Friday, August 14, 2015

On Subways and Suitcases and the Big Apple

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Traveling would be awesome if it didn’t require luggage. Imagine, waltzing through airports with nothing but a wallet and the clothes on your back—at least until you reach the security line, where they take half of those. Air travel with suitcases is the sole reason the term ‘baggage’ has come to refer to hauling around a heavy emotional load.

Last week’s trip to New York City for a writer’s convention was no exception. Before flying out of Bozeman I dropped my son at my sister’s house for a week of quality aunt time. Upon arrival, we discovered his suitcase was back home on his bedroom floor. Thank the stars that I have a male child, and he’d stuffed his iPad and toothbrush in his backpack. Buy two changes of underwear and a pair of swimming trunks and he was set for a week long vacation.

My baggage and I arrived simultaneously in the Big Apple, which is always nice, and I’d arranged a car directly from the airport to the friend’s doorstep where I’d be spending the first night. No sweat.
Then came Wednesday, when I had to get from her apartment to the convention hotel. I considered the cost of a taxi. Then I considered that I could board the subway two blocks from her house and be spit out two block s from the hotel for a mere three dollars. I did not consider that the subway system wasn’t designed for people with luggage. I bought my ticket from the vending machine, swiped it, and promptly got my suitcase wedged in the turnstile. A long-suffering woman in the glass booth shouted at me to back out, then let me through the handicapped door with a ‘Stupid tourist’ eye roll.

New Yorkers are masters of the eye roll. I know. I saw them do it a lot.

I proudly de-trained at the Times Square station, only to realize there were seven exits and I had no clue which was closest to my hotel. I made my best guess and hauled my bag of bricks up three flights of grubby stairs while wearing a skirt and sandals, emerging into the tourist mob without a clue where I was in relation to the Marriot. On the plus side, this is an excellent way to meet handsome, helpful members of the NYPD.

I have no idea how many toes I ran over slogging through the crowd, but I did eventually arrive at the right hotel—word to the wise, there are actually three Marriot hotels in the vicinity of Times Square—dumped my luggage on the first bellman who would take it and keeled over on the nearest couch. 

Not only had I arrived, but I could skip that trip to the hotel gym.

Four days later, I re-packed and headed for home, feeling smug. I had downloaded the Delta app on my phone, checked in online and paid for my bags. I couldn’t be more prepared. The shuttle dumped me out at Terminal Four and I started following signs to the Delta check in, which appeared to be up two floors. As I made for the elevator, a helpful airport employee flagged me down and instructed me to just bop around the corner, where there was a convenient ground level baggage check.

Yay! I barely reached the line when a guy came along waving and shouting at a whole herd of us to march down the terminal—hurry, hurry, hurry—to where another dude was grabbing suitcases and tossing them onto a conveyor belt. I handed over my first bag, expecting him to ask to scan my boarding pass, but he just tossed it on the conveyor with the rest. He started to reach for the second. I kept a death grip on the handle.

“How do you even know that was my bag and where it’s going?” I demanded.

He looked down at the bag we were currently wrestling over. “It isn’t tagged? They’re supposed to be tagged.”

“I haven’t checked them yet,” I said.

He looked at me as if I was the idiot. “You have to go upstairs for that.”

NO KIDDING. Which was why I tried to go there in the first place, instead of this zoo where they were rechecking bags for connecting flights from other terminals. In the meantime, my untagged suitcase had disappeared into the bowels of the airport. Congratulations, JFK, for being the only airport to lose my luggage before I even set foot on a plane.

I hiked half a mile upstairs, where clerks did some truly exceptional eye-rolling and agreed the recheck guys were idiots but could offer no solution. I hiked another half a mile downstairs to baggage services, where a third clerk confirmed their opinion—along with the eyeroll—and made a phone call to see if someone could grab my bag before it dropped into the pit of no return. She did not appear optimistic that such a feat could be accomplished. There was mention of filing a claim at my destination and possibly being reunited with my belongings at some unspecified future date, but no one made any promises.

I dragged my aching feet another mile back upstairs, through security and to my gate, defeated. Just before midnight, I stumbled down the jetway in Bozeman to stare blearily at the baggage carousel, when what to my wondering eyes should appear than my missing suitcase. My fellow passengers didn’t seem to appreciate the magnitude of this modern day miracle. From their expressions, you’d think none of them had ever seen a woman hug a Samsonite before.

Writer friend Patty Blount, my very first little black dress, and yet 
another reason I would have wept if I lost my suitcase forever.


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1 comment:

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

On the bright side - you look great in that dress, and you got a wonderful story.

Don't hold it too much against new yorkers in general; the number of tourists that go through that city every year probably outnumbers the residents by a hefty margin (depending how far out into the suburbs you still call it NYC).

Hope you had a great time.