I lost a companion today, an inanimate object that is actually the definition of a companion for someone like me. It has me a little bummed out.
I was standing at baggage claim#23 in the Dallas/Ft. Worth airport, and my heart sank as I watched my forest green with khaki accents, American Tourister, Kenya Series, 26” roller bag suitcase make its final trip around an airport baggage carousel. I’ve seen this bag make that turn more times than I can count. I shuddered as I saw the clear cellophane shrink-wrap applied in two places on the bag. It was bound so tightly that the top and bottom of the lid puckered away from the storage area of the bag.
It was done. The zipper gave out from too many years of being pushed to its limits…carrying home micros for Bobby D, Victoria Secret sundries for my wife, and bargain price khakis for yours truly. But just like every other trip (and there have been hundreds), everything that I put inside that bag when I left Pittsburgh was right where it was supposed to be when we arrived in Dallas. That bag did its last job just as well as it did its first job. It was just a suitcase, but I’m going to miss it.
I can tell you everything about the day and even the moment I acquired my forest green, 26”, American Tourister, Kenya series suitcase. This thing, this mundane possession represents a moment in time that I knew I would remember forever; or maybe better explained, it was a moment I vowed to never forget.
Flying into Greenville-Spartanburg airport in a little regional jet on a stormy Monday afternoon in April; it was one of those flights that made you feel like you were in a Cuisinart. I was well blended when I walked off the jet ramp and made my way to baggage claim. I was only a couple of years into the traveling salesman thing, and the family and I were still adjusting. I had a 15 month old son, a 3-year-old daughter, and a stay at home wife… and all of them had the flu, or strep, or typhoid…something, and they were really struggling as I left our house early that morning.
There are few things that make a man feel more “manly” than leaving sick children with a sicker wife, and boarding a plane for the wild blue yonder. I felt bad for leaving, I knew that I shouldn’t have left, and I was sure that the bouncy plane ride was God & the Universe lecturing me for my thoughtlessness.
So I grab my high-end, high impact, light gray, roller bag off of the carousel, and as if to put an exclamation point on the lecture, or maybe to make sure that I wouldn’t dismiss the air turbulence as just a coincidental happenstance, God & the Universe popped the zipper on my overstuffed bag, and exploded all my personal items into the baggage claim area.
The carousel was still running, so I had t-shirts on the floor, and underwear and socks making their way down the conveyor. A can of Faultless spray starch hit the terrazzo at just the right angle so it sprung a leak and hissed out the anti-wrinkle juice as it rolled across the floor. Shirts and pants everywhere, pretty much everybody in my general area was staring at me.
I gathered my stuff, and used a windbreaker jacket as a makeshift fastener to keep the bag closed, loaded the damaged goods into a rental car and went to see a customer.
Do you ever spend time with people, business or social, who have to recite you their resume, or their education credentials at least 2 or 3 times during the conversation? Does it annoy the living shit out you? Have you spent time with someone like this after your suitcase exploded right after a terrifying flight when you left your sick wife and children at home? How was that for you? For me, it kinda sucked.
“Well, I think it goes without saying that our company is the only one of its kind, and I’ve single handedly led us into…blah blah blah blah f-ing blah. I realize you’re here for training, but I’ll be happy to teach because I did this for …blah, blah, blah, and I invented blaaaah…”
He said stuff, but all I really heard was “…Blahhh”. My mind would have been elsewhere on a good day, with this ass clown…today, I was about 1,500 miles away. I got through the meeting, and made a reasonably respectful, but hasty exit.
“Thanks, Mort. I learned a lot today. I’ll see you soon” I said as I hustled out the door. Under my breath, I said, “Fucking douche bag…”
So it’s time to buy an emergency roller bag, the windbreaker fix wasn’t going to get us home. Fortunately there is a great outlet mall just north of Spartanburg, and as luck would have it, a luggage store was smack dab in the middle of the place.
I knew what I wanted, I walked in and told the clerk my requirements, and just as we began to look over the merchandise, my cell phone buzzed. My caller I.D. indicated that it was Mrs. Large Man, so I asked the clerk to excuse me; he graciously stepped away so I could have some personal space to experience more guilt and anguish.
“Hey” I said.
“I’m sorry. Can you come home?” … short and to the point, statement and question…barely audible through the scratchy throated sobbing, with a two part harmony chorus of babies crying in the background. “I thought we would be okay, but we’re not.”
