one of those spouted metal vessels. Back home it’s called a kettle, but here the only words on it were Koo Foo Goo. Best as he could make out, it was like a kettle in many ways but yet still too Koo Foo Goo to match the home baked batch. 6:55 and oatmeal, Sencha tea, and nut stuffed dates were breakfasted. Last night’s visit to the neighborhood sento bath boiled his bottom along with any need to shower in the morning, but a quick shampoo and rinse of his gentle sparseness would suffice. 7:15 and his lightly tobacco singed, coffee tinted pearls were brushed putting a wrap n’ cap on things.
Beard, belt, watch and boots and this young Huck was out the door and on the train and at the embassy’s front stoop by 8:20 prepared to ring the doorbell nice and clearly. There was a sign hanging from its knockers which read, nasally, “The U.S. embassy photo machine is currently not working. Please go back to Tameike Sannou station to take a photo at one of their booths unless you brought a photo with you should you need to process a visa or passport. We’re truly sorry for the inconvenience.”
No they’re not, thought Huck. He wondered how the machine could break overnight since the office closed last night and up until it hadn’t even opened the next day. But that was alright, he’d roll with it, that’s why he came early and prepared for unpreparedness.
8:30 and Huckleberry is hustling over from the embassy towards Tameike Sannou station for the second time in twenty four hours. He re-passes the lined guards, “Long time no see.” “Good morning,” they respond non-adverbally. 8:35 and hustle, flight baggage in tow, jacket on, sunny side up. Crossing the roundabout and ducking into exit #9 for the fourth time in twenty four hours he boots down two flights of stairs and Huckleberry hustles 20 meters where he eventually docks into the public photo booth. 1000 yen, inserted. Passport photos, yes pleased. But the button doesn’t accept his polite press. So he gives the circular green a good rock-paper-fist punch. Nobody’s got the lights on. “Press the round green button to accept” says the prompt. Maybe this was one of those Confucian tests, or even worse a Zen koan. He should’ve known better, living in a land where even the urinals say things like, “Water flows, even at times when no one is standing near.” Now, in order to avoid letting the cat out of the bag, Huckleberry figured it out leaving the curtained booth triumphantly with his trophies: four shiny passport sized photos and 200 yen in spare change. Yippee kaiyay.
He boulders back towards the embassy luggage in tow booting up both stairs and escalators alike, making illegal cuts across the traffic changes like Cannonball Adderly. 8:45 and Huck was politely biding time with his good old friend Guard 1 while the light redded all day and all night.
Guard 1, What was it again, visa – passport-something or what not?
Huckleberry, Passport. Renewal.
Guard 1, Yeah that’s right.
Crosswalk light, Hey, I’m blue y’all whenever you’re ready.
8:50 and Huckleberry received the blue light blessing to cross the crosswalk he’s now crossing for the sixth time in 24 hours. The line of guards nod like dominoes. Passport prints in hand he luggages up and rails along the path leading to the interception zone.
What’s your yohken?, Receiver 1
New Passport, Huck.
Got an appointment?, Receiver 1.
Nope. They asked me to come at 8:30, Huck.
8:30 (eyebrows), Receiver 1
8:30, Huckleberry unchanged.
How can you come at 8:30 when we don’t open until 8:45?, Receiver 1.
Huckleberry pauses, slowly and politely. He’d have to explain himself rather delicately. Huck explains himself. Receiver 1 enters the interception zone’s sealed office, and picks up a phone. He looks at Huckleberry through the window pane while making brief glances at Huckleberry’s open passport book.
He smiles at his coil corded enamel gadget, and waves for Huckleberry to come through.
He is processed in the Interception zone’s security office.
They send him through. 9:00 and Huckleberry follows all the right signs taking all the left turns towards the passport office. He’s invited to the window.
What can I do for you, sir?, Window man 1.
Passport renewal, please, Huckleberry.
Ok – fill out this application, between the yellow lines just up here not down here, and – do you have passport photos?, Window man 1.
Yes I do, Huckleberry triumphantly presents 4 glossy photos.
No, no, these are Japanese passport photos with a blue background – the U.S. passport requires a different size with a white background you’ll need to take photos at our photo booth just over there (‘At our photo booth’?, thinks Huckleberry, I knew it. I knew it.) Here just bring this form to the cashier, pay the fee, get your photos and then come back here to see me. , punctuates Window man 1
Huckleberry rolls with it, pays all the yennies, hands it all over and then sits down in the waiting lounge where he can almost smell his fresh baked documentation.
What brought on all of this fuss?
Now, it’s 1:00 P.M. and Huck makes one last cup of tea, takes one last shower, and wraps up the pack up before finally booting out the door as planned. 2:00 and he makes sure all his places are in the right thingamaroo and his tie is headed on straight. Laced up. No buttons to push, no strings to pull. Christmas sweaters are padded among socks and underwear brought unaware of their future wintery winded Wisconsin surprise.
