My last day in Pleasanton, I went out for dinner with friends. I should’ve stayed back packing, instead. I don’t regret the dinner, though, because I had some of the best Italian food I had ever had. I did, however, return to my hotel late and spent another couple of hours preparing for the next leg of my trip to the US: Portland.
At 9:30 the next morning, I would fly to the great Oregon city. And I stayed awake until 12:30 am making sure I had everything I needed. Then I was just too excited to sleep. When I reached the Oakland International Airport well ahead of time (I get anxious if I’m late), I realised I didn’t know what to do. It was my first time in the US and I was about to fly a domestic airlines, which I had no idea works how. Nevertheless, I stepped right into the information counter of Alaska Air, the airlines I was flying. Expecting a decent reply, I asked the gentleman what to do. He took a look at my online checkin confirmation and boarding pass, and asked me to head right over to the security checks. Huh? I remember feeling. It was hard to believe that that was all I had to do—ask.
Although the lack of airport complexity surprised me, I was even more astonished at how easy things had become when I asked for help. In retrospect, if I hadn’t asked for information, I would’ve walked in circles like a lost child at the airport. Sure, I would’ve found my way some way or the other, but it would’ve been a more daunting experience. As a first time solo traveller, that was my first lesson: Ask, and people will help.
And so I asked again. This time, at the queue for security checks. As I headed for gate 10, I realised I had to join the only queue there was—regardless of gate number. I asked another passenger—in an incredulous voice—if there were no other queues. He shook his head in frustration, “Nope. It’s the only queue. Oakland’s a small airport, you know…” he trailed off with a vague shrug between resenting and understanding.
Smiling to myself, I joined the end of the queue. I had over an hour before boarding began and so I resorted to people watching—my favourite low-energy-exerting sport. A couple of women discussed an event they were attending, wondering if their clothes were appropriate. One of them mentioned she wore the light jacket to hide a hole in her t-shirt. They smiled at me, and I at them. After all, I know only too well the art of patch working my clothes. A little ahead of us stood another woman waving a bottle of water around asking if anyone would like some. It was still early in the day and as is the common scene, high-schoolers sipped sodas and coffees while scrolling through their mobile screens.
The lined moved and so did I.
Cleared, I headed to the waiting area and looked around more. Airports always fascinate me—massive winged beasts come and go, and no one even bats an eye. I, however, can’t take my eyes off them. When it was boarding time, it struck me how small the aircraft was. But when I found my seat, it was still a snug fit. The gentleman who sat next to me, slept through the entire hour of the flight, while I amused myself at the clouds below. We ascended and it struck me how beautiful the bay area is. San Francisco city came into view and as it went out of my view, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. California had been nice. I don’t know if I’d ever return, but I knew at that moment—hovering in the air above the city—that it had changed my perspective of life forever.
And with that, I turned forward.
Portland, ahoy! The adventure had just begun.