Call your mommy of course!
As we loaded the plane in Toronto I glanced over at the baggage loading truck. I didn’t see my bag. I have a hideous rusty orange suitcase with a lime green name tag which was all purchased with the idea that I would want my bag to stand out if my bag ever got lost. I dismissed this as I entered the plane thinking that I just must have missed it when they put my bag onto the loading ramp.
When I arrived in Thunder Bay airport I ran to the bathroom. Sitting beside a man on the plane who was the size of Hagrid and knowing it was going to be a short flight, I figured I could wait until we landed to go to the bathroom. The poor guy was wedged into his seat and his head nearly touched the baggage storage above our heads. It wasn’t a big plane but my head didn’t even go over the top of the seat. The guy was at least 6’5’’ and wide.
Thunder Bay has a tiny airport and there are two baggage claim carousels so I knew I was in the right place. When the next flight came in and I didn’t recognize anyone I knew it wasn’t good news. For a moment I thought, maybe they took the bag off for me because the next flight was coming in but no…that was not the case.
It took me a few moments but I realized my bag was gone. It is a surreal experience. It is strange how airports work. You come to recognize the people on your plane and then they leave and a whole new set of people come in. The baggage claim doesn’t say Air Canada anymore but it says Westjet and after that, given the airport, I assume it says Air Canada again. It is an endless stream of people coming in and out but I have never stayed long enough in an airport to see it happen. I went over to the baggage claim area and the man there was matter of fact and calming. He took my information and passed me the card with my claim number on it and all the information I needed. When he checked my sticker he told me that it had probably come off the bag because the record showed that the bag had been checked in by me but had not gone any further so it was likely still in the Toronto airport. He reassured me that I should hear within 24 hours one way or another and they would deliver the bag to my hotel.
Sticker came off? Had I not secured it properly? How many bags must this happen to in an airport the size of Toronto airport? What does that whole baggage scene look like behind that wall? We all file in and out and let go of our bags hoping they end up in the right spot but what does it look like really? Is it organized chaos like the experience of people being filed into the airports? Checking in? Going through security? Finding your gate? Loading on the plane? How many people and bags do they process in a day? The Toronto Pearson website says that in 2015 they had 41 million passengers travel through Toronto Pearson and they handled 443,000 flights. That means they handle about 111K people per day. Now yesterday was not the first day of March Break but you get the picture. It is a lot of people. (You can tell this is when my anxiety started to kick in…) I pictured the scene from Toy Story 2 when the bag of toys including Woody, Jessie, Stinky Pete and Bullseye Are off to Japan to a Toy Museum and Buzz and gang are there to rescue them. This was not going to be good.
My first call was to my husband, Jeff. He went on the website to find out what I should do and as he read off all the instructions I said, yes, I did that, yes I did that too and he said to take a cab to the hotel but I know we aren’t allowed to (we have to travel in the most economical way possible while traveling for the Ministry of Education) so I sat waiting for the shuttle from the airport. (Admittedly I was a little short with the woman at the front desk because I was frustrated by the whole bag thing and I reminded myself not to be rude to people just because I am angry about a situation that has nothing to do with them.) I had missed the first shuttle dealing with my bags. Jeff took my information and said he would check and we agreed I would call him when/if I heard something.
The driver arrived and she was kind and empathized with my situation. She dropped me off and I told the same woman, Nicole, at the front desk what had happened to me and apologized for my tone earlier. She gave me whatever incidentals they had at the hotel and I made my way to my room. I had, until this point, only told Jeff. I had not told my mom what had happened and I made this decision for two reasons.
First, I didn’t want to worry her and she can get really worried when anything is amiss.
Second, I have made fun of her for years that she always takes carryon — even when she travels on long trips. Having travelled with her many times, I am well aware of her travel habits and although I have mocked them, in this moment I realized how right she is.
We have travelled many times together to California to see my brother and she always has to wait for me at the baggage claim but it never takes that long and she struggles to get her bag in the overhead compartment because she is so tiny and I always joke about it.
I can pretend that it was the first reason (didn’t want to worry her) but it is really the second reason (didn’t want to swallow my pride and admit, yet again, my mother is right). I mean the woman has Elite status with Air Canada and always goes in first and she still stands in a line up for loading when there is no line up!
I couldn’t help myself. I texted my mother.
I was surprised that she did nothing to shame me. I had hesitated to tell her because I felt ashamed but she went into solving the problem. Now if you know my mother, she is what Malcolm Gladwell calls a connector. (You can read more about this idea here.) She connects all of us in our family. There is our immediate family and then the extended family and then her friends who are also like extended family and when anything happens, big or small, everyone knows about it. Now we all know this so when we tell her things we have to be explicit to say, “Now don’t say anything to anyone!” or you can be more specific like, “You can talk to Mark about it because he knows about it but don’t tell anyone else.” You get the picture…but in this case, I just told her. Within minutes I had a call from Mark, a text from both my sisters, I knew she had talked to Jeff and the kids and I am sure others she didn’t mention. Everyone in Toronto knew my bag was missing and that I had no tampons with me.
