WEDNESDAY, APRIL 18, 2007
Today I fly to Japan for the “weekend” with new, “young” country music singer Megan Mullins and her musicians/crew. Megan will perform one concert in Kumamoto (my second home) on Saturday evening with Charlie Nagatani and the Cannonballs opening the show. There are only 7 of us total in the group including me and we will be in the air 3 days and on the ground 2…very quick trip.
After only getting 3 hours sleep, I left for the airport in my “private” taxi. I have a taxi driver in Nashville and in DC that I call when I need transportation and both are named Frank. They take great care of me and are much more dependable than just calling the company. Of course, today is the day that T-Mobile has problems and can’t deliver emails to Blackberrys. I swear I think someone tells them when I am going to be traveling out of the country and they immediately shut down their towers. Maybe it’s God’s way of telling me I should not work ALL the time. So, I stand inside at the ticket counter waiting for all the group to arrive and getting more frustrated by the minute because I can’t read my email. Right before I left home, I had an email from someone in my neighborhood saying that two teenagers had been arrested and charged with the recent break-ins that we have had in our neighborhood. We are a very small community and we have been averaging about 2 break-ins per week for the past 6 months. It was very frustrating that the police could not catch the culprit(s). The thieves only took cash and jewelry, so everyone assumed that they were “on foot”. When this first started happening, several people in the neighborhood mentioned that they thought the teenagers from Romania who lived next door to me were doing it. I didn’t want to unfairly accuse someone just because they are from another country but when I learned that the oldest boy had an arrest record for a sexual molestation, I became suspicious as well. I was also very surprised that my house was not targeted early on because I travel so much.
Megan and her group arrived on time and Northwest Airlines went out of the way to get us checked in quickly. Most of my “contacts” have long since retired and it’s nice to know that the new folks are beginning to recognize me because of my frequent trips.
My daughter called as we were waiting for our flight to be called and said that the police were next door and had taken the teenager away in handcuffs. Supposedly he broke into a car in a nearby apartment complex last night and they were able to match a fingerprint. I missed ALL the excitement but Lindsey and Penny definitely had an interesting morning.
Flight to Detroit was easy and we had a couple of hours before boarding the flight to Osaka. I went in the World Club and set up my “office” so I could answer emails one last time before departing. Of course, NOW my Blackberry is working since I don’t need it. And, Japan and Korea are about the only two places where I can’t use my U.S. mobile phone.
We boarded the plane right on time and I am in the upstairs business class section. I was standing in the aisle putting my computer case in the overhead when a little Asian man cam barreling down the aisle like the plane was going to leave without him. I knew we still had at least an hour before takeoff. He headed straight for the seat by me. I tried to move aside but he shoved past me and stepped on both my feet in the process. No, excuse me or I’m sorry. He immediately started rummaging around in all the compartments on his seat back. Then he got down in the floor and was trying to plug in his computer. He managed to knock his earphones off the armrest and I picked those up for him. He finally settled down right before we took off.
I noticed that he ordered the Japanese meal which, of course, includes noodles. Which also means that he slurped the noodles. I have grown accustomed to this but he was much louder than normal. He finished the first course and they brought him a second course that looked like some kind of grilled fish. Then the smacking started. I knew I wasn’t imagining his over-zealous attack on his meal because the passengers around me were looking at him and smiling at me. He finished off the meal with several loud burps and after 6 glasses of wine, he is passed out beside me. I just hope he ran the gamut of bodily functions before he dozed off.
We just hit terrible turbulence and his bottle of water came flying over on my keyboard. The pilot came on to apologize and said we should only have about 10 more minutes of this. He said we are somewhere over barren land in Canada and there isn’t a lot of air traffic in this area. Said he didn’t expect the turbulence to be this bad but that we were basically “blazing” the trail because no other planes had flown through before us. Wonderful. Have I mentioned in this Road Report how MUCH I HATE TO FLY? I am now timing his prediction to see if it lasts more than 10 minutes, that is in-between praying and digging my fingernails into my arms. I sure wish I could fly military aircraft all the time.
The venue where we have always held the concert (for 14 years now) is under renovation. So, we will be performing in a different venue. Sure hope it is as great as the original one. The Japanese are so great at “organization” which is why we work so well together.
