Y’all, last week I was at Bouchercon, an annual convention for fans and authors of mystery fiction, in Dallas. I had the pleasure to serve on the Southern Charm panel Friday morning along with Claire Booth, Kelly Ford, Roger Johns, and my friend and fellow Carolinian, Cathy Pickens. (Somehow, they talked J.D. Allen into moderating us, bless her heart.) We chewed on all things Southern mystery fiction, then had our turn at signing books.
I saw many old friends and met a few new ones. When you get more than 1,700 mystery lovers in one place for five days, with all manner of celebrations, lunches, dinners, interviews, panels, and of course, quality time in the bar, well, one’s energy tends to get a bit sapped.
I had a blast and ended up pleasantly exhausted, but this isn’t about that. It’s about the long and winding road home.
I was in a somewhat frazzled state (see above) when Sugar and I began our trip home Sunday morning. Well, I was headed home, anyway. Sugar was headed to see a client in Pennsylvania. But he coordinated our flights out of Dallas so he could talk Delta into taking me and all my luggage home without our having to mortgage the house. (Sugar is a million-miler. I fly a few times a year. Delta likes him much better than me, and I don’t travel light.)
The first indication this would not be a good travel day came when the agent at baggage drop told us my flight had been delayed. But after much clicking on her keyboard and squinting at her screen, she was able to change me to another flight so I wouldn’t miss my connection in Atlanta. Sugar negotiated getting the baggage checked, except the agent balked at the big Stetson box carrying our brand new hats. “I’d carry that,” she said, with a knowing look.
“But I have my (85 pound) back pack (stuffed to near bursting) and my purse,” I said. “I’m afraid the gate agent won’t let me carry on a third piece.” They’re typically pretty serious about the two item limit.
“That’s a l’il tiny purse,” she said. “You can fit that inside your back pack. If it’s just partway in, it’ll be fine.”
I had no faith whatsoever that my backpack would hold so much as another lipstick, but Sugar didn’t want his Stetson checked to begin with, so I went along. We proceeded to the Delta club. At this point, Sugar was carrying both our laptop backpacks and the Stetson box. I had my small, crossbody bag. We settled into comfy chairs and had breakfast.
After an hour, Sugar walked me to my gate and helped me squeeze my purse into my backpack. Then the delays commenced on my reassigned flight.
We (Sugar) hauled all our stuff back to the Delta club, situated ourselves near a flight monitor, got refreshing beverages, and watched the departure time for my flight change until it became clear it was unlikely I’d make my connection. Sugar went and spoke with someone at the desk and came back with a slip of paper and told me I was “backed up” on the next flight to Greenville from Atlanta just in case.
Eventually, they settled on a departure time and Sugar hauled me and my things back to the gate. I lugged my stuffed-like-a-sausage backpack and the huge Stetson box with the thin, rough twine “handle” onto the plane. Miraculously, both items fit in the overhead bin. I popped in my headphones and watched a movie. The flight to Atlanta was actually quite pleasant.
As soon as the wheels of the plane touched down, I checked the status of my flight to Greenville on my phone. It was already boarding. We’d landed at concourse T, and my connecting flight was at a B gate. I’d have to run, but maybe I could make it…
There was a delay in getting the jetway to the plane. I managed to hit only one woman on the head with that hateful, ginormous hatbox while getting my stuff out of the overhead bin. (She graciously accepted my profuse apologies.) Once we were able to start deplaning, everyone rushed to make a connection so it was a free-for-all. But maybe I could make it…
I dashed down the jetway and through the terminal, (to the extent one can dash while weighted down like a pack mule on a cross-country expedition) took the escalator down to the plane train, and rode the two stops to B gates. I took the escalator up and hurried as fast as I could to gate B2–naturally, the one next to the last one at the far end of the concourse.
The string on the hat box cut into my fingers and kept twisting around and cutting off my circulation. My backpack made it impossible to move with any speed. I was panting and having heart palpitations from the unaccustomed exertion. Even though it seemed I was moving at a snail’s pace, people in front of me were moving slower still, meandering through the concourse, taking in the lovely sights. Several times, people just stopped abruptly and stood in the middle of the walkway right in front of me, causing me to have to dive around them to keep from plowing over them. It was a struggle to hold onto my sunny disposition, is what I’m saying.
When at long last I arrived at the gate, the sign still said “Boarding!”
But wait–there were no gate agents. The plane was still there. The sign clearly said they were boarding all passengers. But the door was closed. Three other poor souls stumbled to the gate, gasping for breath. One of the women wore a look of incomprehension, a mirror of mine, no doubt.
“They’ve closed the door,” her husband said. “They won’t open it.”
