Flying so frequently to my lecture sites, I’m always landing at airports where I know nobody in the town. Be it Fargo or Fresno, as I exit the plane, I realize that the eager faces at the gate awaiting loved ones will look right past me to scan for that one special person. If I deplane early the faces that meet mine are happy and full of anticipation; if I’m one of the last, the faces look rather grim and anxious, fearing that their loved ones never made the flight.
Ironically, this ritual is repeated by me a few minutes later at the level below in that high suspense area known as Baggage Claim. But now I’m the eager face in front of the conveyor belt anxiously scanning each piece of luggage as it moves into sight. Like those at the gate awaiting loved ones, I am at first all optimistic anticipation, hoping my familiar blue Hartmann suit bag will pop into view immediately, thus insuring a quick exit to my rental car. But when I’ve waited fifteen minutes and still not glimpsed my piece of luggage, my expression takes on the same fear and trepidation for my bag that those people at the gate had for their missing loved ones.
I’ve experienced lost luggage, late luggage and lacerated luggage, but my most ghastly experience was in Dallas years ago. Waiting at the luggage carousel, I remember my initial disgusted reaction when the first bag to appear on the belt was none other than a large brown garbage bag, complete with loose yellow tie-string and bulging sides. “Has it come to this?” I remember thinking, “that the quality of air passengers has sunk so low that some prefer Hefty to Louis Vuitton?” As the final degradation, I noticed as the bag passed by, two pairs of underwear could be seen protruding through a large rip in the plastic. I admit that from that moment I used one eye to spot my own bag and the other to see who in the world would claim the garbage bag.
By coincidence, nobody claimed the Hefty nor did my bag ever come into sight. Finally, I was the only one left at the carousel and the Hefty was the only thing circling. Not until then did I notice something appallingly familiar about the Fruit-of-the-Loom jockeys and something depressingly blue and Hartmannesque deep within the now slowly opening trash bag.
A revelation flashed upon me: somehow my bag must have been destroyed and the handlers had tossed it and my orphaned belongings in their garbage bag of choice for me to claim. I was both furious and, idiotically, humiliated that my anonymous underpants had been on display for all of Flight #722 to snicker at in public.
Yes, the airline replaced the bag. I asked the agent how this could have happened, but she only shrugged and rolled her eyes. Visions of gorillas and Samonites wrestling together danced through my mind.
I noticed that my exposed underwear had what looked like airplane grease on them. Rather than washing my dirty laundry in public, so to speak, I simply abandoned them in an airport trash container. As I wearily wandered to my rental car, I found myself humming a familiar tune. It was the Tony Bennett classic. He had left his heart in San Francisco; I had left my dirty drawers in Dallas.