I started writing this Wednesday from Kansas City, though there’s some confusion as to whether it was in Missouri or Kansas. Apparently it depends on which side of the river you’re on. Who knew? Thanks to a colleague’s GPS oversight on arrival, we’d taken the scenic route and toured both anyway.
When I reflected on my day thus far, getting lost in the greater KC area was simply the icing. In a shocking twist of events, I’d arrived late for check-in at DIA, 5 minutes beyond the 45 minute cut-off for checking luggage.
“I’ll take your bag,” the super-perky, super-helpful ticketing agent said. “But it may not make it. It takes 25 minutes just to get to baggage handling. You’ll need to sign this voluntary separation agreement to voluntarily separate from your luggage. And you’d better hurry. They won’t hold the plane for you, either.”
I agree to voluntary separate from my luggage, which is pretty much how the whole checking bags thing works, even when you’re not late. I heft my luggage onto the platform where the ticket agent promptly stickers it and throws it onto the conveyor belt that stretches and writhes like a flat, dusty snake behind every airline counter in the terminal, my economically-sized roll-aboard a leftover morsel digested and moved, moved, moved efficiently along its predetermined path into the deep bowels of the airport.
And as I wind my own way through the security checkpoint, through the air puffer to ensure I haven’t been assembling explosives in my basement again, up and down escalators, on and off shuttles, past dozens of cell phone breakups and business deals, crammed on moving sidewalks with pilots who carry guns and children who just can’t wait another minute, past Starbucks and the travel pillow store, past the shoeshine kiosk and the place that rents portable DVD players, weaving through a sea of rolling carry-ons and odd sculptures, through the terminal – a constant flux of reunions and goodbyes – to the gate, through the boarding door and onto the plane, hello, welcome aboard, please stow your carry-on bags in the overhead bins, to seat 20A, wondering all the while whether my little blue luggage (from which I’ve voluntarily separated) has followed me.
And as I settle into seat 20A, the passenger behind me – a man wearing more tattoos than clothes below his pale yellow neck pillow – shouts the details of a recent botched surgery into his cell phone. A bad cyst, something not properly closed, in the urgent care last night for another go at it. The passengers to my right followed suit, the wife recounting the tale of Dad’s severed finger for the daughter on the other end of the phone who had apparently missed out on all the action last night, part of the finger completely gone, unsuitable for reattachment. Dad, sitting on her right side, holding his throbbing appendage, reminding his beloved not to get overly stressed about it. Just when I’m ready to rummage for the air sickness bag, the pilot informs us that Pete the Pelican welcomes us aboard (Pete being permanently painted in a 2-dimensional likeness out on the wing tip, unable to tell us himself).
I watch Pete the entire trip, my view of the wing, anxiously (yet voluntarily) separated from my luggage like a mom on her baby’s first day of Kindergarten, wondering. Will they take care of him? Will they rummage through his contents? Will they discover the – oh, never mind about that. I also wonder why the phrase “Do not walk outside this area” is stenciled on the wing as though one dumb passenger thought it might be funny to take a stroll on the wing 30,000 feet over Oklahoma, thereby ruining it for everyone else. Fucking tourists.
We land uneventfully (despite my frequent and sudden urges to take that stroll out on the wing) in Kansas City, either in MO or KS, what does it matter, and make our way into the terminal and the baggage claim area where I must face my destiny as the Late One in our group of 4. As the bags empty onto the conveyor, mine not among them, the crowd thins and dwindles to just a handful of concerned passengers. My colleagues, on the precipice of frustration, watch on, cursing me, secretly conferring on how they can get away with leaving me to find my own way to the hotel should my luggage not arrive.
The only passenger yet to be reunited with her luggage, I step in front of the mouth of the conveyor and look down the cavernous baggage birth canal, waiting and hoping for my own special delivery. The belt stops, coughs, starts again, crowd gone, heart sinking, hope dwindling, when in the distance I see it – the pale blue canvas stark against the neon orange name tag. Hoorah! Hallelujah and hoorah! The clouds part! Sunlight bathes the terminal! Angels sing! My luggage had voluntarily separated from me and taken its own journey, rolling down a conveyor belt in Denver only to pop out in Kansas City as if it had meant to do so all along, as if by secret teleportation, as if by magic.
Thank you, Pete the Pelican!
Thank you, magic little suitcase!
Thank you, Kansas City, wherever you may be!