All my bags were packed and ready to go…
I put my key on the table, hefted my backpack over my shoulders, turned off the lights, grabbed my guitar with one hand, pulled my suitcase with the other, and left my apartment. I had to use some Vaseline on the latch to get the door to close without the key, but with one final click I closed a chapter in my life.
It was 6:45am, quiet and dark outside, giving me time to enjoy my last walk to the subway. I passed lots of young couples just heading home after a long night out, and food merchants ready to serve the early-morning revelers as well as the early-rising workers.
Traffic was so light that the occasional honk surprised rather than soothed, as if saying “goodbye” instead of “I like you.” I walked by the Consulate, watched carefully by the guards at attention, my guitar perhaps decreasing suspicion of my trundling suitcase.
Had to carry the bag (just under the 50 lbs allowed by the airlines) down the stairs to the subway, but had no trouble passing security screening. I did have to run carefully through the electronic turnstile, worrying that I might be perceived as two people trying to squeeze through on one ticket.
Waited only a couple minutes for the subway, got to my station in under 10, and was on an airport bus only 30 minutes and 12 yuan after leaving my apartment.
Arrived at the airport, chose (correctly) Terminal 2 (Air China), stood in the wrong line for 10 minutes, then told where to check in for connections to international flights (I was flying to San Francisco via Beijing). I got window seats for both flights, and was through security and at my gate 8:45.
Flight left 30 minutes late, went through border control and customs in Beijing, and made it to my gate 15 minutes before boarding started.
Flight to SFO was long (6 movies, two meals, several naps). I kept comfortable by taking off my shoes, doing my calf exercises, looking out the window for the Northern Lights, and napping as needed.
To sleep I would roll up my sweatshirt, wrap it around my neck for support, and pull the hoodie over my face, backwards, so that my face was covered, giving my eyes complete darkness and my nose a rest with the moister air of my own breath.
I smiled as the plane flew over Petaluma, passed Marin, the Golden Gate. Even San Francisco looked like a small village compared to the mega-cities of China; so many single- and double-story buildings.
The plane banked at Sunnyvale, and landed at SFO, green hills and blue skies! I was back to familiar territory, comfort food to a wayward American.