I was so tired that I thought I would probably sleep all the way to Japan. Not so. It’s going to be one of the trips where I don’t sleep at all I think. I seem to be slipping out of my “Secret” mode and letting negative things happen. Gotta’ get back on track. Unfortunately, out of about 30 movies available, there’s not one good one. Recently, the only time I’ve had to see a movie is on these long flights and I was really looking forward to that. Guess it was meant for me to catch up on work instead…except that the power to the seats is no longer working and my battery life will soon be up.
I didn’t get the immigration forms that we have to fill out so I went to the back to ask the flight attendants for them. When I got on the plane in Detroit, I told the purser that I knew him and that I had flown with him before. He was very nice and said that I probably had but that was the extent of the conversation. When I went back to ask for the forms, he was there and I told him my name. He grabbed me and started hugging me! He was the wonderful purser that Aaron Tippin and I had on our flight back from Iraq/Kuwait in 2005. I had stayed in touch with him via email because he was injured on the job right after our 2005 flight. I thought he would never be able to work for NW again, so that’s why I didn’t think it was him. We were both so depressed that we had spent the entire flight not knowing this. We started talking and he didn’t notice that he was supposed to make the announcement that we were landing in Osaka. He had to rush down and get on the intercom before we touched down! He said he could have upgraded the others that I had in coach if he had known it was me. Darn, darn, darn.
Charlie, our promoter, was waiting for us in Osaka and we cleared customs with ease. Got everything re-checked for the flight to Fukuoka and then since we landed early, we had about 2 hours to “shop”. I bought everyone a Belgium Waffle – which was a new treat at the Osaka airport! Our flight to Fukuoka only had about 50 people total on the entire plane so everyone had a row to themselves for the short 1 hour flight. Charlie’s son met us in Fukuoka with the tour bus and we then had a 2 hour drive to Kumamoto. The hotel had all our keys ready for us and I sent everyone off to bed. I was still up answering email at 3 am when an EARTHQUAKE hit. I knew exactly what was happening. It sounded like a bomb went off and then the hotel started swaying. I am on the 9th floor, so I ran all the way down to the lobby. The desk clerk was just coming in from outside with a walkie-talkie. He said that it was only a “3”. Felt like a “10” to me! So, now I am NOT going to sleep at all tonight. I’m sure the others were all passed out when it hit and don’t even know anything happened. I may go to the lobby and try to catch a few hours of sleep on the sofa but no way I’m closing my eyes on the 9th floor.
FRIDAY, APRIL 20TH
I was right. I did not sleep. Finally gave up and went running…did sprints this morning because I didn’t have enough time to run my usual 5 miles. It was a beautiful morning. Sunny and cool. I ran along the river then back to the room to shower again, answer emails and get dressed for a long day of sightseeing.
When I got to the lobby, learned that only half the group had even felt the earthquake. The other half were “passed out”. I actually started to feel foolish for being so scared. The local Japanese say that they have about two of those “minor” quakes per year. When it hit, I had just showered and was answering my emails. I threw on the first thing I could find which happened to be the hotel kimono and their little “slippers”. I paused for about 2 seconds in front of my “crocs” thinking they made a lot more sense if I was going to be running down the stairs. Then decided not to take the time to change. When I burst into the lobby, I think I scared the night manager more than the earthquake did. You are absolutely never supposed to go outside your room in the hotel kimono. Plus wet hair and no make-up. Pretty frightening site. He didn’t speak a lot of English and I speak even less Japanese but somehow with lots of hand motions, I was able to figure out it was a “3” on the Richter Scale and that he did not expect any more to hit. I was trying to ask him if it was safe to ride back up in the elevator. He finally understood and insisted on riding with me. He looked at the floor, the wall, everywhere but at me. J
Our first stop of the day was to meet the Mayor. He is a very young man and charming. I’ve met with him several times before and he is a very gracious host…as are all the Japanese. After lots of speeches and “gift exchanges”, we headed for Kumamoto Castle. So, this is my 32nd tour of the castle and park. I can “give” the tours. But, it is always fun to see it through the “new eyes” of the participants. Megan and all her group could not be nicer to work with. And, they are so appreciative and excited to be here. Megan is already asking to do lots more tours for me. We climbed all the way to the top floor of the castle and you can see all of Kumamoto when the sky is clear…which it was today.
