Telluride Daily Planet, Sunday, November 17, 2013
It is nearly midnight and you have just arrived in New York City. It’s your first day of vacation, and your first vacation in a long time. The approach, right over the city, is unbelievable — lights for miles in the crystalline black of night, Manhattan Island like an ornate jewel, pulsating, scintillating, set apart.
In the silence of the taxi, you scream quietly through streets, over the Robert F. Kennedy bridge and then down through East Harlem toward your friends’ apartment.
You haul your stuff up and settle in the guest room, the one next to the bathroom that has better water pressure than any hotel you’ve ever been to. Which is one reason you left New York all those years ago, because of the carbon-footprint mindbender of fantastic water pressure three floors up in a city of 10 million.
Though you’re tempted take a hot shower, right then, instead, you reach for your carry-on and unzip it, given that the toiletries are right there on top.
When you flip it open, however, you don’t see your cleanser. Or toothpaste, or little pills. Or the Ziploc holding them — or anything else. Instead of your clothes is a pile of brochures sitting loosely on a stack of men’s socks. White socks you’ve never seen before. And shirts. Someone’s shirts. That you don’t recognize.
You drop the flap and freeze. What is happening here? Who are you? All of a sudden your hands aren’t your own. You feel like you’re in a movie, a dark comedy written by people who hate you.
It occurs to you then, as you launch yourself into the bathroom like a missile, that it is your companion who has taken the wrong bag down from the overhead compartment on the plane! You tell him he’s made a terrible mistake, terrible! Spitting out his own perfectly packed, tracked and traveled-with toothpaste, he tells you the mistake was probably made in Denver at the gate check cart. Because there was only one bag to take from the overhead, which is the one he took.
Where is your silver carry-on, then, the one purchased specifically not to look like the hundreds of plain black ones? Now, of course, it’s obvious: This silver thing is not yours at all. It’s scuffed. There is a tag with a phone number on it (708!), which you call and text to no avail. Maybe this non-existent, faceless man has gone off without any bag, had a heart attack and died. Where does that put your bag, though, a bag without identification of any kind?
Numbly, you fill in the required online form, which is pointless unless you have checked your bag (in the future, you never even hear back). And then you start to think about everything in that bag, the only bag you have ever really been proud of packing, since you are a worthless packer, the kind of packer who, despite lists, panics at the end and either packs too little or too much, and then throws stuff in indiscriminately. This time, you have spent an entire week editing the bag for New York and for 10 days abroad. All the gifts for the relatives (12) have painstakingly been packed as well. There is plenty of underwear. The right ratio of shirts to sweaters, jeans to other pants. You have even packed a safety pin.
The next day, fully discombobulated, you find yourself buying pants and underwear, and even though you love this particular store, you cannot think straight. Can you travel to France with two pairs of pants and a shirt? Arrive with no gifts? Your companion leads you around like a person trailing an IV. You might as well be wearing a backless hospital gown because that is how it feels.
While in the dressing room, a call comes in. Finally: white-socks. His phone has died but now he’s received your message and, boy, this is a catastrophe because he is about to go to a conference without his brochures. He quickly tells you that you’ve obviously picked up his bag first since he was sitting in the back of the plane. Huh? Utterly unnerved, you take responsibility. And two days and $360 later, you are reunited with your bag and he, presumably, with his.
You force yourself to forget the money and proceed to have a fantastic trip. You narrowly miss running out of gas (see six rainbows that day, in fact). You narrowly miss having your wallet pinched in the Paris metro (you feel his hand on it and see him flee). You narrowly miss a major flight-canceling storm in Europe (you get driving rain and flapping shutters in Paris).
Somehow in the great pachinko machine of cause and effect, it all evens out. Which is reassuring. But that doesn’t change the one take-away from this:
Tag the bag, sister. Tag the freaking bag next time.