This story picks up from my last post. The one where we were exhausted after a long-haul flight to Sydney, got delayed going through Immigration, had trouble finding our luggage, made it through the line to Customs, only to realise one of our suitcases had been left behind - on the floor next to the luggage carousel.
Trying to keep as calm as possible, I explained the situation to the Customs officer, gesturing to the lone suitcase in the distance, on the other side of the secure barrier. He enlisted another officer to escort me back to collect the suitcase. After being ushered past what felt like several hundred people, and pushing through the crowd waiting to line up for Customs, I dashed over to the suitcase. At that moment, an airport employee was doing the rounds in one of those motorised buggies. He reached down and began to pick up the suitcase and I had to shout out to get his attention. I couldn't believe the timing of it - if I'd been escorted over only another five seconds later, that suitcase would have vanished and been in need of further tracking down.
So, suitcase in hand, I was escorted back to the Customs section, where J had been waiting with the girls. All the other bags had been let through without a search, but because I'd declared the beef jerky (bought for a friend who'd asked for it), I had to pull it out to show the officer.
He immediately reached over and said, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to take that. No meat products of any kind are allowed into the country."
"What, not even cured, prepackaged stuff?" His withering look was all I needed to know it was not the time to put up a fight. I kissed goodbye the twenty-odd dollars I'd spent on that jerky, and moments later, we stepped outside into the cool Sydney air.
We found a taxi van that could fit all our things, and made the short journey to our friends' place. It was a little surreal, because they'd moved to a new house only a month earlier, in an unfamiliar area. Instead of whizzing through streets I knew, I found myself staring at neighbourhoods and shops that I didn't recognise. I know Sydney pretty well, but not the pocket they'd moved to.
Ringing their doorbell led to the first of many excited reunions for the trip. Squishy hugs and kisses all round, kids squealing up and down the hallway, and relieved looks exchanged between J and I. We were finally in Sydney, with friends, and we could relax a little - at last. There was no need to start the three-hour drive south to my parents until after lunch. It was only 9am.
My friend needed to leave for work in about half an hour, and her husband was all set to play daddy day care with their son, the Faery and Miss Pie, while J and I hopped on a train to fetch our rental car.
I realised with a sense of urgency that it had been far too long since I'd last brushed my teeth (long-haul travel sans kids is so much easier), so I went to the purple suitcase to retrieve the bathroom bag. There was a padlock on it, so I called out to Justin in the next room for the combo.
He called back that he didn't know as he'd never used the padlock before. I stood there, wondering what kind of fucking idiot puts a padlock on something when they don't know the combo.
Can you guess where this is going?
Not wanting to entertain the growing panicked thoughts in my head, I unzipped the side pocket of the bag, holding my breath, hoping to see the girls' underwear as I'd packed it.
Calvin Klein G-strings... definitely not our luggage. Identical, though.
What were the odds? The owner must have picked up our bag first, because this had been the only purple bag on the floor next to the luggage carousel.
I dropped to the floor and curled into the foetal position. I may or may not have resembled Basil Fawlty at that moment.
Thankfully, my wonderful friend sprang into action. She immediately pulled up some Qantas phone numbers online, and began calling to enquire what needed to be done with mistaken luggage.
We decided that the best plan of action was for us to head straight into town for the rental car, and bring the purple case along, then drop it off at the airport once we had the car, on our way back to their place (if you're wondering why we didn't just book a car rental from the airport, the reason was a good $1,000 difference over the three-week period we'd be needing it).
Lugging a complete stranger's suitcase on Sydney trains? While massively sleep-deprived? Not something I thought I'd be doing on my first morning in Sydney.
My lovely friend had to catch the same train to work so we set off with J, and before getting on the train, she treated us to a round of much-needed coffee. Riding the train with her and J, coffees in hand, minus kids - it was a mindfuck. It was just like old times, twenty-something again.
If emerging from the underground station into broad daylight at Kings Cross is not enough to pull you back to earth and shake the last rattles of long distance travel out of your bones, then nothing else will. I pulled my phone out to discover some choppy voicemail from Qantas staff, asking about the mistaken bag and wanting to know how far away we were from the airport. Phew. My biggest fear was that the person with our purple bag had left Sydney and was long out of town before realising she had the wrong bag. (I'm going to assume 'she', judging from the Calvin Klein G-strings.)
With our rental car sorted out, we drove back to the airport (baptism by fire for poor J - we've been driving on the other side of the road since first moving to L.A.). We found the office we'd been described, and a quick exchange of the purple bags ensued. Thank fuck, because ours had 95% of the girls' belongings in it. There would have been tears and meltdowns if we'd had to go without.
An hour later, we were packed up and back on the road, heading down to the NSW south coast to see my parents. We were in a daze and still unsure whether to laugh or cry about the morning we'd just experienced.
It's funny though - things could have been so much worse. So many ifs.
If I hadn't bought beef jerky back at a friend's request, we may not have even noticed we were one suitcase short as we were going through customs. At what point would we have realised? I hate to think. Or perhaps if I'd packed the beef jerky into the purple bag, we'd have discovered much sooner that we had the wrong purple suitcase. (I should be thanking Paul for his random requests.)
If I hadn't gone to brush my teeth at my friend's house, I may not have discovered we had the wrong purple suitcase until we'd arrived at my parent's house... nearly 200km away. Three hours away. How much more of an inconvenience would that have been?
So... what doesn't kill you, makes you stronger, right? Or something like that. The intensity of that morning seemed to wipe out most the jet lag and reset my body clock. I had no choice but to get with the programme, but that night? I slept like the proverbial baby. Don't even remember my head hitting the pillow.
My only real concession to jet lag the following day was that I woke up at 6am, and that was it. I was tempted to try and sleep some more, but then I caught a glimpse of the golden light bouncing off the walls. I grabbed both my camera and iPhone (sad, yes, I know), threw on an old dressing gown, and crept outside.
I'm glad I did. Possibly the most beautiful sunrise - ever - was waiting for me, and the stresses of the day before just melted away.
I was home.