After the castle tour, we went for a traditional Japanese lunch and again I was impressed by how “daring” everyone was. Tim (our resident Canadian who helps as an interpreter and is a hunter who eats EVERYTHING – alive or dead) met us at the restaurant. I had my traditional meal of sashimi. No one had the raw horse which is the delicacy of Kumamoto. But, I expect several of the group to try it before we depart.
We went to the Coca-Cola Company next. They have this huge room set up with Coca-Cola employees and they all stand and applaud when we walk in. This totally blew Megan’s group away. After another round of speeches and lots more gift giving, we went to tour their plant. Unfortunately, they were in the process of changing from the production of one product to another and we didn’t get to see very much activity. Coca-Cola here makes numerous kinds of tea, canned coffee (hot and cold and it’s much better than Starbucks!), wine, vitamin drinks, and of course, coke and coke light.
We left the Coke Plant and went to the Suzenji Park. It’s a beautiful park and with the weather being so pretty, we spent quite a lot of time visiting the shrines and temples and then shopping for traditional Japanese souvenirs. Back to the hotel for about an hour and then I took several of the guys to dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant. They were NOT disappointed. Much better than any Italian food in Nashville. More gift giving and photo taking and then off to Charlie’s nightclub for the “Welcome Party”.
Charlie and his Cannonballs performed first and Megan’s group had a blast watching them. They all loved the “song of Charlie’s life” which also brought tears to mine and Megan’s eyes (even though I have heard it hundreds of times. Megan performed 3 songs after Charlie’s set and just blew everyone away….as I knew she would. The club is so smoky that I can only stay for a little while. I left after Megan performed and am back in the room…answering emails of course. Megan is only 20 years old and was asking about the “legal” drinking age. In Japan, there really isn’t one. No one ever checks an ID. Beer is sold on the streets in vending machines. I think because it isn’t something that is prohibited, the young people show less interest in it.
Tomorrow is a 5 mile run and then off to the venue for the performance. An absolute perfect day with a wonderful group of entertainers! I am so blessed to live this awesome live.
SATURDAY, APRIL 21ST – COUNTRY SUNSHINE!
Beautiful day for the 14th Annual Country Sunshine festival. I couldn’t sleep more than 4 hours, so got up early and started answering emails. Then went jogging with Vic – Megan’s manager. He pushed me to run faster than my normal pace which was good. Weather was perfect, once again. We ran for 35 minutes and then he went back to the hotel to shower and go shopping. I ran another 20 minutes to make sure I got in my 5 miles today.
Yesterday at the Mayor’s Office, we met his new “aide”. Kumamoto City is the sister city of San Antonio and Kumamoto Prefecture is the Sister State of Montana. So, we are always running into people from “home”. This guy is actually from Tennessee and we have lots of mutual acquaintances. Going to be good to have him as a “contact” over here. He came by Charlie’s nightclub last night and hung out with us for a while, too. Then this morning I saw him while I was out jogging. Actually, I think he was in the same clothes that he had on last night…maybe he just stayed out all night. 🙂
Also figured out that one of Megan’s musicians and I have a history. I told him his name sounded so familiar. He remembered that way back in the early 90’s he was hired to play in a video that I did with the Forester Sisters. I remember it because we started filming at 5 am and finished the next morning at 5 am. It was brutal and he was such a trooper. 🙂
Have been able to catch up on correspondence this morning while everyone else is out shopping. We leave the hotel at 12:30 to go over to the concert. I’m a little nervous since I have never seen this venue.
No reason to have been concerned about the venue. It’s great. Actually better than the one we always use. It’s smaller – 1200 seats as opposed to 1800, but we are sold out and may sell tickets for people to “stand”. Evidently, the biggest drawback for the public is the fact that there is nowhere to park. They have to come in taxis. But, that’s Japan for you. They just haven’t quite figured out some of the transportation issues. We have to depart the hotel tomorrow morning at 5 am to drive 2 hours to the Fukuoka Airport. The Kumamoto Airport is 30 minutes away. But there are no flights any more from the Kumamoto Airport to Osaka Airport (KIX). Osaka is the International Airport. There is a domestic airport in Osaka where there are flights all day to and from Kumamoto, but it’s an hour or more drive between the two. Same thing with Tokyo Narita airport and Tokyo Haneda airport. Will be a challenging travel day with a couple of long layovers.
