Southwest Airlines' curbside and inside check-in lines looped round and around with anxious passengers when Charles and I arrived before dawn on the launch of Memorial Day weekend. My bag got a bright yellow "LATE CHECK-IN" tag, but I honestly didn't worry about that.
When we realized that I had been granted TSA pre-check but Charles hadn't, I did worry about getting us on the plane. I ran ahead as Charles went shoeless through the body scan, and I reached the gate just as the flight attendant said "Ten minute 'til doors close" into his walkie-talkie. Charles came up just behind me. We found middle seats, far apart.
I dozed most of the way to Chicago, where we changed planes. Our long, choppy descent into LaGuardia ended with a thud that shook the plane. I needed to sit by the gate for a few minutes after we got off the plane to regain my equilibrium. By the time we got down to baggage claim the luggage carousel for our flight had stopped turning and just a few bags hadn't been picked up -- mine not among them. (Charles, who's here only for the weekend, just had a carry-on.)
"Oh, well that's why," the baggage attendant said when I explained we had checked in late. "With a late check-in you have a fifty-fifty chance [he pronounced it 'fitty-fitty'] that your bag will get on the plane." They would most likely put it on the next plane from Chicago, arriving at 4:30. It was 2:45. Rather than spend two hours watching luggage carousels turn, we decided to go into Manhattan to the Museum of Modern Art, our original plan for the afternoon, since our hosts for the weekend, my cousin David and his wife, Carolyn, would be at a wedding in New Jersey until late. The baggage attendant gave us a direct number that I could call to find out if my bag arrived and then make arrangements to get it.
MoMA has free admission on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m., which was a sweet $50 surprise to us, but many, many thousands of others had obviously planned for this. The museum was far more crowded than ideal, but Charles and I approach museums like religious pilgrims: the journey matters more than material comfort. In the company of Picasso, van Gogh, Klimt and Chagall we are, invariably, restored.
We found a relatively quiet place to take a break, where I called the Southwest baggage department. My bag had arrived! Since the airline wasn't at fault, they wouldn't deliver it for free, but they called a delivery company that could pick it up soon, for what we considered a totally reasonable fee. The glitch: No one would be at the house when it arrived, and the company didn't take credit cards. So we would have to go back to LaGuardia after all, but they would be open until 11:30.
We went down to the sculpture garden first for some fresh air and a glass of prosecco. A bronze sculpture of a very pregnant yet very gaunt goat, with bony spine and bulging belly and udders, caught our attention. "That is Picasso's goat!" Charles said, exuberant. He recognized it from the description in his favorite Tony Hillerman novel, Thief of Time. Navajo Tribal Policeman Joe Leaphorn goes to New York City from Arizona in search of information that might help him find a missing person. Leaphorn, grieving the recent death of his beloved wife Emma, passing time at the museum, where sees the sculpture that he remembers from an earlier visit with his wife. Emma had found the sculpture a perfect symbol of the Navajo people: ugly, starving and gaunt, but defiant. Enduring.
Perhaps you'd think there wouldn't be much traffic going out to Queens from Manhattan at 8 o'clock on a Friday evening, but again you'd be very, very wrong. It had been a long day, much of it spent going to or from airports, but so what? There was my bag, brought for us from the back closet (actually, the sign on the desk said "Lost bags are kept in the back closet, or the Creepy Closet"; I'm not sure which had contained mine). We found a car service to take us to David and Carolyn's front door house in Westchester, with a kind, turbaned driver who didn't require chit-chat. We put out crunchies for the cats, as Carolyn had requested, and were asleep before they came home.