When my wife and I returned from vacation a few days ago, we checked a couple of bags at the ticket counter. I didn’t want to check any bags — I never like checking bags — but there are only so many bottles of cut-rate tequila you can cram in an overhead compartment. So we had little choice.
My objection to bag-checking is all about the inconvenience. When I’m flying somewhere good, lollygagging around the baggage claim area constitutes another half-hour or more that I’m not ‘there yet’. When I’m flying home — no matter where I’m coming from — the goal is simply to make it back to my living room. After a long, cramped, sweaty day of air travel, I want nothing more than to reestablish my ass print on the couch and rekindle my TiVo love affair.
“Telemarketers haven’t yet been outlawed. Reruns of The Nanny are still shown on daytime TV. There are rumors of a Dude, Where’s My Car? sequel. Clearly, evil is all around us.”
The only time checking luggage is at all helpful is when I’m flying somewhere I don’t want to go in the first place. In those rare cases, shuffling through the airport ‘looking’ for my bags is one last brief hurrah before I have to admit that I’ve actually arrived. On a good day, I can drag it out for three hours or more. ‘Oh, was that my bag there the whole time? I didn’t even recognize my own name tag. Silly me, eh?‘
A vacation in Meh-hi-co hardly falls in that category, but by the end of our all-too-long travel day home, I desperately wanted to deplane, disrobe, and detox with a nice ten-hour snooze. But first, there was the matter of the checked suitcases.
As I stood waiting (mostly) patiently by the baggage carousel, I was struck again by the curious environment of trust unique to airport baggage claim areas. Each of us is there to identify and collect our own bags, while at the same time bound by an ephemeral code of honor not to take any of the other bags as they trundle down the conveyor. And clearly, we expect other people to behave in the same manner; that’s the only way the system can work.
Think about it. If we all acted as though our fellow passengers were the conniving, devious, morally bankrupt heathens that they probably are, then we’d all squish in together by the carousel door, where the bags first arrive. Each new bag on the conveyor would unleash a clawing, spitting, screaming melee, as everyone jockeyed to make sure their precious luggage wasn’t being hijacked.
But we don’t do that. Instead, we (generally) civilly line up along the conveyor, two or three deep at most, and patiently (more or less) wait for our bag to crawl into grabbing range. Sure, the thought crosses our minds, if we’re far along the carousel:
‘Could someone up there nick my bag? Would I even recognize it from here? Could I catch them, if I did?‘
And who could blame us for being a bit paranoid? Bad people are doing bad things all the time — lying, cheating, and stealing are rampant. Telemarketers haven’t yet been outlawed. Reruns of The Nanny are still shown on daytime TV. There are rumors of a Dude, Where’s My Car? sequel. Clearly, evil is all around us.
So what is it that keeps our luggage safe? What instinct exists in each of us that saves our suitcases and valises from a kidnapee’s fate? Is it ‘conscience’, that little voice that insists we shouldn’t steal? Is it ‘morality’, perhaps, that delineates right from wrong and keeps us honest? Or ‘guilt’, ‘compassion’, or ’empathy’, which remind us of the potentially devestating consequences of taking someone else’s property?
No. It’s none of those things. And certainly, the temptation to ‘upgrade’ your bags is there. If you’re anything like me, other peoples’ luggage has been putting yours to shame for years. My ‘suitcase’ is often nothing more than underwear and sweat socks, stuffed in a lunch sack and sealed with duct tape. I call it ‘Ghetto Samsonite’, and while finding my bags on the carousel is easy, repacking after random check-in searches is a bitch. Yo officer, do I look like I’m made out of brown paper and cellophane over here? Cut me some slack, blue.
But still we stick to our own luggage. Why? Because it’s clear that if we ever tried sneaking someone else’s baggage, there’s a damned good chance we’d get caught. We’re unreasonably anxious that someone over there by the door might make off with our luggage, but we just know that if we so much as touch that fancy bag drifting our way, with the tassels and fancy locks and extra-deep pockets, the owner would be ‘AHEM!‘-ing right over our shoulder in an instant. Oh, is that your suitcase, ma’am? I’m sorry — your bag looks an awful lot like my Ziploc full of used boxer shorts and porn mags. It’s an honest mistake; could’ve happened to anyone.
And so, I dutifully stood at the carousel last week, waited my turn, and collected my bags — only my bags — before heading for home. It’s a tenuous game of ‘Trust or No Trust’ we play at the baggage carousel, but it generally works. Still, I’d be happy if I never had to check another bag again — especially if I ever make it back to Mexico. Do you have any idea how much duct tape it took to strap all those tequila bottles together into a shatterproof ball? Amigo, please.