July 29, 2007.
Driving down to Atlanta isn't too bad. Every license plate I see from North Carolina is attached to a car that is seriously disrespecting the speed limit. I can't see my own license plate, but the attitude is similar (navigator: "I don't feel comfortable driving at this speed.").
MapQuest makes like... MapQuest and provides fucked up directions near the end. End up grinning at a dead-end road. Quick stop at a gas station clears up the confusion. Contrary to printed instructions, left and right are not synonymous. Fortunately, previously mentioned disregard for speed limit has made the trip go quickly despite an accident crippling traffic near Atlanta.
Arrive at hotel around 2:15 PM. Check-in isn't supposed to start until 3:00, but they give me my room key anyway ("I'm with JET. My name is Will Larson." "Oh, here's your room key." That actually worked?).
Carry my bags up to my room, it shows signs of recent habitation, but no roommate to share exciting commute stories with. End up hiding in my room with my laptop using free wireless to avoid being unfashionably early to the orientation meeting. End up going downstairs to figure out where I should actually be. Step out of the elevator to notice clusters of other new JETs: the cliques formed in these precious moments will only last until the end of Tokyo orientation, but they will set the tone for the entire excursion into Tokyo (and by extension, Japan). Fate spins frantically as I notice an old classmate and walk over to merge into his gang's territory. At this point I meet a good friend of my freshman year roommate, but neither she nor I are aware of this fact. I briefly remember her name, then forget it.
I also briefly learn the name of everyone else at the table, but lose their names with staggering velocity (Nice to meet you... awkward pause. What was your name again?). Apparently it helps to imagine writing people's names on their foreheads... but to do that I would need to remember their names for several seconds. I can't even remember the order of four color, being introduced to eight people simultaneously is like being asked to memorize the first hundred digits of pi: it just isn't going to happen (cue flashback to fourth grade when a classmate successfully recites first fifty digits of pi from memory, take minimal solace that there is no monopoly on poorly spent youth).
Shift in orbits reveals a strong pull has begun emanating from the reception room. The delicate pseudo-clique is fractured by the movement. End up with my previous acquaintance, and with two guys I erratically thin slice as jerks. Make it up to the front of the line and have my passport returned, with a Japanese visa freshly stapled inside (we JETs are not responsible enough to keep track of our own passports for more than one night. This isn't a dig again the program, seriously, its true). I make it inside the conference room and end up sitting with Suspected Jerk #1. Turns out that I get along with #1 well. Oops.
The presentation itself is a long winded exercise in futility. The extent of its futility is somewhere between me actually being suave and the next Miss America spearheading the definitive campaign for world peace. Its discussion glows with an aura of blandness roughly equivalent to airplane food. A representative of AJET (an alumni association for JETs) is actually quite chipper and enjoyable to listen to: she makes us play a massive game of paper-rock-scissors. I win despite my best efforts to lose quickly. I am awarded a cloth that is used for carrying objects between rooms of one's home. Seriously. I have the strong urge to regift it to a nearby trashcan, but refrain.
The orientation runs too long (shock), and is capped off by questions that mostly reveal an acute obsession for details. A high percentage of the questions would require the power of oracle to answer definitively. Suspect that the majority of crowd want to strangle all question askers; a vocal minority competes to proclaim answers to questions not addressed to them. Eventually a momentary question drought is used to justify the end of the Q&A period. The long awaited termination incites much internal rejoicing throughout the room. We are herded into a dining room to await a toast from the head of the Consulate.
The dinner had good food. There was only enough room for half of the attendees to sit down. The available beverages were lemonade and fruit punch. Moving on.
After eating, two old classmates, ex-Jerk #1, and I head over to hotel bar. (There are five ex-pursuers-of-knowledge from Centre entering JET this year. None of them will be living nearby. I am pretty content to let college lie in that respect.) I order a gin and tonic; the bar is out of Bombay Sapphire, so I settle for Bombay (can I taste the difference? Doubtful). We devise a flawed plan that involves socializing with numerous other JETs by them coming to us. Like most other flawed plans it fails silently and goes to wherever dead dreams weep. It takes my last $25 with it.
After waving goodbye to my last American dollars, I head up to my room. A brief chat with my roommate (yet another I unfairly maligned with prejudgment, fuck), and an equally brief shower, I go to sleep. A 5:00 AM alarm is set to vanquish any linger sweet dreams of home.