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Recently I flew to Chicago to attend my grandmother’s funeral.  Her death had come quickly and unexpectedly despite her age and worsening dementia over the last few years. So, when I received the sad news that she had passed, I quickly made plans to fly to Chicago to be with my family, mourn her death and celebrate her life.

When I travel, I have typically do lots of reading and planning beforehand so the build up of excitement is quite palpable (see my previous post).  But because I was traveling to the place where I grew up to go to a funeral, there was no pre-trip reading or planning, no giddiness, no exotic sights to see or fun excursions planned.  Don’t get me wrong – I was very glad to see my family and grateful that I could take the time from work to be together with them at this difficult time.  But, given the nature of the trip, I didn’t have that giddy-going-on-a-trip feeling, a feeling brought on by Travel Mojo.

For me, Travel Mojo is a wily little fella who has seen me through some potentially rough or precarious situations while traveling.  Travel Mojo also serves an important function: it can, if needed, trick the brain into not being so bothered by all the little things that can go wrong on a trip.  Plane delayed?  Missed your connection?  Hotel lost your reservation? Italian B and B owner who speaks very little English not there to pick you up at remote train station as planned and your cell phone just died? Travel Mojo can help you deal with it with grace, style, and a little snarky wit.

This is how I picture my Travel Mojo

As I boarded the plane for Chicago, I didn’t seem to have Travel Mojo with me this time and I was a bit worried. I wondered if it was hiding underneath my grief and if it would soon appear since things always seemed to go better with Travel Mojo.

Thankfully, the flight to Chicago was uneventful and I was lucky to have the seat next to me stay empty.  Given the sadness I felt at saying goodbye to my grandmother, things continued to go smoothly throughout the week.  The sun was shining on the day of the funeral, long lost relatives appeared and reconnected, and I got to spend some time with my family.  Travel Mojo? Divine intervention by my grandmother? A little of both?  Not sure, but I was grateful for it all nonetheless.

All too soon, it was time to head home to the west coast.  Because I was in the last group to board the plane, there was no more room in the cabin for my carry-on suitcase by the time I got to my seat.  For those who don’t know me well yet, I carefully pack my beloved Rick Steves carry-on suitcase so I DON’T have to check a bag.  Annoyed and frustrated at the lack of space in the overhead bins (& quite frankly, at the airline for assigning me to the last boarding group), I started down an ugly path of uncalled-for snarkiness when I suddenly felt a twinge of Travel Mojo start to kick in: Hey, it’s not that big of a deal.  It’s not like you’re at the beginning of a trip and could end up somewhere without your suitcase. You’ll be fine.  I could tell Travel Mojo was trying hard to break through all of the irritation about the lack of space and the sadness I was feeling at the loss of my grandmother.  Still, I fretted about the ticket agent swooping in and taking my bag from me.

My beloved suitcase

When I arrived in San Francisco for my connecting flight and saw that my next flight was cancelled, I really needed to have my Travel Mojo kick in full force. I quickly made my way over to the customer service counter where I joined the swarm of irate people queue to see if I could get on the next flight home that evening.  Unfortunately, I had to be rebooked on a flight at an unGodly hour the next morning.  Handing my baggage claim ticket to the Customer Service Lady (CSL), I explained that I needed to retrieve my bag that I had checked in Chicago.  Here’s what happened next:

Me: But my bag was ON the plane when the ticket lady tagged it and then gave it to the baggage guy who, incidentally, was also ON THE PLANE. What do you mean it’s still in Chicago?

CSL: That’s what it says here (pointing to computer).  There are hourly flights between Chicago and here, so it should arrive sometime this evening.

Me: But I need my bag since I’m being held captive I have to stay in here overnight. Should I wait for it here in the airport?

CSL, amused by my pathetic attempt to get my bag returned in a timely fashion: Hahaha.  No, your bag will be waiting here for your flight tomorrow morning.  Sorry, there’s nothing more I can do. Go down to Baggage Services and fill out a lost bag form just in case it doesn’t make it.

Me, taking deep breaths so I don’t strangle CSL, to myself: O.k., Travel Mojo, this would be a real good time to bring on your soothing presence and keen wit. 

Nothing.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  I wasn’t feeling it.

It looked like I was on my own this time.

Completely baffled by this turn of events and growing ever more disgruntled, I took my new boarding pass and trudged downstairs.  I handed my claim ticket to Baggage Services Lady (BSL).

BSL, pointing to her computer screen: Alrighty, it says right here that your bag was scanned in Chicago and it arrived in San Francisco on your flight so it should be here. Go look over there.  (Points to silent baggage carousel with a few sad, lonely bags on it.)

My heart filled with hope as raced towards the carousel, hope that is usually reserved for things like “You probably don’t need to have that root canal after all”.  But it’s quickly dashed when I don’t see my suitcase anywhere.

