A Case of Mistaken Identity

A few years ago I splurged and bought myself a new suitcase. At the time I bought it, I thought it was the most brilliant purchase I’d ever made. It’s purple, one of my favorite colors, and also a color I figured would stand out from the typical dark green and black bags we all see swirling around the baggage claim carrier.

In the store I loved the fact that it has four wheels and is as tall as my kitchen table. I thought to myself, “This is going to be awesome! Finally a suitcase that will hold everything I need and will be easy to roll through the airport.” I’m not exactly famous for packing light. 🙂

giant purple suitcase

I continued to think it was brilliant right up until I packed it for it’s maiden voyage and had to figure out a way to get the darn thing down the stairs without killing myself. I managed to slide it down without too much trouble, problem solved and the suitcase’s “brilliant” status had only been slightly tarnished.

Each leg of the trip it became more and more obvious that the purchase was not brilliant at all. I couldn’t get the bag into the trunk by myself, the shuttle bus driver could barely hoist it onto the bus, and it weighed in at just under 50 pounds. If that wasn’t enough, the raised eyebrows and out-loud-laughter from friends and family confirmed that I had actually purchased one of the most ridiculous suitcases on the planet.

The only thing that’s turned out to be good about the bag is that I never have any trouble identifying my suitcase in baggage claim, until recently that is.

The night before my annual trip to Big Sand Lake, I first packed the essentials: walking shoes, ink pens, a drawing tablet, and my hair dryer and then I threw in my clothes. (you can see why I first thought this bag was brilliant, right?)

packing for the lakeAfter 7 hours of travel, including the trip to the airport at 4 a.m., I was more than thrilled when I saw my giant purple bag was the second suitcase off the plane and onto the carousel. I retrieved it and rolled it outside to wait for my parents to pick me up. (I have to admit that the one thing I do still love about the bag is how easy it is to roll around the airport.)

We spent the afternoon in Fargo, and after a leisurely lunch with my aunt and uncle and a short visit with my cousin and his beautiful wife and cute, cute babies we started our 1 hour drive to the lake. About 15 miles into the drive my phone rang. It was a number I didn’t recognize so of course I didn’t answer it, they left a voicemail.

“Hi Beth, this is the supervisor here from United Airlines calling. We have a big purple bag here at the Fargo airport with your name on it so it looks like you picked up the wrong bag from the baggage claim area this morning when you landed. There’s a passenger here who is missing a bag that matches the same description, so we think you have hers.”

Yikes!

Thirty minutes later I confirmed that there was indeed at least one other person in the world who must have initially thought this suitcase was awesome – they were identical.

We made the swap and I learned that the bag I mistook for mine belonged to a group that was originally traveling through Chicago, but had been re-routed through Minneapolis due to a cancelled flight. Unfortunately for both of us, their giant purple suitcase caught the first flight out of Chicago which put it on the same flight as me. What are the odds of that?

All’s well that ends well. I just hope they’re laughing about it as much as we are.

Just One?

We left the house at 6:30 am (ish), stopped at Wawa for doughnuts and coffee, and in spite of the slow southbound traffic on 95 we made it with time to spare.  Christian is at an awkward travel age; according to the airlines he’s old enough to travel alone but according to the state of Pennsylvania he’s too young for a driver’s license with a picture, and TSA requires photo identification to go through security.  Although the ticket agent assured us that his school badge and picture would work, I thought it best to hover outside of security until he made it past the final checkpoint.

I headed home with a bit of apprehension and anxiety about the many hours of being alone that lay ahead of me.  I thought about the fact that I hadn’t had time to make my bed before we left, tempting, but not an option. I smiled about the self-confidence and sensitivity it required for Christian to transport a medium size stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear from Philadelphia to St. Louis because his sister asked him to.  And I worried, wondering if Jeff had gotten his car checked out to make sure it was road worthy and would safely carry three of the most important people in my life on a twenty hour out and back road trip.

I spent the afternoon in my favorite place.  The brick felt cool under my feet, the scent of spring drifted through the slats of the blinds, and the sun lit the blank paper canvas propped against my easel.  Ever since I drew the pine cone I’ve had it in my head that I want to draw a companion piece, a rose, and I figured there was no time like the present.  I was too distracted to write but knew I needed a creative outlet.  I thought and drew and  I drew and thought.  I used the techniques Anne taught me and I brought the first draft of my rose to life just in time for dinner.

Dinner.  I considered the options and wondered what other women do for dinner when their kids are en route to their dad’s wedding.  My freezer was stocked with Lean Cuisine entrees, I have the Chinese delivery number on speed dial, and a new arrival from Netflix waited for me in the den.  My immediate reaction was “nope, nope, double nope.”  I pondered going to dinner on my own and the dreaded response from the host or hostess, “Oh… ‘just one’?”