I sighed, but was exceedingly grateful that Sugar had me “backed up.” I went to the nearest monitor and saw that my back-up flight left from gate B-32. You’d think gate B-32 wouldn’t be all that far from gate B-2. It’s on the same concourse, after all. I wouldn’t have to ride the plane train to get there.
Let me tell you, that was a long hike. I had to stop a couple times along the way to put my things down to rest my hands and arms, and once for water.
When I reached the outpost that was gate B-32, I waited in line for my turn to speak to the gate agent. I don’t think she was having an especially good day. I smiled brightly, mindful of what surely was my disheveled appearance, and started to tell her my story. Seven words in–after she heard “Greenville” come out of my mouth, she said, “Greenville’s had a gate change. It’s at B-10.” I might have started babbling at that point. She repeated that I needed to go to gate B-10. She wasn’t smiling, but she did tell me to have a nice day as I stumbled away.
When I’d made it nearly all the way back from whence I’d come, I went to speak with the gate agent at B-10. “I have you on the flight,” he said. He handed me back my original boarding pass from the flight I’d missed and said, “Use this to board.”
I collapsed into a chair and responded to Sugar, who’d sent me several texts I hadn’t been able to answer. He was on a flight to Detroit and using the plane’s wifi. After that, I might have lost consciousness for a while, but when I came to, the gate agent called anyone who needed extra time getting down the jetway to board. Now, I’m not a feeble person nor an infirm one either. But on that particular day, let me tell you, I needed extra time.
I gathered my things and stumbled towards the door.
He scanned my boarding pass, then said, “Uh-oh.”
“Uh-oh?” I asked.
“Are you on this flight?” he asked.
“You just told me I was,” I said.
He looked at me. “Don’t you have a boarding pass?”
“You told me to use that one.”
“I did, didn’t I?” He started clicking and squinting. Finally, a printer spit out a new boarding pass. He scanned it, then handed it to me.
I crawled down the jetway, onto the plane, and into my seat.
Now, before we’d left Greenville, Sugar dropped me and all the luggage at the curb at the airport and went to park the car. One piece at a time, I moved our stuff back out of the way. Several other vehicles pulled to the curb and people got out, hugged goodbye and all that. When Sugar got to the terminal to gather me and that huge pile of stuff, he told me exactly where he’d parked. We’d gone over it several times during the course of the week, and again before I’d left Dallas. I remember it vividly. “It’s on the fourth level in the garage,” he said. “You walk straight off the elevator and it’s right there on the left.”
After I collected my big suitcase and my medium suitcase from the office near baggage claim where they’d been waiting because they had made the original flight from Atlanta to Greenville, I propped my backpack onto one of them and that infernal hatbox on the other and rolled everything all the way to the other end of the terminal, out the door, down the ramp, up the elevator and off it on the fourth level.
At that point, I longed for my six-year-old Ford Edge. It’s not glamorous, but the seats are comfortable, and the back holds all my stuff. I just wanted to get my things in the car and go home.
The fourth level of the parking garage was virtually empty. I could clearly see there were only two cars on the whole thing, neither of them mine. Panic was rising in my throat. Had the car been stolen? Why would someone steal my car? Surely there were flashier cars to steal. A little voice in my head reminded me that car thieves don’t usually steal attention-grabbing cars. Which made mine a perfect target.
Maybe Sugar was mistaken. I checked the fifth level. It was also virtually empty, and my car wasn’t there.
By this time, I had an urgent need for the powder room, but there isn’t one in the parking garage. I went to level three. This level was nearly full of cars. I slugged every inch of it looking for mine. Then I checked level two.
Where on earth was my car? Who could I call to come and…what could anyone actually do? I’d have to find the airport police.
What time was it? Sugar would be landing in Detroit any minute. I tried to call him, but no answer. I rolled all my stuff back down to the ground level and up the ramp to the sidewalk.
I’d missed a text from Sugar telling me I had plenty of time to get the things I was carrying to the car while the baggage handlers unloaded the plane. He was thinking I’d make two trips, because he’d given me this advice several times. Apparently, he’d forgotten my luggage would have been on my original flight. I texted him back: I can’t find the car.
Then I called him again and he answered. “Walk straight off the elevator on the fourth level,” he said.
“I did that,” I told him. “It’s virtually empty. The car’s not there. I also checked levels five, three, and two.”
He was quiet for a few seconds. “Are you in the garage nearest to baggage claim?”
“No,” I said. “I’m in the garage you park in every single time you come to the airport (roughly 50 times a year, because even if he’s on vacation, we’re usually flying somewhere). On the other end of the terminal.”
“I thought it would be easier for you if I left the car in the garage near baggage claim,” he said.
“And it absolutely would have been, if only I’d known it was there.”
“I’ve got to find a powder room,” I said.
Eventually, I found my car. But it has taken me most of two days to recover.
It may be a while before I pack another suitcase.