BSL: Well, it may be in this other obscure, dank, dark place where luggage goes to perish ends up.  Let me call. (Dials number) “Oh hi! Yes, it’s Kimberly. Hey, how’s it going? Really? Haha. Oh, I know.  Were you on break? No? Me neither. Did you watch the Bachelor last night? (Finally notices the “Are you KIDDING me? ” look from me.) So anyway, I was calling to see if you have a bag down there. (Brief pause.) No? O.k. Thanks.” (Hangs up phone.) It’s not there. Fill out this form and it will be delivered to your house.

Me: Wait a minute. You just said it had ARRIVED in San Francisco, that it’s HERE.

BSL, regarding me with annoyance: Small bags like yours are really hard to track, you know, because they’re so small.

Rick Steves would never be caught in a situation like this, I think bitterly.

Me: It’s not like it’s a coin purse or a wallet.  It’s a suitcase, hefty and substantial.  Can you look it up on the computer and see where it’s at in the airport?

BSL: Finding small bags like those is like trying to find a needle in a haystack, let me tell you. (Laughs at own joke.)

Me, clearly not amused: Is there any other place it can possibly be?

BSL, sighing: I guess it could be in the area where the Express flights are since that’s what you were going to be on tonight.

Me: Would you please call and check?

BSL, annoyed at my persistence, dials new number and lets it ring a few times before hanging up: Nope. No one’s there. They must be on break.

Me: I can wait a little bit until you can try again.

BSL, laughing at my apparently silly notion of short breaks: Hahahaha. That’s not necessary. It could be a few hours.

A few HOURS??? Who has a break that lasts a few hours?

Me: If you don’t mind, could you please try again in a few minutes?

BSL dials again, gets someone on the other line, her chattiness on the phone going way beyond pleasantries, warranting another “Are you KIDDING me” glare from me: She said it might be there, but she’s not sure, so go stand by that moving carousel over there and it may come down the chute. But I can’t promise anything.

luggage carousel

Waiting for the needle in the haystack

After five long minutes of staring at the empty carousel go round and round, a low, faint rumbling sound comes from the chute followed by a stunning bright light and the sounds of a monastic choir singing.  And then, barreling down the chute and clanging onto the carousel comes my trusty Rick Steves suitcase.  After hugging my bag a little too enthusiastically for a public place, I nodded to no one in particular and smiled knowingly: Travel Mojo was looking out for me after all.

The next morning at an hour at which I am not used to being awake, I sat sipping my coffee at my gate and was trying to think of how I would publicly proclaim my annoyance about the previous day’s debacles on twitter and facebook when the ticket lady at the counter announces this:

“Ladies and gentlemen, air traffic control is not sure if the pilots will be able to land the plane at your destination. You may be diverted to another city and then placed on a bus that will drive for 4 1/2 hours on a winding road that is sure to make even the most hardy of you puke your guts out.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  A bus? Seriously? Was this some sort of sick joke?  I sat there in a state of confusion trying to decide if I should stay with this flight or try for another one.  And then, my Travel Mojo suddenly stepped in to protect my fragile state of mind.  It said, “HAHAHAHAHA. Ticket Lady is FUNNY. SO FUNNY. HAHAHAHA. Like a monkey on a tricycle, right? HAHAHAHA. Funny Ticket Lady. Isn’t she so FUNNY?”

Did I mention Travel Mojo has a sense of humor?

In the end, I opted to take my chances on my original flight and fortunately for all involved, we were able to land.  I can’t even put into words how immensely grateful I was that I didn’t have to take the nauseating bus ride.

As me and my Rick Steves rolled through the airport, I realized it didn’t seem so important anymore to complain about the mishaps from the day before. I reminded myself that I just flew -FLEW!- 2000 miles across the country, something people couldn’t do 100 years ago.  I was able to stay in touch with my family on the west coast at the touch of a button.  And, most importantly, I was able to say goodbye to my grandmother and be with my family at the funeral.  And now I was safely home.  Sure it took a little longer and was a little inconvenient (o.k., a LOT) but wasn’t it amazing that I live in a time when that was all possible?  And more importantly, wasn’t that enough?

Again, Travel Mojo taught me some valuable lessons: It’s all about gratitude and attitude.  Let go of some of your control issues.  See – truly SEE – what’s in front of you.  And before you know it, things will have a way of working out for the best.

Me: Truer words were never spoken by such a furry creature. Thanks, Travel Mojo.

Travel Mojo, a bemused smile beneath his fur, leaned in to hug me: See? Everything worked out just fine.  Just like I said it would.

"It's all about gratitude and attitude." Hugs, Travel Mojo

Do you have Travel Mojo or something similar that helped out when you least expected it? Please share!