Four Days, One Dress. (Or: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Letting Other People Carry Your Stuff)

Dear Sherah,

A page from my travel diary, if you’ll indulge me.


After years of unromantic international airline travel, you and your husband are a little giddy about taking a train from Chicago to Pennsylvania. No sooner have you received the confirmation email than you’re debating your travel wardrobe. Should you dress retro classy, a la I Love Lucy and The Great Train Robbery? Or should you go for a kind of vagabond-musician look? Both sound fun, but you agree on the former. He’ll wear a button down shirt and tie; you’ll wear a black cotton dress with a 50s silhouette. It’s Gap, not vintage, but it’ll do. 

Your tickets don’t include checked luggage, so you edit your belongings down to one carry-on-sized suitcase each… the few things you deem absolutely necessary for eighteen hours of travel and a few weeks in another state. You resent your gym shoes and blow dryer for taking up half your space but make it work. 

When you arrive at your terminal in Union Station in Chicago, the lady at the front desk offers their Red Cap service, in which an attendant delivers your carry-on bags to your train car. “Shouldn’t we keep our carry-on bags with us at all times?” you ask. You suddenly realize that there was absolutely no security at the entrance of the train station or lounge. For as much as you complain about being strip searched by radiation technology at airports, you miss the false sense of security now that its gone. 

Distracted, you hardly notice yourself handing over your carry-on bag.

A few minutes later you’re sitting in the lounge watching news coverage, and you get this strange feeling that you are no longer in possession of your laptop. This doesn’t fully compute. You don’t allow beverages within spilling distance of your plastic covered keyboard. You have clever laptop cases and hiding spots to avoid theft. You never hold a baby and laptop at the same time because you’d never want to choose between the two if you lost balance. So it seems highly unlikely that you actually just handed your computer to a stranger in exchange for a luggage ticket. 

You want to say something to your husband about it but don’t remember how or in which direction jinx works, so you wait until you’ve boarded the train and immediately ask him to go find the bags.

“Don’t worry, they’re here,” he says. He’s probably totally right and you’re probably totally ridiculous.

Trying to relax, you snap a picture in your cozy roomette, post it to Instagram, and open the book you grabbed off the “take one leave one” shelf at the station. Soon you’ll have your computer in hand and everything will be okay, you assure yourself.

A few pages in, you realize that one reading of The Awakening in college was probably enough. You look up from your book and wince apologetically. 

“Okay, okay. I’ll go find them,” he says.

He doesn’t come back as quickly as you expected, so you read a couple more pages. Then a couple more. Eventually you stop pretending to read The Awakening, and by the time he comes back empty handed, you already know.

“They’re not here, are they?” you ask rhetorically. 

The attendant arrives at your room and announces he’s going to look through all of the luggage in the checked baggage car. One hour later he comes back and announces the good news: Chicago found your bags. The bad news, of course, is that you’re now an hour outside of Chicago. 

“This NEVER happens,” he says, and you take a moment to feel special.

The attendant leaves to get more information, and you and your husband verbally itemize and grieve every item in your bags. Books and toothbrushes. Pajamas and clean underwear. The antibiotics you need to take for the next few days. His cell phone charger and iPad. The Bluetooth speaker. The deck of cards. Your good camera. 

For as annoyed as you both are, this is the kind of situation where you shine as a couple. He is exceptionally good at keeping his cool and killing customer service representatives with kindness. Your strength, on the other hand, is in crafting strongly-worded emails and waiting on hold. So while your husband exchanges cell phone numbers with the attendant who has returned, you start writing notes for the conversation you’ll eventually have with the highest ranking executive whose email address you can find. 

Same dress; day two. Eighteen book-less, toothbrush-less, music-less, medication-less, computer-less hours have passed. A friend picks you up and drives you directly to Target. Sixty-five dollars later you emerge wondering how in the world you spent sixty-five dollars but still don’t have any new clothes or makeup. That night you go to a dinner party and experiment with what it feels like to meet new people while you’re overdressed and barefaced. 

Same dress; day three. You drive an hour back to the station to pick up your bags that came in on the previous night’s train, happy that this jaunty travel nightmare is coming to an end. You smile at the ticket agent and say hello, good morning. You’re here to collect your bags, please.

“We didn’t have any bags come in last night,” he says, and you deflate.

“We left our number here for this exact scenario,” you say. “We just drove an hour.”

“Let’s call around and see what we can find out,” he says. 

“Yes, let’s do that,” you say. 

Your husband is hungry and wants to go get food, but YOU are taking a stand. YOU are not leaving the station until SOMEONE tracks down your bags. So while he runs out to buy food, you pace back and forth in front of the counter so that no one on duty forgets his or her current, primary task, which is to FIND YOUR BAGS.

A few minutes later, someone does find them. In Philadelphia. They won’t arrive until tomorrow. 

Now you’re more sad than indignant. You start to cry, and a lady in a uniform gives you a hug and tells you she understands. You go outside to wait for your husband while you pace and cry some more.

“I love your jacket,” a vagabond-musician-looking stranger says, clearly worried about you. 

“Thanks,” you sniff. “I got it for eleven dollars, resale.” 

Hell yeah!” your stranger-friend cheers, impressed. You feel a little better. You text the train attendant who had given you his cell number on the train to update him on the bags, and he apologizes. He’ll call the station as soon as he picks up the dog he and his wife are adopting, he tells you, and he attaches a picture of his new Saint Bernard.

Train travel is very odd, you decide.

That afternoon you buy $8 worth of makeup at the dollar store before meeting more new people. 

Same dress; day four. You stop at a coffee shop for a long breakfast and kill time before leaving for the station. 

On your way, you call the number you were given the day before and ask about your bags. It’s a new person answering the phone, and she doesn’t know who you are and doesn’t care about your bag. When she interrupts for the third time, you try to channel your husband’s polite but firm tone and say, “I’m sorry, but do you mind if I finish explaining my situation before you respond?”

“Sure,” she sighs. When you start talking and she immediately interrupts, you yell, “OH MY GOSH I CAN’T BELIEVE THIS IS HAPPENING!” and hang up the phone. Your husband puts his hand on your knee and you scream.

There’s a train pulling in as you pull up, and, fearing that its the train with your bags, you fly out of the car and into the station while your husband parks. No one knows anything about your bags, and you frantically tell the story. 

“Someone has to go down to get our bags!” you say.

“The Philly train is running twenty minutes late,” someone answers. 

You turn around in a huff and pull out your phone to start texting your frustration, but instead run into your husband who was standing directly behind you. He shoves a People magazine, a bottle of vitamin water, and a pack of gum in your hands and, in the exchange, somehow lifts your phone like Matt Damon in Oceans 11.

“Go sit,” he says.



So you find a decent spot on the floor and sit. 

Next thing you know, Ben and Jennifer are getting a divorce, and your bags appear right in front of you. 

“Are these them, ma’am?” the attendant asks. You unzip the front pouch and cringe as a bunch of things dramatically fall onto the floor. You take out your cleverly disguised laptop and inspect it. It’s fine.

“Yes,” you sigh. “Thank you.”

He walks away just as your husband approaches, and you both hug without saying anything. He takes your bag for you. 

While loading the car, your husband notices a girl crying into her cell phone and he motions for you to go talk to her. You wait until she hangs up and then ask, “Hey, are you okay? Do you need a ride anywhere?”

“No, I’m fine. Thanks,” she says, and she walks away. 

Two days, three emails, and approximately twenty minutes on hold later, you are fully refunded for the trip and have travel credit for your return home. 

- Joy -