Purse Tacos and Other Travel Disasters

True story: I actually really enjoy air travel, which is a good thing, because I have been doing a lot of it lately. Time spent on an airplane always feels like the epitome of free time, the perfect excuse to read a book for pleasure or shotgun a whole season of Portlandia on my iPad because what the hell else am I going to do? Work? Psssshh. It’s not that I don’t do those things on the ground. It’s just that I feel a lot less guilty because the range of possible activities I can perform at that moment has been narrowed to a list that mostly includes my very favorite things. Even waiting around in an airport isn’t all that bad, provided the available food options are passable and I’m not trying to be somewhere at a specific time.

That said, having nearly completed a summer travel itinerary that has gone from Austin to Birmingham to Austin to Denver to Austin to Dallas to Boston to Denver to Boston to New York to Dallas to Moscow, there’s been some inevitable…discomfort. Two weeks ago, I got to spend the night in Logan Airport. On the trip to and from Birmingham, I got to experience Houston IAH’s B-terminal, where someone had actually been shot and killed a few weeks prior. More specifically, I got to hang out at gate B-84, which has the most awesome Foursquare reviews I have ever seen. “IAH flight crews call the B-84 gates the ‘litterbox,'” says one. And of course, I’ve had my baggage lost twice by Delta.

But that’s fine. Because last summer set the bar travel disasters in my life in a way that makes pretty much everything else seem manageable. I think I would have to actually be detained by Homeland Security in order to top it.

This was one of those tragedies that was slow to unfold, and as with all the things that ruin your life, the consequences of what happened wouldn’t really start to become apparent for days after the precipitating event. See, as my family does every summer, we were visiting a Colorado ranch owned by some family friends. And one of the highlights of this ranch experience is the food. The menu has been carefully honed and perfected for decades by a woman named Sue who is married to the spitting image of the Marlboro man and who looks like, if she needed to, she could field dress the animals she cooked herself and also churn the butter. This food is unbelievable.

Tuesday afternoon at this ranch is always a Southwestern/Mexican buffet. Being from Texas, I am critical, but this buffet is very good. I should mention also that this ranch attracts families with small children. And often those small children are accompanied by adults with very little common sense. Otherwise, I can’t imagine why it would have occurred to this one gentlemen that it would be a good idea for a four year old to carry a heaping plate of tacos back to his table all by himself. I think you see where this is going. Said child tripped and spilled the entire plate directly into my open bag, which was sitting right next to me. I mean, he scored a perfect hit. This was one of those bags I use for travel that has all kinds of useful pockets and stuff, and the taco ingredients were in all of them. It was a miracle of physics.

The adult accompanying this child just kind of stood there while my husband escorted me away so that I wouldn’t drop the f-bomb in front of a toddler. Outside, I cleaned guacamole and sour cream out of the grooves around my iPhone and determined that pretty much everything else in the bag was destroyed, including the bag itself. Taco meat juice doesn’t age well in a purse.

When we left the ranch, my sister gathered up all our trash and picked up the bag–which, if you recall, had a lot of pockets–along with everything else. If you think you know where all of this is headed, I congratulate you. I did not. It was only as we were pulling up to Denver International Airport that I realized that I was missing my driver’s license and the key to our car, which was in a parking lot at Austin-Bergstrom Airport. Oh, also our house keys. And my university ID. These were all critical items that I keep in a specific pocket when I travel so that they’re, you know, safe. This was the pocket I forgot to clean out.

Like any right thinking human being, I first turned on my husband. And when yelling, “Did you clean out that pocket??!?!?!11” over and over didn’t change the situation, I rapidly progressed through the next few stages of grief. This realization, if you recall, happened as we were pulling up to the terminal, so I walked straight to a Southwest agent to ask what you do if you lose your photo ID. It turns out, you can get through security, but you have to be grilled by a TSA agent for a while and explain to him that your ID is missing because purse tacos. Lucky for me, I am a white lady.

While standing in the security line, I called the Mazda dealership to try to figure out how to get a new key for our car. Turns out, it costs $300. Oh, and we’d have to have the car towed. And we’d have to wait until Monday to do that because this was Saturday evening, and they are closed on Sunday. At the same time, I placed a call to Barb, who works at the ranch office and who was appropriately horrified when I told her what had happened and informed us that the trash hadn’t been collected yet, so there was hope.

When we arrived at our gate, it turned out our flight was delayed, which gave me time to connect with my sister and find out exactly what she had done with the bag and to relay to Barb the excellent news that she didn’t actually need to go dumpster diving. The bag was retrieved, and they promised to FedEx my IDs and keys Monday morning. That was the last break we would get the rest of the night.

A 45 minute delay turned into a 5 hour delay, which meant, of course, that we would have missed our connection in Phoenix. Our only option was to go to Houston and from there to fly to Austin first thing the next morning. I had to be back for something at noon the next day. I may have yelled at the gate agent.

So we went to Houston, where we slept in our clothes for four hours in a terrible hotel before repeating the whole “I don’t have photo ID because, see, four year old and tacos” show once again. It took longer this time, but my white privilege and I did eventually make it through. And we did make it back to Austin, where we had to rent a car, drive to my sister’s apartment so that we could get their spare key to our house, go home, and figure out that a spare key to our car probably existed if we could just find it.  Fortunately we did, though I had to go fulfill my noon commitment and we wound up not returning the rental car or retrieving our car until much later in the evening.

So kids, the morals of this story are: Beware toddlers carrying Tex-Mex. Check all  the pockets. And most importantly, get the four year old’s dad to pay to replace the bag, no matter how old and ratty it is. Because the fiasco might just wind up costing you a couple hundred in FedEx and car rental costs.

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