At this point, I went to the restaurant in the hotel to grab dinner because there was nothing else around here and on the way there, my brother, Mark, who lives in California called me. He tried to reassure me. I was in panic mode at this point. I had just started texting my mom a list of everything in the bag that I had lost.
Mark says that he will call the Air Canada concierge. As someone who travels all the time for work he has a higher status and can access help the rest of us common folk can’t. He speaks to a woman at Toronto Pearson airport and she personally goes to check for the bag. He explains it is a horrible orange colour with a lime green name tag on it. He also tells her that I got my period and all of my sanitary products are in the bag and then, like only my brother can do, he embellishes and tells her that I have a very heavy flow and tells her I am in the middle of nowhere without a car and I have no sanitary products. Apparently the woman empathies but my brother says not to get my hopes up. He says that I will likely get the bag back but not while I am here in Thunder Bay.
After talking to him I feel calmer and go sit in the restaurant. I start texting my supervisor here to see if she can bring me a care package of necessities when I realize I should see if there is a Walmart nearby. Google indicates that it is 8K away so I go to the front desk and get a cab ($35.00 later) and get to the worst stocked Walmart I have ever been in. I manage to get a pair of pjs, two tops, some underwear, a bra, toiletries and makeup. I go to check out and ask if there is anywhere to eat around here.
The cashier points me to the Tim Horton’s that is across the street. Streets are wide here. He is a sweet man who asks me where I am from and tells me that he is going to visit Toronto for the first time soon and is so excited for all of the Punjabi food there. I reassure him that he will not be disappointed with the amazing food choices in Toronto. He tells me that if I walk a few kilometres up the road I can go to better restaurants than Tim Horton’s like Pizza Hut or a Chinese food place. I opt for Tim Horton’s. There is no congestion. So I walk across the street and get honked by an older woman making a left turn because she is in some kind of rush apparently and I sit down for my fancy dinner and call the cab company back and tell them I am at the Tim Horton’s across from Canadian Tire and Walmart hoping they know where I am because I sure don’t! Ten minutes later the cab driver arrives and I go back to the hotel and put on my pyjamas to settle in for the night.
I knew coming here I would have some time on the Sunday afternoon to go to see Lake Superior and the sleeping giant. When I found out that the only way to get there was to take a cab for $50 each way I thought that it was too much money to spend. It is supposed to be spectacular. I was hoping to go because that would mean I had finally, after 47 years (shy a week from 48 years) I had finally seen and touched all five of the Great Lakes but then I stopped myself thinking it was indulgent.
And yet, I spent $70.00 on cab rides to and from Walmart, $175.00 on clothes, make up, toiletries and tampons at Walmart that I didn’t need to spend if I hadn’t lost my bag. I had money for that but not for what I had so desperately wanted to see because that was a “nice to have” and not a “need”.
All I have seen so far are the trees, the Nor Wester Mountains which are right behind my hotel, the Kaministiquia River which I drove by with the cab driver, Walmart and Tim Horton’s.
I tried to sleep last night but had trouble. The fire alarm at midnight didn’t help. It finally went off and I fell back asleep only to be woken again by the woman at the front desk telling me my bag arrived. I said I would get it in the morning and thanked her. She told me that it was odd because someone from the airport dropped off my bag and then someone called to see if I got my bag and she says that never happens. It was a call at around 1:00 or 2:00 am. She says she can check the number and looks at the phone and it is a number with a 650 area code. My brother. My sweet, amazing, resourceful, calming, kind, hilarious, shares too much information, can connect with anyone brother who used is status to make my week better.
Through this, knowing that it certainly wasn’t a crisis but it wasn’t pleasant either, this is what I experienced…
- The man at the baggage claim was kind, informative and got right on it.
- The woman at the front desk called the shuttle back for me.
- My husband talked to me and made sure I did everything I had to do.
- The shuttle bus driver was kind and sweet and supportive.
- The woman at the front desk was amazing and gave me all of the sanitary products she had (two tampons) among other things.
- My mother took on all my stress so I didn’t have to.
- My brother, on the other side of the continent, got some random woman to look through what I imagine were thousands of suitcases to find mine and get it to Thunder Bay less than 12 hours after I landed.
- The cab drivers were great and told me their own stories of baggage losses and airports.
- The cashier at Walmart was kind and pointed me in the right direction.
- My sisters texted me to make sure I was okay and expressed their love and concern.
- The next woman at the front desk had heard about my suitcase and didn’t want me to worry about it through the night so called me to tell (in the most excited voice) that my bag had just arrived.
- I have the best brother in the whole world.
And this is what I learned…
- Buy ugly unique suitcases.
- Invest in a well designed carryon and travel toiletries.
- When you lose your bag and you are in the middle of nowhere, call your mommy.
I have to make it to see the Sleeping Giant…even if I have to take a cab.
Also published on Medium.