BY REBECCA AGULE
I jinx flights. I apologize if you have ever flown anywhere with me. Your flight was fine, on time, healthy and happy, until I purchased my ticket. And then each and every danger or delay came into the picture. All the dangers got cleaned up, but along the way, they turned into delays. You can blame me if your spouse / parent / sibling was left waiting for you at the other end. Blame me if your homecoming dinner, that perfect meal after a day of travel, became cold and inedible and you ended up, once again, screaming your dinner order at a drive-through voice box. Blame me if you didn’t get that ideal job because the airline lost your luggage with your lucky watch, the one you got from your grandfather the day he died and that you were wearing when you asked your wife to marry you and on the day your first child was born. And now that child hates you because, without that perfect job, you cannot afford to send him to the perfect computer camp or buy her the mitt she really wants, the one the rest of her team has. All of that is most assuredly my fault.
None of this varies by airline or flight. One time my plane actually managed to set down a full fifteen minutes early, only to receive the joyous news that another craft was already at the gate. So we waited on the runway for forty-five minutes. After some basic math, that eager flight set us back a half hour.
Since flying usually feels like slowly removing a band-aid lovingly affixed with rubber cement, the basic fact that my flight to North Carolina had been so painless was in itself a bad omen. Walking through Charlotte International Airport without stepping in anything, finding a luggage cart without throwing any actual punches – all more bad omens. So someone’s plan came full circle as I stood at the luggage carousel. And stood at the luggage carousel. And stood. I shifted my weight, alternating between my tired legs. Then I sat on the neighboring carousel. My fellow travelers all grabbed some sort of gear and made their separate ways out of the airport. Newly alone, I moved back to my own carousel, for it was no longer moving. As if there was no luggage from flight 1499 left to take the ride.
A barely legible, hand scratched sign arrived to notify me, and the newly congregated, rather haggard travelers, that the cases and bags now on the belt had made the trip all the way from Las Vegas. I, unfortunately, had not come from Vegas, on that day, or any other. Logically, I decided it might behoove me to panic. A habitual overpacker, it seemed I had strangled everything I owned into those bags, including a rather revealing journal and a lucky stuffed toy frog. The distinct possibility existed that, after the public release of the former and the eternal disappearance of the latter, I would never get a job offer. The next step, in logical progression, was to solicit help. One airline employee found his co-worker’s Valentine’s Day-and-I-ate-all-that-chocolate tale more harrowing than my lost articles. The ticket agent asked me three times where and when I wanted to fly. On the verge of buying tracking dogs and dragging them out to the runway myself to find my suitcases, I caught a baggage handler in the midst of explaining to a furious woman why they had taken the extreme liberty to remove a strap from her duffel bag and zip it securely inside.
I confess to my own rudeness as I used the luggage cart to physically prevent the haggard worker from returning to her behind the scenes world, but I really wanted my frog. Plus I was proud of how long I had held onto this cart without putting any visible bags on it. My dilemma explained, she went off to search for the bag, a standard precursor to filling out forms to tell the airline how much they now owe you for underwear, shoes and frogs. Ten minutes later, she emerged again, chatting with the chocolate fan, wearing her coat and gloves. She laughed right past me (that must be some Valentine’s story), her workday obviously over. The defensive lineman in me erupted in front of her. I wanted my bags, or at the very least, someone to care that I wanted my bags. Covering as much of the furious vibration in my voice as possible, I reminded her of the bags, all rather essential to my leaving the airport. After asking if I had spoken to the ticket agent and looking around for the hand-off, she asked the chocolate-eater to wait, and again disappeared behind the doors. Her disappearance felt as interminable as the loss of my bags. My energy and patience seemed to be harmonizing their respective failures. Finally, my knees giving out, hyperventilation setting in, my baggage handler returned. Bag in hand, she wondered why I had not taken it from the carousel. Obviously the horrendous jet lag down the East Coast had thrown me off enough that I lost the ability to recognize the very suitcase that not only contained my life but with which I had bonded over fun-filled hours of packing. Instead of asking how the airline had managed to make it invisible and then re-appear, I simply said I had not seen it. “Whatever,” was the reply, accompanied by a “get your sight checked or pay attention” eye roll.
Again, she donned the coat and gloves. And again I blocked her trajectory to the door.
-Um, there was another bag.
-Yeah, there were two…
Are you sure?
And you only have one?
The other one didn’t come through?
Look, one, two.
-No, that one is my coat.
Awed by either my collegiate counting skills or the ability to recall the original number of bags in my possession, she again asked her impatient colleague to wait. He seemed hurried; chocolate leftovers do only last so long. The door creaked shut again, but it was obvious every inch of her being and will power was trying to intercept the slam.
Then, from somewhere, larks sang. Sun broke through clouds. Arias filled the airport. My bag. The final piece. My body went weak. It had arrived. I had arrived. The frog, the journal. The gray February Charlotte sky never seemed brighter. The weekend could now begin.
Despite my cart’s newly acquired weight, it never seemed easier to push than when I broke from the automatic doors to see my friend’s car idling in the arrivals line. Nothing solidifies the feeling of arrival more than a waiting ride. The bus is cheap, taxis are convenient, but that familiar face, not being forced to direct someone else through lanes of traffic, never having to say where you are going…. It is always, hands down, no questions asked, worth the price of a lunch or a drink. Besides, with my flights, a drink is necessary might help stave off that notorious inter-time zone jet lag.