The concert hall was definitely sold out. Megan did a superb show. She has beautiful vocals, a highly energetic stage presence and is am amazing instrumentalist with musicians to back her who are just as great. She sang just the right mix of original songs and cover tunes. Charlie and the audience were very happy.
Hoping to get in bed by midnight and up at 3:30 am to shower and depart to the airport.
SUNDAY, APRIL 22ND, 2007:
Up at 2:30 after only 2 hours of sleep. Everyone was in the lobby and ready to go by 4:45 am as we requested. Haven’t had to make ONE wake-up call with this group. Nice to have such a responsible, fun group to work with.
Check in at the Fukuoka airport was as strange as ever. First, you scan your luggage and then they want you to check in at a counter that is about 4 counters away from where it is scanned. Only, with all our gear, we totally block all the other counters so that other customers can’t check in. I finally managed to convince them to let us check in right in front of where we were all standing. They had us put everything through at one time and they stacked it back behind the counter. THEN, they brought each piece BACK out and weighed it and put it back behind the counter. THEN, they made me fill out a form that released them from any responsibility for the guitars. THEN, they checked each person in individually and we had to point out our personal pieces of luggage checked in the mound of equipment and luggage behind the counter. The process took about 3 times as long as it would have if they had just let each person check their two pieces. I had 5 pieces checked under my name when they passed out the claim checks.
Keiko, our head interpreter from the Country Gold Festival, met us at the airport this morning because she lives in Fukuoka. She was wearing the traditional Japanese kimono which everyone found fascinating. Megan was asking her how she ever managed to put it on by herself. Keiko explained that it takes her about 30 minutes. The needs 15 minutes to “relax” and then another 15 minutes to actually put everything on. Keiko is so beautiful anyway and the kimono makes her look so elegant. It was so sweet of her to get up that early just to come say hello.
It had started to rain by the time we got on the flight. There was a lot of turbulence but at least no lightning. Our plane was struck by lighting a couple of years ago on this routing. Landed in Osaka and although our luggage was checked through, we had to wait about 45 minutes for the NWA counter to open and get our boarding passes. The flight is completely sold out and no one was able to change their seat assignments. Several of us went to the “massage” bar and got a 15 minute massage. I could have stayed there for 2 hours and they probably wouldn’t have been able to get all the knots out of my neck. But, it helped a little and we headed to the gate area. One of the guys pointed out that we were booked on a different flight from Detroit to Nashville. I went into the lounge and was able to get online and call Lindsey on SKYPE. She was going to call the travel agent and make sure we have seats on the later flight out of Detroit if we miss the connection. The routing they have us on now only gives us 1 ½ hours to clear immigration, pick up the luggage/equipment, clear customs, re-check everything, go through security and get to the gate. Unless we land early, it is doubtful that we will make it.
When I got back to the gate, they had made an announcement that the flight was oversold and were asking for volunteers to get off. Megan and her guitar player volunteered, against my better judgment, but they are young and adventurous, so it’s not my responsibility if anything goes wrong. So, we left them in Osaka…something I’ve never done before.
Flight from Fukuoka to Detroit was very turbulent. After not sleeping in Japan, I was able to sleep for a few hours between “bumps”. And, the good news is, we landed a few minutes early. Of course, Detroit is the airport where they send your luggage out on two separate belts and you have to watch both at once. Everything came through except one box and the bag for the guitar player who stayed behind. There was so much confusion when we checked in at Fukuoka, we weren’t sure who checked the bag. I took the buys through Customs who did have all their items and we headed to the gate. The other two guys met us before we started boarding and said that the box came through but not the missing bag. Short flight to Nashville and everything again arrived except for the one bag. Hopefully, it will arrive on tomorrow’s flight with the guitar player and Megan. Nice to be home for a couple of weeks. By the way, SKYPE is great. I can talk to my office computer to computer no matter where in the world I am FREE. If I call a land line or cell phone from the computer, the charge is approximately 2 cents per minute. Great service for someone who travels as much as I do. 🙂