Nakano: transfer, Shinjuku: transfer, Shinagawa station. Keiyu line rapid train all the way to Haneda International terminal. It was a pleasant 55 minutes costing 880 yennies making the trip to Narita Airport from Nakano look like a wagon journey west. Haneda’s incredibly accessible International terminal makes Narita Airport, again, look like creepily abandoned circus grounds by comparison.
Strolling up to the check in gates near the Air Canada desks Huckleberry is all merry and mirth. The desk doesn’t open up until 3:50, but that’s alright because Huckleberry doesn’t need to wait those 45 minutes he’ll just go along and use those convenient self-check-in panels.
Please enter your booking reference, it says.
Are you GRI/A?, it says.
Yeah, Huckleberry selects.
Scan your passport, it says.
Unable to read. Scan again, it says.
He scans again.
Unable to read. Unable to check in. Please talk to staff, it says.
Huckleberry oddballs the passport. Huh, that’s an old photo. Nothing strange about it, though. It’s the same old trusty passport with the same old scan code and the same old signature. Nothing should be tampered with or incorrect. But that was just the problem. All that same old same old meant that it was possibly too old, possibly expired, possibly invalid.
Expiration date Oct. 24, 2015. Ten years ago, when Huckleberry first received his passport in order to traverse the airways to Toronto in the fall of 2005, he wondered, “Where will I be in 2015? What will I be doing? That seems so far away.”
Now you know youngin’, you’ll be in Tokyo’s Haneda International Airport making a damn fool out of yourself. After a good laugh at his own expense, Huckleberry gets to work. 3:10 and he’s talking to Information.
What can I do for you, sir?, she says nicely.
Huckleberry explains himself, and after they both have a good laugh,
Really?! Oh, No!, she says.
Yeah, but it’s my bad to begin with. And Air Canada doesn’t open their check-in desks until 3:50. Got any advice?, Huck asks.
I think you need to go to the embassy, wait just a moment I’ll give you the address and phone number, she whisper scribbles.
She scribbles on and says,
This is the nearest station, Tameike Sannou station. About a five minute walk not too far!
Her note has the address in Japanese and in English along with a contact phone number.
Huckleberry dials according to her direction but she says,
But I think you need to go there, yeeaaaaahhh. She painfully makes a wince-smile that says, I’m so sorry you’re gonna have a long road ahead of you and there’s nothing anyone or anything can do for you – you’re up shit creek.
Huckleberry, already engaging over the phone with the passport office people, waves and mouths a good thank you to the helpful lady at Information. He turns towards the metro gates and Huckleberry hustles on through baggage in tow, jacket on, making efficient use of conversation space as he boards the first train he can wrangle. Speaking on a phone in an absolutely pin-drop train towards Shinbashi he makes his story clear for the office. 3:20 and the embassy tells him that they can get him a new passport today if he gets there by 4 o’clock. It’s a 35 minute journey from Haneda. If he’s lucky he’ll make it, but it’ll be tight he tells the lady at the passport office over the phone.
Please hurry to get here, if you get here by four we can get you a new passport and on your 6:50 flight later this evening, no problem. At that time we’ll need to have you fill out an application and take your photo she replies.
At Shinbashi station it’s 3:42 and Huckleberry races, luggage in air, booting through the long station towards the Ginza line. He dangerously froggers through unmasterful globs of colorful advertisement columns and colorless business people. He squeezes onto the first metro train that fiercely gusts on in. Shinbashi, Toranomon. Toranomon, Tameike Sannou. Mad dash towards any exit, the first exit, whatever just so he can get his bearings.
He takes number 11. Wrong number Huckleberry.
Huckleberry sees the big intersection GMaps prophesized. He runs wildly, like the dangerously crazy foreigner that Japan knows he is. Calling the embassy it’s 3:57 and Huckleberry says,
Hey! So I’m at a huge intersection but I’m really nearby I’m so close can you guys wait for me? I’ll probably just barely make it.
Well, you’ll just have to talk to the guards, she says uncommitted.
Come on, you’re not even closed, thinks Huckleberry. Her cold manner of speaking made Huckleberry worry, and at that point ran even faster because there was no assurance that he’d be let in if he didn’t get there at 4:00 sharp. There are nerdy looking, scrawny guards all around the next block. There’s a crosswalk blinking sweet blues of salvation beckoning him forth. As Huckleberry luggaged through the crosswalk Guard costumed man yells,
I’ve got a plane to catch, Huckleberry yells.
He made it. He made it across the crosswalk which could have held him beyond 4:00. There’s another skinny young man wearing a guard costume. Great, thinks Huckleberry, he’ll know how to get to the embassy. It should be just around the corner.
The man touches his earpiece and turns slightly away from Huckleberry in visible fear.