Thirty minutes later a beautiful woman wearing a little black dress and a denim jacket arrived at the fanciest restaurant in town and approached the host.

“One please, “I said with a smile.

He grinned back, “One it is, would you like a view of the river?”

I noticed there was something different about our exchange.  I didn’t say ‘just one’ and he didn’t either. Lesson learned, how you think about and present yourself is how others will perceive you.

Oh, and I very much enjoyed my dinner and the view of the river.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

That was EZ!

I loved the episodes of Bewitched when one of Aunt Clara’s spells went awry and an historic figure like Benjamin Franklin or George Washington materialized in the middle of Samantha’s living room or Darin’s office.  I thought it was hysterical to watch how confused they were by all of the modern conveniences like telephones, cars, and indoor plumbing.

I have to wonder what William Penn might think if he had been transported from the past into the backseat of my Volvo the other day as my son and I made the trip back to Yardley from the Newark airport.  Our topics of conversation included impressions of a full body scan vs. traditional security, whether it was everyone or just us that got a pat down in addition to the body scan, and the limitations of the GPS in an area that has right turns that appear to be exits and a bazillion roads converging in a compact geographic area.

“I’m going to text Dan and let him know that we’re stuck in traffic on the Turnpike,” Christian said.

We crawled along the road, watched the vehicles zipping by in the car and truck lane, and contemplated the wisdom of crossing over from the car only lane through one of the openings marked “For Official Use Only.”

I pointed to the toll booths, “We’re almost there.  After this we should be home free.”

“It would be even faster if we had an EZPass and didn’t have to go through one of the cash only lanes,” he said.

“You’re right, I think it’s time.  I’ll Google it when we get home and figure out how to get one.”

William might have been even more confused if he had watched me find the website for the Pennsylvania Turnpike on my iPad, send the link to one of my three email addresses, and bookmark the site to my favorites.

I felt a little like William when I drove to Acme today to purchase my EZPass. I wasn’t quite convinced I wouldn’t make a fool of myself at the Customer Service desk, after all, a Transponder sounds like something you would purchase at a science fiction memorabilia shop or a comic book convention, not at a grocery store.

The brochures on the counter reassured me that I was in the right place.  I paid for my pass, listened carefully to the instructions to register my gadget within 72 hours, and hoped I’d be able to figure out how to mount it properly in my car.

I spotted an SUV in the parking lot that had a white square on the windshield under the rear view mirror, so I pulled up next to it and confirmed my interpretation of the “Transponder Mounting Instructions.”

My heart pounded just a little as I passed through the toll booth at five miles per hour on the return leg of my test drive to Hamilton and back.  There were no tickets, no one ran after me, and I think the light that flashed as I drove through meant everything was good to go.

I used “Go Pak” to register online, breathed a sigh of relief, and thought to myself, “That wasn’t so hard, in fact it was EZ.”

On the Road Again

the joys of travel

I’m beginning to think I should hang a sign from my rear view mirror similar to the safety record signs in factories, only mine would say “Number of Days Without Getting Lost is ___.” It had been ten days since the Tarot card vs Tax Firm debacle and I was feeling pretty good about the fact that five of those ten days included finding my way around an unfamiliar city without my GPS.

I made it all the way to the last day of my trip until the imaginary counter had to be reset to zero.  I’m not sure how it happened, but in spite of the written directions I picked up at the front desk at the hotel, the map on my iPad, and the detailed verbal instructions from the valet parking guy I still ended up going in the opposite direction of the airport.

Maybe it was because the directions were delivered with a southern drawl so thick I wasn’t sure if he was speaking English, or I lost my concentration when I tried to guess which car would go where as the valet guys shuffled cars around like they were playing Chinese Checkers.  It could be that directions that begin with “go south on…” rather than “turn right at Starbucks” make no sense to me, but whatever the cause, I found myself once again trying to figure out how to turn around when possible.

One thing I’ve learned is that if I stay calm and remember to breathe I can usually figure things out. And in some cases I can even save twenty cents a gallon by topping off the tank of the rental car while lost rather than waiting until I was closer to the airport.  Needless to say, I was happy when I saw the exit marked Airport Boulevard.

I followed the signs to the rental car drop off which seemed very clear up until I had to choose between All Day Parking and Short Term Parking.  I’m not sure if the guy who drove up beside me and shouted “Rental return?” while he pointed toward the All Day Parking option was frustrated or amused by my obvious confusion but I was glad he shouted directions instead of just honking his horn like the previous car that passed by me.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the number forty-seven flash on the luggage scale.  I’d managed to transfer five pounds from my suitcase to my carry on and although I try to be an optimist, I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to have the ninety dollar overweight fee waived two flights in a row.  As the gate agent reached for my boarding pass the lights in the airport flickered, the fans whined, and the airport was suddenly silent and unlit.

