My plane from Charlotte NC had landed about fifteen minutes ago. I was back in Cincinnati where I’m staying for a few weeks. Pulling my little carry-on, I got to within 20 yards of the parking garage where I left my car 36 hours earlier when my brain exploded with the realization that I did not have my computer. It was not hanging, in its case, from my shoulder where it belonged. I was slammed by the white flood of horrible awareness that wants to be denial. You know that feeling? My mind fell to its knees wailing, “NNNNOOOOOooooooooooo!”
But my (tired) body raced back into the airport. I headed to the first official-looking person I saw. It turns out she is called an “airport ambassador” and she has a magic telephone. But though she used the phone to seek help for me, none was forthcoming. It was while I was standing there with her, waiting for a call-back from the security guard who was going to look in the women’s room—and I explained exactly which one it was and how it was on the right side, just after the first moving walkway coming from gate B22—that I realized the case was not in the women’s room.
“The train!” I exclaimed in a voice squeaky with panic and hollow with disbelief. By now 25 minutes (at least) had passed, and my on-flight, post-job interview sense of well-being and exhaustion was completely washed away by adrenaline spiked by cortisol. “I had it on the train!” How could I explain to the utterly baffled ambassador that for almost a half hour immediately after getting off the train, I had forgotten I was even on the train? The human mind is maddening.
Now I remembered. I was so tired, I’d decided to take that little tram/train—which I normally eschew in favor of walking and the cool moving sidewalks. My daughter called while I was aboard the zippy little train, and I missed the announcement that we’d reached the destination—near ground transportation. The only other person on the train got off and I leaped off too, in the nick of time, before the doors closed and the train would return to the gates.
That’s when the computer case became a distant artifact lost in the Cincinnati airport, without my realizing it. I begged the ambassador armed with The Phone to find out if I could go back to look? Somehow? With a security guard? Please?
Finally, after another call or two with her not-so-magic phone, she said it was time for her to go home. She informed me that the American Airlines personnel upstairs at the ticketing counter could give me a pass to go beyond the checkpoint.
I went upstairs and the woman at the counter told me what my good sense already knew. “No, we cannot give you a pass to go back.” (Implied: you poor deluded woman.) She explained very kindly that it was very likely someone would turn it in to security and tomorrow Lost and Found would contact me. “This happens often. People usually do the right thing.”
No kidding. I’d forgotten that too. Why? Am I fucking senile or something? No, I swear. But my brain, like yours, is a creature of habit. I never—and I mean never—put my wallet in that bag. But in the interests of traveling light, I had not brought a purse, and so, in addition to my computer, the case held both wallet and hairbrush. The really essential things.
At this point I was vividly pre-living the next 24 hours in my mind. Cancelling all my credit cards. Trying to think of all the websites that my computer remembers my passwords for. My bank, for example. Why hadn’t I used a good password to protect my computer instead of the word “peace” which is probably second only to “love” as a non-birthday password among the hippie/shaman/gluten-free set.
“People are good,” I kept telling myself. “People are kind. People usually do the right thing.”
The airline lady—Traci—looked at me with great compassion but her hands seemed tied. I said, “Do you think that, somewhere in this airport, there is a person who would just go peek on that train?” She looked at me and said, “You know what? I’ll go.”
“C’mon,” she said. I followed her down the escalator. “You stand here and just watch people coming through.” She pointed to where travelers poured out from the American arrivals gates. She used the secret employee passage and said she’d be right back. I stood there paralyzed with the intensity of my hope, and stared at every man, woman, and baby stroller that passed me on the way to their cars, Ubers, and waiting grandmothers.
Then I glanced at the security guard. You know, the guy who sits at a little desk/kiosk thing at the end of the tunnel? His job is probably pretty boring. He was chatting with someone. That’s when I noticed a black strap—suspiciously like a computer bag strap—dangling down from the shelf of the desk/kiosk behind him. “Sir!” I burst out, my voice cracking. “Is that…” He looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Is that,” I pointed, “a computer case?”
He turned, grabbed my case and said, “Someone found it on the tram. I don’t know if there’s a computer in it…”
I did not even mind his lame attempt at a joke. “It’s mine! OH MY GOD IT’S MINE!”
The hot flood was back but it was such a happy flood this time. “I can prove it. My wallet is inside.” He unzipped the case, peeked, zipped it and said, “Yup. This is yours.”
I must have looked like I was about to stroke out because he said, “Breathe! It’s okay. Breathe. Just breathe, lady.”
A no-man’s-land divided us. A line painted on the floor near him kept him in his spot, and a wide strip, on which the toes of my boots shuffled impatiently, said, “DO NOT CROSS THIS LINE.” Six feet divided us. “You come to me,” he said with an authoritative nod.
Grabbing the case to my chest like a recently ransomed infant, I thanked him 63 times. “Just so you know,” I explained, “I’ll be waiting here until Traci from American comes back. She’s looking for this.” I raised the case as exhibit A, as if there would be any confusion. “I need to thank her.”
Not even a minute later, Traci emerged from the employee hallway with a dejected “I didn’t find it” look on her face. I waved like a madwoman, swinging the computer case around like a total fool. “I got it!”
She rushed to me, and we embraced—a genuine, full body, arms tight embrace of joy and solidarity. “Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh!” she kept saying. We pulled back, grinned into each other’s faces, and embraced again. “I’m so happy for you!”
“Most people do the right thing!” I said, nearly weeping. “People are good. Really, really good!”
As she hustled back to the escalator and the end of her shift, she called back, “Yes! They are!”
Note: I am neither deluded nor stupid, but I do believe that most people are good. We cannot forget this, despite the palpable evidence that there are, in fact, people who callously do evil on a daily basis, using their power to increase their privilege and to disenfranchise, belittle, ignore, mock, bully, and harm others. Remember that you are good. And I am good. And the person who turned in my computer is good. And Traci is good. And millions more who can take our planet and our country back from the ones who are not. Don’t give up. #resist