Hi good afternoon do you know how to get to the embassy from here?, Huck asks in his most polite Japanese.
The costumed youth replies, that’s the building but you have to go down this road to the right, then right again and up.
Ok! Thanks, Huckleberry offers in truest gratitude.
When the light blows pretty blues he dashes across the crosswalk and scrambles down the hill as directed by the guards.
But it’s not the embassy, its Toranomon building something or other that’s all business and no tax. Huckleberry, for once, was lookin for that tax man.
4:01, Huckleberry thinks quick, spinning in circles looking for a good Samaritan. He hustles back up the hill and mid-sprint asks a construction worker where the real US Embassy is.
Oh, it’s that building right up there!, he points out indexly.
He reconfirms with the youth LARPing as a sentry, Just up here?
Yeah, just up there!, the youth LARPed at Huckleberry.
But at the end of that path was a gate indeed, with grim looking men. This had to be it, finally!
It’s just down that way!, says the grim looking guard.
But, the previous guard told me to go that way, and then up here, asserts Huckleberry.
Oh he just thought you wanted to know if you could cross the street, the guard said unconvincingly.
Bullshit, thought Huckleberry running back towards the initial entry of the area. He sees another guard across the street from the guard which sent him running towards a place that was distinctly not the U.S. Embassy.
Which way is the entry gate of the U.S. Embassy?, asks Huckleberry.
Oh, see that security office just down the sidewalk to the right of the guard across the street?, he said motioning to the poorly timed Halloween costumed pedestrian standing point at the crosswalk 10 meters to the left of the security office now made plain to see.
Oh, just over there? Huckleberry asks.
Yep, just cross this street and walk on up, they’ll help you out, marks the guard.
Huckleberry uses his outside voice rhetorically across the intersection at the police costumed cosplaying youth,
That’s the entry gate to the embassy??, with an are you kidding me expression on his , from a Japanese perspective, bearded beast man face.
The young man visually tries to stammer out a ‘but-but’ but just stands there in defeat instead, spotlit by the red beams of the traffic signal.
4:17, a moment, and Huckleberry dashes across the blue lit intersection down the guarded line and to the security office. He was intercepted by a man. It was 4:20.
What’s your youken?, asks Receiver 1.
Passport renewal, an emergency, so the passport office told me to come here as quickly as possible and to make it by 4, Huck. Followed by huffs and puffs.
Let me talk to my boss, Receiver 1.
The boss comes.
Huckleberry explain his expired passport, his flight tonight – December 21st at 6:50 – as well as all of his conversations on the phone with the passport office.
The boss asks Huckleberry to just wait a minute and uses the Interception zone’s sealed off room to phone the fine people at the office. They’re there, of course, and on the phone discussing Huckleberry’s fate with the boss. The boss nods his head a couple of and unseals the Interception zone, motioning Huckleberry to use the phone. He picks up the enameled device. I’m so sorry but we waited you know, we waited and waited but you didn’t show up. We always close at 4. But the cashier has to close, and we have to close and we need to finish work so – be here tomorrow morning at 8:30, she says hurt and defensive.
There are all kinds of things Huckleberry wants to say, but the only thing that he can say with benefit in this situation is, ok.
Ok, he says. And hands the phone back to the boss.
Hai, 8:30, says the boss preparedly. End of conversation.
Huckleberry, removed of any reason to be at the embassy, walks out swiftly but unhurriedly. He won’t be making his flight tonight, but he still has to communicate the situation to the airline and see what they can do. Perhaps he’d have a new passport tomorrow morning, and perhaps they’d have a seat or two up for grabs on their flights to North America tomorrow evening.
Steadily he rolls into Tameike Sannou station and takes the Ginza line back to Shinbashi. From Shinbashi he breezes comfortably through the station and gets on the trains one stop further to Hamamatsucho. From there he rides the delightful monorail to Haneda International terminal. All of that running around worked up a sweat and Huckleberry is exhausted. But the exhaustion feels good, along with the adrenaline that was also packaged in there. He embraces the high that comes after going full throttle, a high which suited the stunning Tokyo skyline wrapped in nightly hues.
Arriving at Haneda International terminal, he makes like a cloud over to the Air Canada desk, now open as it’s well beyond 3:50. He explains everything he can as concisely and precisely as possible to the welcoming airline staff. Considering they have to talk to a hot and oily Huckleberry, the airline staff discusses his options with supreme pleasantry. The mood is light, and they laugh together admiring the humor of Huckleberry’s situation. Once they get his ducks in a row, he marches off thanking the lady kindly. What was with these people working at Haneda?, Huckleberry thinks. They’re all so warm, fuzzy, and helpful. Their good humor was contagious.
6:00 and Huckleberry leaves the terminal towards home.
Dinner, a sento bath, and a good sleep prepare him for the journey ahead December 22nd. He sets his alarm and hits the sack.