March 18th, 2012, 7 am
“Welcome to Honolulu, Hawaii, USA”
We’re back. We’re really back. Air Pacific flight 852 has just landed in Honolulu, Hawaii from Nadi (pronounced NAND-ee), Fiji. A mere six-hour flight returns us to the U-S. It’s 7 am. As other passengers shuffle about the cabin, gathering their belongings, Finley and Fiona head for the restrooms, just a couple rows behind our seats. I have to go, as well, and no one’s moving inside the plane -might as well make a run for it.
As I slide the door closed, I hear Lionel Richie’s “Easy” over the speakers. Damn. He’s following me. Pete’s following me. What I’ve long considered “our song,” - because it’s always playing on the lite rock station we listen to; because we both like it; and because I saw Lionel in concert in NZ before I fell for Pete - I get a little wonky when I hear that song. And it’s the first song I hear when entering the States.
The kids and I breeze through customs, where the officer asks if Daddy stayed behind to work.
“No,” I say. “Their dad died two years ago.” I travel with a death certificate, which no one inside an airport has ever asked to see.
Officer Barillo seems genuinely sorry. When I mention we have six hours before our flight to Seattle, he says,
“You should go to Anna Miller’s for breakfast. It’s open 24 hours - on the way to Pearl Harbor. The bus is right outside the airport. Great pancakes and bacon.”
American pancakes. American bacon. Say no more. I’m STARVING. The kids and I must wait an hour and a half before the Alaska Air bag check is open so we can ditch our suitcases and board the bus. Fiona and Finley watch Scooby Doo on my iPod (a Godsend on this trip) while I bang out (yet another) stream-of-consciousness blog. It must’ve been the one about leaving Pete, because I’m crying. Again.
“Mommy, are you writing about Petey?” asks Fiona.
“Yes, honey,” I sniff.
Pull it together, mama. You’re back in the land of livin’ large. Think of pancakes and “streaky” (i.e., not Canadian) bacon.
It’s 9 am when our bus pulls up. I find a US five dollar bill in my wallet (I’d stashed American money away for a year and-a-half, just in case…) and feed it into the bill slot.
“Are you going near Anna Miller's?” I ask the bus driver.
“Yeah, it’s one of the last stops,” he says.
The kids sit back, excited. Finley asks,
“Are we in America now?”
I tell him, “Yes, honey, we’re in Honolulu.”
“But that’s not America,” he says.
Fiona corrects him: “Honolulu IS in America.”
I understand their confusion. We’re on an island with palm trees. It’s warm. It doesn’t look like the America they’re used to, which is Spokane. The Inland Northwest features pine trees and snow, not palm trees and sand.
The bus rounds the corner and turns left. I gasp. Our vehicle's heading into – the RIGHT lane. We’re gonna get creamed. Wait: it’s ok. We drive on the right-hand side. Oh, boy – wonder what’ll happen when I get behind the wheel again?
We pass the Pearl Harbor Memorial, which Sean and I visited ten years ago. No history lesson today. This morning, following an overnight flight and very little sleep, all I can contemplate are plates: ceramic vessels laden with fluffy pancakes, crispy bacon and limitless coffee. Visions of blueberries clinging to a starchy mound of carbohydrates, sizzling fat and coffee steaming from a carafe dance in my hungry head. Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
After 20 minutes, we arrive at the Pearlridge shopping center on Kaonohi Street. Anna Miller’s is like the Hawaiian version of Perkin’s or Denny’s. The front counter features 31 varieties of pie: coconut cream, pumpkin, apple, strawberry, cherry, peach, chocolate… for about six to nine dollars. For an ENTIRE pie.
The hostess seats us in a booth, where a waitress named Angie takes our order. Angie looks like the classic American server: long, dark hair, a low-cut, white, short-sleeved blouse with poufy shoulders, and a short, maroon-colored skirt. She wears long, mascara'd eyelashes, bright pink lipstick and a wide smile. I order the $5.99 blueberry pancakes with a $3.99 side of bacon, and a $4.99 stack of pancakes for the kids. Angie returns one minute after taking our order with my coffee. Five minutes later she returns, bearing a FREE REFILL. In all our travels, the only place I ever found free coffee refills was the Stars and Stripes diner in Papamoa, NZ. Otherwise, you spend $4 US for an (approximately) six ounce coffee. No refills. Decaf and soy milk cost extra. Everything costs extra.
I scarf nearly two fluffy blueberry pancakes as big as my head and cleanse my palate with two pieces of bacon. Fiona and Finley are busy drizzling just the right amount of faux maple syrup onto their pancakes from a dispenser at the table. I start swilling a third cup of coffee before my tank starts registering full. Time to go.
We wait for the bus that’ll return us to the airport. We have about two hours and 20 minutes before our flight. We can see our bus, but the driver isn’t moving it. She’s on break – eating noodles, reading the paper, ignoring my attempts to get her attention.
A woman with salt and pepper bed-head wearing a grungy pair of shorts and a tank top starts chatting.
“You on holiday?” she asks.
“Sort of,” I reply. “I just took my kids around the world.”
“By yourself?” she asks, incredulously.
“Yes,” I say.
“What are you, nuts?” asks this character I’d describe as a couple sandwiches short of a picnic.
“Yes,” I tell her. "I am."
We return to the airport, where I wonder if the fact the kids’ last names are listed on their e-tickets as “Picken Stanelun” will pose the same problem it did for the flight to Fiji. We’re standing in the security screening line, when I spot a woman clutching a New Jersey driver’s license. A LICENSE. Not a passport. I realize I’m about to board a domestic flight, which means the kids don’t need ID. No change fee of $100 per ticket to separate their middle names from their last. Small miracles.
I drag the kids into an airport newsstand before heading to our gate. I’m dying to buy an American magazine for the American price. I stifle a scream of joy as I scan the cost of Runner’s World: $4.99. Knock me over with a gym sock. That’s about half the price of the Down Under edition.
Another six-hour flight brings us to Seattle. We emerge from the plane at 10pm and take the underground train to baggage claim, where our bags are zipping down the carousel. I tell Fiona and Finley this is where they met me when I returned from China in 2009. Sean drove two tired, hungry kids across the state for the BIG REUNION with mom. By the time they arrived, my cherubs were cranky and complaining. Finley kept trying to climb on the baggage carousel. I smile as I think of my late, long-suffering husband.
"Next time," Sean said, "We'll meet you in Spokane." Fair call.
Sean’s sister, Stephanie, is supposed to pick us up and bring us to her home in Olympia. Another chance for the BIG REUNION. Only, It’s been a half hour since we touched down, and we can’t find her. We’ve circled the globe and we’re stranded in Seattle. Unconvinced my cell phone will work with a Fijian SIM card, I ask an airline employee to page Steph. He clears his throat and croaks out the weakest announcement I’ve ever heard. Steph will never hear that. Another ten minutes pass. I unzip two suitcases and rummage for a phone number. I walk back to the counter and ask to use the phone. No problem. I reach Steph, who’s been waiting some 200 yards away. We hug and make our way to the parking garage, to her giant Ford Expedition. Am I climbing into the left side as a passenger? No, I’m on the right.
We’re back in America. Back in Washington.