July 21, 2016

Suspicious Package



I recently spent four days at an academic conference in Dallas.  Things went smoothly enough. However, when I returned to Atlanta, the most heart-wrenching, bizarre thing happened.

I had a relatively early arrival time of 3:20 pm, so my husband was unable to get off work in time to pick up from the airport.  Atlanta traffic is horrendous daily from about 2 pm to about 8 pm.  I had two choices:  catch an Uber or have my 19-year old son pick me up.  I was not in the mood to ride in rush hour traffic with a stranger after spending four days with strangers.  So opted for my son to pick me up.  

I was a bit nervous about this because his driving record is by no means stellar, and Atlanta's airport is a beast.  So, he found me, uneventfully, without having to negotiate parking.  I was beat down by the heat and the heaviness of my carry on luggage by then.  As he pulled up to the curb, I was in full "Mom mode" and trying to usher him out of the car to help me with my bags.  He debated with me briefly (as he is won't to do these days) about how to put my rolling bag in the trunk.  While he was doing that, I had to relieve my left shoulder of my heavy laptop bag that contained more than just a laptop.  I noticed he was a little nervous about the traffic and the rush at the airport, so I told him I would drive.  We switched seats and we were on our way to my parents house to pick up the little kids who had spent the 4 days with their grandparents.

We were about 15 miles from the airport up I-85 North when I noticed my phone battery was almost dead.  I asked my son to reach in the back seat and retrieve my charger from my laptop bag.  

He said, "It's not back there."

The panic was building in my chest when I said, "What do you mean, it's not back there?  It has to be back there!  Look again."

I had left my laptop on the bench of the Delta curbside service area!

I sped across 6 lanes of traffic to the nearest exit.  We were going to go back to that airport and get my laptop!

My mind began racing about all of the collateral damage that would result in the loss of that laptop. Yes, it was insured, but did insurance include loss or theft?  Who knew. 

Wait! All of my coursework from my doctoral program was on that laptop!  Yes, I had backed up most of the documents to the cloud, but the two assignments that were due Friday had only unfinished drafts in the cloud.  The completed drafts were on my hard drive.  I had finished them on my flight home, and I did not want to spend the $6 for the in-flight WiFi just to save those documents to the cloud.  I now lamented that choice...

I was screaming and crying inside.  I would need to ask for an extension.  No, I couldn't do that. I just started this program.  Get it together!  I would just use the rough drafts in the cloud to duplicate my efforts to the best of my knowledge and turn them in.

Replacing this laptop would be expensive (if the insurance did not cover loss or theft).  I just purchased it the week that the graduate program started.  I didn't have that kind of money to just turn right around and purchase a new one.  How was I going to survive for 2 weeks or so without a laptop! I was actually crying now...

My planner was also in the laptop bag (this was why the bag was so heavy).  Although it was only $30, it contained notes and plans from the last 3 months of my life.  That is not replaceable.  

The traffic was abysmal.  A sea of vehicles lined I-85 South from N. Druid Hills into midtown and passed I-20.  During this creeping expedition, I was yelling at my son to call his grandparents on his phone (as mine was almost dead) and let them know what happened. He was perfectly calm.  In hindsight, this was either because he keeps a cool head under pressure or because he's just a self-absorbed 19-year old who could give a damn about my laptop.  

And because my phone was almost dead, I wanted him to search for numbers to the airport Lost and Found.  He finally found a phone number, and I remained on hold until we pulled up to Delta's curbside again.  

I put the car in park on the curb (illegally), hung up the phone, and started my quest.   

My first stop was Delta's Lost and Found.  There I was told that all "suspicious packages" are turned in to the Police, and that I should try the airport police department first. "Suspicious package?" I thought.  

I was running at this point, because I knew my son was illegally parked and might not know what to do if asked to move.  Once I got to the police department in the North Terminal, they told me that I should try the airport Lost and Found.  I did not have the time or the energy to be pissed off about the misinformation.  I just ran to the next stop, which wasn't where the police officer told me it would be. Apparently, the Lost and Found staff move from one office to the next from day shift to evening shift.  

When I finally found the airport Lost and Found, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.  But when I told the lady at the counter that I had lost a bag about 40 minutes ago, she started asking me to describe it and tell her where I left it.  At that point, I knew she had it.  Once she presented it to me, I burst into full-blown balling tears. The customers that had accumulated behind me started cheering. I explained that I was a graduate student, and my whole life depended on this laptop.

The Lost and Found lady explained to me that someone reported a "suspicious package" to the airport police department spotted on the bench at the Delta curbside area.  The police investigated "the package" and found that it was only a laptop.  At that point, the police sent it to Lost and Found.

Before 9/11, someone would have opened my bag and walked away with a brand new Macbook.  But now that we live in a society guided by fear and suspicion, my bag was labeled as a "suspicious package" and no one wanted to go near it.  Indeed, people wanted it to be "disarmed."  Imagine that.  And I missed all of this excitement while I was barreling down I-85 in a fit of terror.  The only thing that was required of me was my signature and the date, and my coveted Macbook was in my arms again.