I did, but I don’t anymore.
On a non-stop US Airways flight from JFK to Phoenix, one of my suitcases went missing. Although I’ve been flying for more than 50 years, such a traumatic separation from a valuable piece of personal property had never happened before. True, I once lost my wife to a couple of overly eager security guards at Newark-Liberty but they reluctantly returned her to me pretty much intact after she had successfully endured nearly 10 minutes of aggressive interrogation about her missing letters of transit. (She had unintentionally slipped through a checkpoint to go to the ladies room and foolishly left her travel documents with me.) But, after all, she was only a well-worn 73-year-old wife—not a nearly new, forest-green bag with impressive up-market zippers and cleverly concealed floating wheels. As Kipling once shrewdly observed, “A wife is just a wife but a good suitcase is a bag.”
The sage who observed that you never forget your first time was right. In my mind’s eye, I can still clearly see the crowded baggage carousel at Sky Harbor Airport and hear its buzzing and clacking as it attempted to reunite a bizarre assortment of bags with their expectant masters. Our other bag, the badly battered black one with the jaunty red ribbon on the handle, had been easily spotted and quickly retrieved. Although we waited patiently for the green suitcase, it soon became apparent that it was not going to appear. The carousel had stopped moving; three unclaimed bags were desolately scattered along its length but not one of them was ours.
Fortunately, there was a US Airways lassie nearby. When I explained my predicament, she smiled encouragingly and pointed. “Just go there, to the Baggage Irregularity counter and they’ll take care of it.”
The Baggage Irregularlity counter? I’d always assumed that when one lost something, one would go to the Lost and Found counter. But such was not to be. Our bag was not to be given the benefit of that simple dignity. My nearly new, forest-green bag with its up-market zippers and cleverly concealed floating wheels was not just lost; my bag had, how else can I put it, my beautiful bag had somehow become—irregular.
To the credit of US Airways, they had located the Baggage Irregularity counter just about 100 yards away from the baggage carousel. It was a large area, well marked and well staffed. (Evidently, there was a good bit of this phenomenon of baggage irregularity.)
I got in line (about six people long). After ten stressful minutes, I was invited forward to a reception station manned by a middle-aged chap named Luis. Upon listening to my tale of separation, he mumbled some words and punched the baggage receipt data into his computer.
“It is here,” he announced in an expressionless voice. “Where?” I responded. “Here, in the airport.” I pressed on. “But where in the airport?” Luis diffidently responded: “It is here, somewhere. We will find it.” And then he looked me up and down as if he was assessing my judgment and my basic character. He evidently suspected that the “missing” bag was in my possession and that I was too dense to realize it. To confirm his suspicions, he emerged, wordlessly, from behind the counter and checked the numbers on our other bag and those of our two friends who accompanied us on the trip. Obviously disappointed, our Sherlock shook his head in disbelief.
“Which carousel?” he asked. Hearing my reply, he strode off clutching my receipt—seemingly still confident that he would return with the missing bag. As he disappeared into the crowd, the other attendant reappeared and thrust two small transparent plastic bags into my hands. “These are Adversity Assistance packages, one for you and one for your wife.” Each bag contained notions such as a toothbrush, comb, shampoo—all the niceties that would assist us in surviving our rapidly developing adversity.
Luis returned, empty-handed. As before, he was expressionless and wordless. He beckoned me to follow him through an open doorway. Gerry Holzman, a mere Coach Economy (non-refundable) ticket holder, was being admitted to the Sanctum Sanctorum—a large room which contained at least fifty pieces of luggage. And a sad place it was, a dreary, badly-lighted space with row upon row of forlorn and friendless luggage.
“Is your bag here?” It took but a couple of minutes to determine that my green bag was not among the hopeful orphans so Luis, poker-faced as was his wont, silently handed me a form to fill out. Entitled, “Stray Property Report,” its name provided some small comfort. Because now I felt assured that my suitcase had not been lost or even misplaced by US Airways: it had rashly strayed from the flock of its fellows, wandered off somewhere and would soon be found by the relentless shepherds of US Airways.
When I handed Luis the completed form, he glanced at it and mumbled, “It might still be in New York.” And then, I swear I heard him say something that sounded like “or in Chicago.” Quite agitated, I explained that I was driving to Tucson that afternoon and needed the medicine in the bag. The fact that I was sweating added clout to my remarks and he, seemingly impressed by my plight, wrote the word “Rush” on my Stray Property Report.
We picked up our car and drove on to Tucson. Early the next morning I called the Baggage Irregularity Department and was told that my baggage had been found in the Phoenix airport; it had indeed been there all the while and was, at the very moment of my call, being flown down to Tucson with the regular baggage.
About 11 a.m., the landlady at our B&B appeared at our door pulling my nearly new, forest-green bag with its up-market zippers and cleverly concealed floating wheels. It was a joyous reunion.
Gerry Holzman is a professional woodcarver (and part-time writer) who specializes in Americana and in carousel art. His most recent book is The Empire State Carousel, published by the New York State Historical Association.