Yesterday afternoon, around 4:47 PM. Baggage Carousel 3, MSP, Terminal 1. You know that feeling of relief you get when your bag comes out the chute like a big anesthetized dog - it may not recognize you but you know it. Perhaps you know the bag by some particular bit of flair you affixed, compensating for your earlier decision to buy a bag as indistinguishable as the rest of the lot. (SOME BAGS MAY LOOK ALIKE, the sign says. No kidding.) A ribbon on the handle. A red cord around the middle. Maybe you bought something so garish it practically screams when it emerges from the birth canal: MY OWNER HAS NO TASTE. Perhaps your bag, like mine, has a subtle variation; mine’s greyish black, and it stands out immediately in the 50-Shades-of-Black world of checked luggage.

Sometimes it’s first - lucky you! Grab and go. Most often it’s in the big dump that goes and goes and goes, but the longer it takes the more you curse yourself for showing up at the airport so early. First on. Last off.

Then a bag or two falls down the chute . . . and the buzzer sounds, signifying that all the bags are out.

And your bag’s not there. And by “yours” I mean MINE. Gah. Horrors. I’d last seen the bag 17 hours before on the ship, 100 miles from shore. You put your bag in the hall the night before, and they check it all the way through to your final destination. Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to work; for all I knew the staff of the ship took the bags down to the crew deck and threw them overboard. The crew was in a bad mood the entire voyage - they’d just had a long Atlantic crossing with at least two CODE RED incidents.

What, you ask, is a Code Red? It’s when 3% of the passengers get the hurl-and-blurts. Norovirus. This means the rest of the voyagers cannot touch anything. Not even themselves. When you go to the buffet, the staff is wearing gloves, and you cannot pick up anything. They hand you your coffee. There are no salt or pepper shakers. On a good day on a cruise ship they’re offering a squirt of Purell every six steps; during a Code Red the stuff probably comes out of the shower. It’s annoying for the passengers, but it’s more work for the staff.

Tired and overworked, they were also denied shore leave when the heaving seas kept us from tendering over to Half Moon Cay. By the end of the cruise, they probably wanted to set the ship on fire and just take the lifeboats to someplace with a nice beach and fruity drinks - and in a mood of such rebellion, who’s to say they wouldn’t throw a bag or two overboard just to equalize the mood?

I went to the baggage assistance office, and explained the situation. The helpful fellow behind the counter - swear to God, his name was Bacchus - typed and scowled and said “that’s not right,” which you never want to hear. He found the bag. On another plane. Currently in Atlanta. Either the cruise line didn’t get it to the airport in time, or the airline didn’t get it on.

Solution? I could wait for the plane to come in, and they’d give me a food voucher. Yay! Except there’s nothing but a Starbucks down in the baggage bowels. In order to get a decent meal I’d have to go through security, and I had no boarding pass. LIMBO. Anyway, that wasn’t an option. My wife was en route to pick me up.Speaking of whom, I should give her a call . . .

Where’s my phone? 

Pat all the pockets. No phone. NO PHONE? I’d just used it a few minutes ago to check the flight number and make sure I was at the right carousel, because half the bags on the belt had a different flight number. I just had my phone.

Bacchus gave me a phone, and I walked around the baggage area, dialing my number, waiting for the Jetsons-doorbell ring to tell me the phone was near. Heard it - dimly - faintly - ah! There! When I’d helped a lady pull her bag from the carousel, it had tumbled out and gotten wedged under suitcases, shoved into the edge of the belt and dragged along, the metal grinding and scraping the case. But there it was. Picked it up. 

SEVEN MESSAGES from my wife, wondering where I was.

But! Delta said they would bring the bag to my home that evening, gave me some paperwork, apologized, and sent me on my way. A man dragged it up the stairs at 10:27 PM. 

“I’m happy to see it,” I said.

“You know what?” he said. “They never lose ‘em.”

Here’s why. 

Speaking of airline luggage tags: once upon a time, they looked like this. Once upon a time.