Oddly enough, I shall start my report of Gnomedex 2008 not with how it began, not with how it ended but with what happened after I returned home to California.
I missed my flight back at 7:00AM, but was able to get on a later one at 9:30AM without a problem.
My baggage did not arrive on the flight.
Nor did it arrive on the 2PM flight.
Or on the 4PM one.
A little after 4PM I received a call on my business cellular phone from a number with a 512 area code.
For those unfamiliar with that area code, it is for Austin, Texas. Presumably, it is for the surrounding metro area as well, but in this case, the caller was from Austin.
It turns out, though, that she was in California, too. Except 120 miles away from me.
She had mistakenly grabbed my bag and driven away without checking the luggage tag. Or the claim ticket put on my bag by Alaska Airlines. She flew Southwest, by the way. The claim ticket is the thing which airports tell you to check with signs that say "bags look alike, check the tag before leaving" on signs above the baggage claim carousels.
Anyways, she asked me if I would drive back to the airport, pick up her bag and drive out to meet her boyfriend half-wayish. I had gone back to the office to await calls from and to place calls to the baggage claim office at the airport, which is near the office.
Wanting my luggage as quickly as possible, I went to the airport, collect her luggage and began the drive east.
A funny thing now: The luggage I had purchased was a Tumi Ducati Expandable Wheeled Packing Case Suiter. It was actually not my first choice for a bag, because it is black (which I like) with red panels and silver trims (which I didn’t particular care for) but after a while, I had grown fond of it precisely because it did not look like other people’s luggage; I could rest assured that when my bag came off the conveyer belt to the carousel that the one that looked like that was mine, all mine. I still always look at my luggage tag, though. It’s a reassurance thing. If I turn it over and can see my business card, I know it is mine.
It turns out the woman who took my luggage probably felt the same way. Her bag was smaller than mine, though. A lot smaller. And it didn’t have a luggage tag on it; or at least it did not have a luggage tag on it like mine where I had placed mine (they anchor to a grommet on the side, not on the top).
I met her boyfriend about 30 miles out of town—he said he was enjoying driving their rented car—and performed the exchange of prisoners on the side of a highway on the border of the Sonoran Desert. He was very apologetic and even gave me some gas money, which was very kind.
On the way home, and through today (this happened yesterday) I reflected on the maxim of the "many backs look alike" signs one sees at airport carousels. Many bags do look alike, but perhaps the most deceptive ones are those that appear not to at all. Luggage is a commodity item, and unless you’ve handcrafted or customized your own luggage, it is likely there is another piece out there that the looks the same somewhere.
Yesterday, I learned that appearances are pretty superficial, especially for luggage.
The larger lesson in life is to not be too trusting of the familiar; that was a lesson I observed was again, this time today at work but in a much different context. But that’s another story for another day.