“Of course I can. I never should have left. I’m sure it’s too late for me to get out today, but I’ll catch the first flight I can tomorrow, and I’ll get there” I said.
“OK, I have to go.”
And that was that. The line went dead…empty. Just like my heart. What kind of man leaves his family in this condition?
Oh…it gets better.
The clerk waits patiently, doesn’t seem to notice my dismay or my soul exiting my body, and I ask him if he can give me one more minute while I make another call.
“Of course, sir. Please take your time.” (Good dude)
I felt I should call my boss, who is fairly new at his position, but is a “brother in arms”, so to speak…a traveling dude with a young family just like mine. I’ve never come home early from a trip, and I wanted to simply inform him of my family’s condition, that I was coming home early, and I would probably be out of the office for a few days. At that point, I had not used a day of sick leave with this company…not a single day.
I told my tale, and when I finished, there was silence.
“Hello, Joe? You still there?” I asked, as I made sure the call didn’t drop.
“Yeah, I’m here. Are you sure you need to come home? It’s gonna cost a couple hundred bucks to change your flight” he said. (Our company was about a 25 million dollar operation)
My soul came back into my body at that point, and rested itself firmly into my core, my spine.
“Yeah dude. I’m sure. Thanks for your compassion.”
“Compassion doesn’t have anything to do with it. We all have jobs to do; we can’t come running home every time our wives have a bad day.”
“Okay”, I said. “I won’t come home every time my wife has a bad day, but I am coming home tomorrow, and I’ll probably be out for a couple of days. Call me if you need me” and I flipped my phone shut.
And then I meant to say “Fucking douche bag” under my breath, just as I had an hour or so earlier, but I actually said it out loud. And for the second time that day, everybody in my general area was staring at me.
I felt my face go flush, and my body tremble, as I processed the conversation. I hope those of you that don’t know me will trust me when I tell you that at my core, my general nature is that of kind and loving man – I’m a hugger. Hopefully, those of you who do know me would agree. But when I get angry, it’s something like an out of body experience. I can’t think or talk, I can barely breathe, and I definitely shouldn’t shop. All reason and common sense leaves me.
The patient and kind clerk approached me and saw a “look”, before he said anything; I simply stated that I need to get a suitcase and, “… I don’t have time to mess around.”
“Yes sir”, he replied.
I walked over to my 26” Kenya series bag and asked, “How much?”
“It’s $265, and it comes with the matching duffel.” Probably too expensive, but…
“I like the green and khaki” (I thought the green would make it more recognizable on a baggage carousel with all the other black or gray bags. Over the years this proved to be true)
“I’ll take it. If you’re ever someone’s boss, make sure you treat them and their family with respect.” I said, and I handed him my AMEX card.
“Ah…ok…um, I’m not a manager or anything. Did I do something wrong?” he asked.
“No dude, you were great. I appreciate your patience while I was on the phone” I said, as I came crashing back into the present and conscious world. “That was just some free advice. I just had a bad experience on the phone. You did a great job, I’m sure you’ll be in charge here someday. Tell your boss I said to give you a raise.” I concluded our conversation with a wink and a smile. I signed the receipt, and I rolled my new bag into the parking lot as a light sprinkle started to fall. The rain felt good; it had a cooling effect.
I got to my hotel; secured a flight home, cracked open a beer, and started packing clothes into the new American Tourister. I replayed the phone call with the boss in my head, and thought of a million things that I should have said. I’m glad I didn’t, I’m glad I that I was able to simply put another tally in the “Experience” column. I took a deep breath, and I swore that I would remember this day forever, and that I would be a little more discriminate when it came to picking employers, and I have been.
Today, if I called the man who does my annual review – the guy I call “boss”, and told him that my family needed me to come home; his first words would be “Why the fuck are you wasting time calling me? Get your ass home.” Then, he would ask if there was anything he could do for them until I got there. This is working relationship that will last…like my green & khaki suitcase has lasted…until today.
Other than a mother’s love, and unflattering pictures on the internet, nothing lasts forever, so I shouldn’t make a big deal about it. I knew the bag was tired, and I knew the time was coming, but just like so many of us do with an old dog, cat, or goldfish, we try to put off the inevitable. We do this because we know how hard it is to replace things that we love, things that we believe in and count on, things that last…even if it’s just a suitcase.
Thanks for reading.