A week or so after my brother Ernie died, a package arrived at my front door. It was a painting created by Robert Holton. I used to go to high school with Robert and he is now a professional artist (www.drizzleart.com). I have a couple of his pieces, but I did not remember ordering anything from him. It turned out that my brother, months ago, contacted Robert about creating something special for me for my birthday in September. He asked Robert to create a painting of the street sign at the intersection where we grew up in Anaheim, California. Robert and Ernie collaborated to design the painting, but Robert was surprised when Ernie stopped responding to him about timeframes and such. When Robert learned that Ernie had died, he completed the painting and sent copies to me, my cousin Raymond (who spent some of his young adult years living with us at the house at this intersection), and my sister-in-law Diane.
I loved the painting, but seeing it cracked the retaining wall around my emotions concerning my brother’s death. The fact that my brother had thought of me and wanted to do something so sweet for me certainly triggered complicated emotions. The biggest takeaway, though, was that he did genuinely love me and appreciate me. When I saw the painting, I could feel sixty plus years of emotion rising in my body. I slowly began to sob. Once I started, it was hard to stop.
I left Orange County, Florida, on a plane bound for Orange County, California. My main mission was to take my sister-in-law to retrieve my brother’s ashes from the cremation company, create and emcee a dinner at my brother’s favorite restaurant for some well-loved people (some via Zoom and some IRL), and then scatter some of Ernie’s ashes in an exotic way. I will explain more about how these goals played out in a later post, but I first want to share one noteworthy aspect of my trip.
When I arrived in Orange County, California, there was no sign of my suitcase. I was not the only one searching for luggage and, by the mountain of unclaimed suitcases erected beside the Southwest baggage services office, it had been a bad day indeed for suitcases. I joined the line of people waiting to report a missing bag, congratulating myself on my relative calm. When I reached the front of the line, the assistor advised me that my suitcase was still in Denver. Although I had a layover in Denver for almost two hours and had plenty of time to make my connecting flight, my suitcase apparently did not. The assistor told me that the bag was in Denver and was expected to arrive in around three hours. She said that they would call me when the bag arrived.
I devised a plan on the spot. During this trip, I was going to spend several days in Hemet, which is beyond the delivery reach of the Orange County airport. I planned to spend my final day with my friend Judy in Laguna Niguel, which was only about fifteen miles from the airport. My original plan was to have dinner with Judy before making my way out to Hemet and then would return to spend the last day of my trip with Judy before coming home. I decided to have the suitcase sent to Judy’s. I would skip dinner with Judy that evening and, instead, go to Walmart to purchase three days’ worth of clothes and toiletries, and then go to Hemet. The suitcase and I would be reunited on the last day of my trip when I got to Judy’s… just in time to go home with me.
After I called Judy and explained the situation, I kicked myself for not choosing a different route. Since the airport lady told me the suitcase was expected within three hours, I could have gone to have dinner with Judy and then come back to the airport to pick it up before driving out to Hemet. As it turned out, I am glad this option did not occur to me until I was wandering around Walmart. The suitcase had very different plans.
Buying clothes at Walmart turned out to be more of a challenge than I would have anticipated. At the end of August, summer is over as far as Walmart is concerned. The clothes in prominent display featured long sleeves, denim, and sweatshirt fabric. It was 106 degrees in Hemet. The autumn/winter line of Walmart attire was clearly not going to work. I shoved my way through the clearance racks, looking for items that would fit, would go together, and would not cause me to have heat prostration. I steered myself towards dresses to solve the problem of “going together.” There were clearly no pieces left that went together. It took me about an hour, but I did end up finding three summer weight dresses that I could wear over the next few days. Two of them were the exact same dress in different colors, but I was not being too fussy.
When I reached the hotel in Hemet, the predicted 3 hours to get “eyes on” my suitcase had come and gone with no phone call or email. I was so tired that it didn’t really register with me. The next morning, I checked for phone calls and emails, but there was not a peep from Southwest. When I got out of the shower and dressed in my new Walmart clothes, my phone rang. It was the Southwest rep at Orange County airport, calling to tell me that they had no idea where my suitcase was. What a crappy job. I could hear the poor woman holding her breath, obviously dreading my reaction. We talked about the options and decided to give the suitcase one more day to get to Orange County before giving up and directing it back to Orlando if it was ever heard from again.
That evening, I was sitting in the car with my step niece while my sister-in-law made a quick stop at Target. My phone rang. The person on the other end of the line said, “This is Lily at Southwest Airlines in Long Beach. I was just calling to tell you we still had your bag.” At first, I was ecstatic that Southwest had found my bag, but then I realized there was a subtext to this call. “Uh, okay,” I responded. “So, what do I do now?” Lily answered in a polite if bewildered manner, “You can pick it up at any time of your convenience.”
Hmmm… Long Beach is about fifty miles from the Orange County Airport and about hundred miles from where I was sitting in Hemet. “Uh, no. I am not in Long Beach,” I explained.
It took Lily a couple of minutes and me a minute longer than that to realize what was happening. Lily was not calling in response to the “lost luggage” report I submitted at the Orange County Airport. She was calling because they had this random suitcase sitting at the Long Beach Airport and the baggage claim people had no idea why I had never picked it up after my flight. When we ascertained that I had not been to Long Beach, wasn’t scheduled to go to Long Beach, had no expected layover in Long Beach, and had no plans to go to Long Beach, Lily had a couple of options to explore. She told me that she would have to check to see if their luggage delivery company would go as far as Laguna Niguel to leave my bag with my friend. If not, they would put my suitcase on the next flight scheduled to stop at Orange County (a scant fifty miles away) and then have the Orange County luggage delivery company bring the suitcase to my friend’s house. That option sounded sketchy to me and, also, unlikely to produce my bag before I left to go home to Orlando.
Lily called me back an hour or so later to let me know that the Long Beach luggage delivery company could deliver my suitcase to Laguna Niguel that evening but would be pounding on my friend’s door at midnight to do so. We decided to wait until the next day. All went well after that. I did get to reunite with my suitcase the day before I went home. I barely cracked it open. I don’t know why I bothered with all that pesky packing.
Rudyard Kipling wrote, “He who travels the fastest travels alone.” I don’t think by “alone” Mr. Kipling meant without his suitcase.
My sister-in-law was talking to me about how much she missed my brother’s sense of humor. She said, “like this whole business with your suitcase… it sounds exactly like something he would have done to mess with you.” I thought about that and agreed he did enjoy pranking, but I was still stuck on why Ernie would have reached out from the Great Beyond to send my suitcase to Long Beach, of all places. Then it hit me. Where did we live when we first moved from New York to California? Long Beach.
So what is your luggage tale of woe? Did Walmart make some money off you, too? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a well-packed day!