She handed me my ticket without looking up, “Y’all got lucky, everyone behind you has to wait for the whole system to reboot.”

Twenty minutes later they opened one security lane, powered by a back-up generator. I passed through the metal detector without so much as a beep only to learn that I’d been randomly selected to receive a special screening. I seem to be “randomly selected” for security screenings almost as often as I get lost.

I felt more than a little exposed standing in the rectangular glass cube between the security lanes and was relieved when it turned out that unlike my last trip only my bags and not my body had been selected for inspection.   I settled down some when I saw there were no changes to the schedule and I was breathing normally by the time I dropped off my duffle bag at the end of the jet way.

All seatbelts had been fastened and the flight attendants had readied the cabin.  Just as the pilot announced, “At this time all passengers must be seated,” the woman in front of me stood and her husband climbed into the aisle with a toothbrush in hand and headed toward the lavatory.

I’m not sure what was more comical, the fact that he brushed his teeth on the plane without regard to the pilot’s announcement or watching him maneuver his six foot plus body into the window seat while his wife remained seated.  I’ll give him this, he did manage to take care of his dental hygiene and still snap his seatbelt buckle in time for the final pass through the cabin.

Our Tax Dollars at Work

Traveling by plane used to be fun, well maybe not fun, but at least pleasant and certainly much easier than it is today. I think we all used to look forward to feeling a little special when the stewardess, now flight attendant, actually seemed to enjoy serving us a beverage and choice of in-flight meal.   Of course if you were in the back of the plane, you most likely got whatever was the least popular of the two choices, but it was food, and best of all it was ‘free.’

We used to complain about the food, but now we consider ourselves lucky if a bag of peanuts is tossed our way, and we rave about the airlines that hand out chocolate chip cookies (what happened to the champagne and strawberries?)  Today we hope there is enough time between security or our connecting flight to grab a bite of overpriced food while racing to the gate. For me, it’s a toss-up: airport cuisine may be a step above airline fare, but it’s ten times as expensive as it should be. This morning, I paid ten dollars and fifty six cents for a bagel, a bottle of water, and a cup of bad coffee; I think I’d rather have ‘free.’

A lot has changed about travel. I miss the lingering farewells, boisterous homecomings and hugs experienced at the gate; they’ve been replaced with hasty hellos and rushed goodbyes in the ‘drop off zone.’

It seems that the only thing about traveling that isn’t rushed is going through security. ‘They’ don’t advise you to arrive two hours before departure for no reason.  My flight was at 6 a.m., which made for a very short night or a very early morning, depending on which way you look at it. Either way by 4 a.m. I was in a cab and on my way to the airport.

Surprisingly there was no line to check in. I guess I was one of three that chose to pay the fee and check my bag rather than go without my perfume or necessary hair products.  Judging by the long security line and the caterpillar pace, airlines charging to check baggage may have caused more than one unintended consequence.  Nearly every person in line had a carry on, hmmm – more work for TSA, less revenue for the airline, and it takes longer to get through security.  In the end the plane weighs the same and doesn’t cost any less to fly.

Early morning staffing must be a problem because there was only one TSA agent checking IDs, one droning instructions, and two security belts open for scanning bags. I shifted from one foot to the other and tried to be patient as the line inched forward. I wasn’t late for my flight but I was in dire need of coffee and food. Forty-five minutes later, the clatter of a metal gate being raised and the words, “Folks, move along and fill the line to the station that just opened up,” was music to my ears.

Within five minutes only one person stood between me and the next point in the security process. There were twenty people between me and the newly opened station, so I pretended I didn’t hear the instruction to wrap around to the new line.

This did not make the TSA man happy.

He bellowed rather than droned, “Folks, if everyone would just follow directions and go to the next open station rather than stopping at the first person you see, everyone will get out of here just a little quicker.  It’s YOUR choice and YOUR tax dollars, if you don’t go to the open position, you’re paying someone to sit and do absolutely nothing, and you’re NOT getting your money’s worth.”

The agent checking my ID raised his eyebrow, shook his head and muttered, “That’s a new one.  There are twenty people in line for the other guy. Tax dollars at work, getting your money’s worth, is he for real?”

There was one last obstacle between me and a bad cup of coffee.  I filled the totes with my laptop, shoes, jacket, and purse; ready to face the metal detector.  Much to my chagrin, I got ‘the hand,’ the stop, do not enter hand. It was followed by a sideways wave motioning me toward the entrance to the body scan.

I stepped onto the footprints outlined on the squishy black rubber mat, raised my hands above my head like it showed in the picture, and wondered what the security people could really see.  Relieved to be done with the body scan I stepped out of the contraption ready to gather my things and find the nearest open coffee shop.  No such luck, instead I was greeted with the phrase, “Female traveler, need an agent for a pat down.”

I guess you could say on this trip, I ‘got my money’s worth.’