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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Flight of the Bumbled Bags

Today the missus and I traveled to see our family for the holidays. The airports were — surprisingly, at least to me — reasonably free of surging throngs of grumpy flyers stomping on their grubby Santa hats and demanding vouchers for free beer over underexplained flight delays.

As a matter of fact, our trip went without a hitch. Well, mostly without a hitch. When I’m involved, there’s no such thing as completely hitchless. In the absence of hitches, I’ll create my own. I’m a hitcher. It’s what I do.

This time, I kept my damned fool self to myself for a full half a trip, all the way through our first flight. My wife and I caught a cab to the airport, each checked a bag, and spent an uneventful flight reading and drooling open-mouthed on the inside wall of the plane.

(I won’t say who did which. Let’s just say planes don’t usually make me sleepy, and I wasn’t the one in the window seat.

Still, it could’ve been worse. If she’d been in the aisle, she’d have slobbered all over the drink cart. Nobody wants that in their bloody mary. Not for the holidays.)

We were seated near the back of the plane, and happened to be on the side with the luggage hold. We gathered our things to trudge over to our connecting flight, and waited for the two hundred and fourteen rows of people in front of us to clear the hell out of the way. As we sat, the airport staff pulled a series of luggage carts outside and began offloading bags from the cargo bay.

There were three workers in airline garb gathered around a short conveyor belt, presumably with one or more colleagues feeding bags down from the belly of the plane below us. Each of the visible bag jockeys held a small piece of paper; they took turns squinting at these and checking bag tags, then holding the papers in their mouths as they hefted luggage to one of the five waiting carts.

There seemed to be a very specific system in place. Not an obvious system, nor a high-tech system, nor a system with any apparent quality control checks. For every bag that came down the chute, one person would peer at the bag, peer at their paper — often several times back and forth — and then a decision would be made. The peerer would clamp the paper between their teeth and lug the bag to a cart nearby, or heave the suitcase at one of the other people, who’d take it to a different cart.

Now, I don’t know anything about baggage management. Far be it from me to suggest that these bag tags could be digitally scanned or the process streamlined or the sorting accomplished by less than an entire basketball team’s worth of runway rats. Probably there are hidden complications I don’t know about. Or security considerations. Union regulations. Something.

What I did take from this slow suitcase tango was that the different carts were likely soon to be headed in different directions.If it were a mere matter of balancing load, they’d take simple turns loading bags and be done with it. But no. They had their increasingly drooly little bits of paper, presumably matching tag codes with cart numbers, for the probable purpose of speeding them to various corners of the airport for reloading.

“Could I bear to see my boxers bugging off to Baton Rouge, while my wife’s packed panties picked up and planed to Peoria?”

This is all well and good — when it works. Or when curious onlookers understand the system. Which I didn’t, of course.

Naturally, that didn’t slow me down a bit.

When our first bag crawled down the belt, I squealed and nudged my wife. We watched as “Unnamed Airport Flunkie #2” snatched it up and chucked it onto a shelf on luggage cart number three. So far, so good.

A few minutes later, the sea of passengers deplaning in front of us had thinned. I lifted my carryon and prepared to scoot across the seat into the aisle, taking one last glance out at the luggage musketeers. As it happened, our other bag was snaking its way down the belt toward them. I paused. Airport Flunkie #2 was on the case, perusing his cheat sheet. He reached for our suitcase, and… PASSED IT OFF TO UNNAMED FLUNKIE #3.

Who then proceeded to hurl it onto luggage cart number five. Our twin bags, huddled together all flight, were now separated by twenty feet of space — and perhaps soon, by a whole airport terminal, and then by half a continent or more. Could I bear to see my boxers bugging off to Baton Rouge, while my wife’s packed panties picked up and planed to Peoria?

I decided I could not. So I freaked. I banged on the airplane window, waving down at the suitcase slingers.

“Hey! Move that bag! The black wheelie-roller! Cart three! CART THREEEEEE!!!”

They didn’t respond, of course. Besides the window soundproofing, all airline employees are specially trained to never acknowledge or make eye contact with any passenger. If you’ve ever waited in line for a canceled flight voucher or wanted an extra bag of peanuts from a stewardess, then you know. I knew, but still I banged. The specter of happily-wed underpants torn asunder will do strange things to a man’s logic circuits.

Clearly, the only way to reunite our unmentionables — and our toiletries, T-shirts and travel toothbrushes — was to get the attendants’ attention. But now our row was clear, and my wife was simultaneously trying to pretend she didn’t know me while shoving me into the aisle. I made one last desperate plea — “FLUNKIE TWOOOOO!!” — with my face pressed against the double glass, before she finally yanked me away by the belt.

I ran the length of the plane, stopping only to return the various “thank you!“s and “happy holidays!” of the stewardesses — because a luggage emergency is no call to be rude — and rushed out to the gate. Sadly, my protests to the employees there were met with the customary averted glances and bored sighs, and I looked outside to see the luggage carts part ways and zip toward various points unknown.

I assumed we should spend our short layover until the next flight restocking the clothes and phone chargers and three-ounce bottles of shampoo that one of us had surely just lost. My wife seemed more intent on walking three paces ahead and not answering to her name. And who can blame her, really?

Instead of a shopping spree, we ate lunch and boarded the flight to our final destination. When we arrived at the baggage claim, I was apologetic — but secretly stoked — to see my bag trundling down the conveyor belt, none the worse for wear. It’s okay, I told my wife. We’ll get through this together. We’ll have a Viking funeral for your panties, and let the healing begin.

But then! Just as I was about to ask the locals for a book of matches and directions to the closest fjord, the conveyor flaps opened, and there it was: my wife’s bag, as pristine as the day it was packed.

(Which was the same day, since we’d just left that morning. That’s not the point.

No, you shut up.)

So somehow, that crazy cockeyed method of sorting luggage — including bags that belonged together onto different carts — worked out in the end. Maybe they fixed the mistake while I was clawing at the airplane window. Or maybe the carts all ended up going to the same place. Maybe one driver just stopped for a hot dog before making his rounds.

I don’t know, and I don’t care. All I know is this: our travel is over for the day, we successfully made it to where we were going, and all of our underwear is present and accounted for.

Except possibly the pair my wife was wearing during the trip. Unspeakable things may or may not have happened to them, just after I started my rant on the plane.

Still, all things considered — that’s a successful trip. I may be sleeping in the rental car tonight, but at least I’ll have clean underpants. That’s pretty much par for Christmas in my book.

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