It’s peak vacation time. It feels like the whole country is flying and driving here and there. For those of us in the Golf Nation, this also means transporting our clubs. If you’re driving, it’s a simple matter of careful placement in the trunk. If you’re flying, it’s another matter entirely. You and your clubs part ways at the check-in counter, and head towards your destination, awaiting a reunion upon arrival.
So it was that my wife and I departed for Boston. It was a very satisfactory flight, marked only by an outburst from the guy sitting directly in back of me who snapped and started yelling at the parents in back of him about the conduct of their children –whom he accused of throwing water on him–a tirade that included a contrasting and favorable reference to his own children’s behavior while flying, as well as his unsolicited advice that this other family should avoid flying until they learned to control their children. Even with this awkward interlude it was certainly better than my last departure from SFO, when the cockpit on the plane filled with smoke and we had to make an emergency landing in Salt Lake City, placing us at some distance from our official destination of Newark, New Jersey.
Anyway, a good flight. We had arrived in Boston’s Logan Airport, a destination that you could strip of any place names or advertising featuring the Red Sox or Tom Brady, and still remain confident that your arrival was as intended because you have to pass not one, but two, Dunkin’ Donut franchises before you got to baggage claim.
Ah, yes, baggage claim. The place where people who have shared a brief but arbitrary affiliation, distribute themselves around a conveyor belt and wait for their bags to emerge from whatever Rube Goldbergian process transports luggage too bulky for the overhead compartments from the belly of the plane to the relieved and familiar grasp of the recently landed passenger. As with all the other phases of our shared experience, boarding, take off, attaining cruise altitude, beverage service, the mutual and singular hope of all those participating is that this last part would go quickly and without incident.
I was not to be so lucky. Our bags emerged, but no golf clubs. Various weird and misshapen items would trundle out, but no clubs. There would be lulls in the emergence of bags from behind those black plastic strips that hang over the entry portal, but no clubs. Most of the families of frazzled parents and whiny children had left, but no clubs.
I approached a baggage guy who was hanging out with his colleagues in a roped off area where an assortment of luggage appeared to be held in some form of quarantine. I asked if oversized items would be arriving in the alcove marked “Oversized Baggage.” He looked behind the curtain and told me “No,” and then suggested that I go to the office, except that he could barely pronounce the word “office.”
Fortunately no one else was there. The few, the unlucky: there were only a handful of us on this flight and I was the first to get there. I handed the service rep the tag to my missing and precious golf travel bag. She tapped in the tag number, looked at her computer screen, and then told me the following: “Your bags missed the flight but they’re on the next plane to Boston.”
I know this is how she is trained to convey such information, but her phrasing immediately struck me as illogical to the point of absurdity. Bags don’t miss flights. They don’t go to the wrong gate, or hang out in the bar, having yet another round and in the process missing not one but several boarding announcements. They possess the complete innocence of the inanimate. They aren’t even accessories to a crime: they only do what’s done to them. I wasn’t going to argue with the woman. As someone who writes I was more taken with the realization that United Airlines, in training its employees, was avoiding the use of the passive voice because that would have confirmed the obvious reality of the situation. If she had said that “my bags weren’t put on the plane,” the clear inference was that someone had screwed up. In a way her statement felt like a distant relative to the famous non-apology of President Reagan for the Iran-Contra scandal: “Mistakes were made.” In a pinch, pick the verb structure that best obscures responsibility for the fiasco.
To be continued…..
Can you stand the suspense?