Take The Last Train To Clarksville

As I left Japan, speeding towards the airport on the express train, I took one last blurry picture out the window. I thought it expressed my mood perfectly, with the train conductor standing alone, with a bowed head, beside an empty train carriage with open doors.





Click the arrow on the player below to hear Last Train to Clarksville by The Plastics





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I like to listen to The Plastics when I’m in Japan, they were the first Punk band in Japan, their 1979 album still expresses a lot of the Postmodern bizarreness of living in Japan. I played the album for one of my friends, and he asked me, “is this all there is, a Japanese band singing American songs in bad English?” I told him that in Japan, people practically live their lives in trains, so a Japanese band singing Last Train To Clarksville has an entirely different meaning.

I like to listen to this particular song as I take my last train ride to the airport. When I heard this song, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of loss, not because I was leaving Japan, but because I had to go back to America. I never have culture shock going to Japan, I get it severely when I come back to the US. My instant reaction is that everyone in America is so rude and inconsiderate, they ignore all the little social rituals that make life easier for everyone.

I knew I was back in the US when I tried to get off the plane. I was stuck in the Coach section way in the back of the plane, and it was a long 11 hour flight from Tokyo to Dallas. It took a long time for everyone ahead of us to deplane, all I could think about was getting off, getting past Customs, and popping outside the terminal for a cigarette. Just as the the forward sections were clearing and Coach passengers filled the aisles, there was an announcement over the speakers that the Customs asked that each passenger have their passports in hand as they exited the plane. I pulled mine out of my shirt pocket. But there was an elderly couple ahead of me, towing luggage bigger than the suitcases I checked through, they immediately dropped them in the aisle, started unzipping them, and searching for their passports, like it never occurred to them that they would need their passports upon arrival in the US. I watched for about 90 seconds as the entire plane ahead of them cleared out, leaving me and the entire Coach section stuck behind these two idiots. People behind me started shoving in frustration.

Now in a situation like this in Japan, you would merely say “orimasu,” which literally means “I’m exiting,” and people move to let you pass by. I tried saying what the phrase would really mean in this context, and in my politest tone, said, “pardon me, if you’re not ready to deplane, please step aside and allow others to pass.” In response, the short, fat old man screamed at me, “what did you say to my wife? If you talk to her like that again, I’ll smash your face in!” His wife, standing between us, looked mortified. I said nothing in response, I merely stood there holding up my own passport. They leisurely searched their luggage, and after a few more minutes, finally located their passports, and deplaned.

In Japan, about the worst thing you could possibly do is cause inconvenience to a large group of others through your own selfish actions. And about 50 of us in Coach were inconvenienced because these idiots decided to block the aisles to hunt for their passports. But I laughed and laughed when I saw Instant Karma in action, I got waved through Customs without a search, while Mr. and Mrs. Asshole got sent for a full luggage search.

But it could always be worse. And shortly, it was worse, oh so much worse. But I will spare you the horror of listening to my story about being jammed into a seat next to a sweaty 450 lb man on the second leg of my flight home. I once rode in a cargo plane full of goats, and this flight was much worse. Enough said.

So excuse me if I vent. It will take me weeks to get over the trauma of my trip back home. And now that I’m back, I’m totally jet lagged, I’m exhausted. It will take me a while to decompress before I can process my photos and write about the more pleasant experiences I had in Japan.

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