I used to think that nails-down-a-chalkboard was the worst sound in the world. Then I moved on to people-eating-cereal-on-the-phone. But only this week did I stumble across the rightful winner: it's the sound of a baggage carousel coming to a grinding halt, having reunited every passenger on your flight with their luggage, except for you.
I have made it three decades without having an airline misplace my bags. That ended this past week when Newark airport experienced a temporary blackout. As is typical, I was already late to check in, so when I watched all the screens go dark, just as my suitcase was being weighed, I had a hunch this would not end well. But there was a kind of lesson to be learnt in the 48-hour aftermath.
I had flown to San Francisco to visit friends and found myself in a house full of boys. Well, two guy friends and one earnest female grad student whom I had never met before. I sent a text to my friend Angela, with whom I had dinner plans the following evening: "Airline lost luggage. What is it w these boys & the homing device they have for low-maintenance female roommates? Not a hairdryer or face wash in sight. Expect uni-brow & vague musk of airplane bathroom wafting off my person".
Now, an airline will reimburse you for reasonable charges accrued when they've accidentally thrown your bag into the ocean, say. But the form-filling is as much of a pain as you suspect it would be. Plus, they finally called to inform me that my possessions had been located and were on their way back to me. I decided to tough it out.
The combination of having no choice and a distinct circumstance on which to blame my slovenliness granted me a kind of freedom. I wandered around unconcerned with my appearance, washing my face with Dial soap (it's a cheap handwash) and putting lip balm on my elbows. When my luggage finally appeared, I found myself running late for dinner. I had five minutes and a choice. I left my suitcase in the hallway and ran scruffily out the door. No one needed to know I had it back yet.
Sloane Crosley is the author of 'How Did You Get This Number' (Portobello)