Sunday, August 05, 2007

The only thing Jamaicans do fast is DRIVE

It was too good to be true.

Our bags burst through the rubber slats straddling the carousel, one right after the other. We'd barely made it across the broad expanse of the new Customs wing at Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, before we spotted the first bulky black bag trundling along that winding rubber road. One by one, the others began to follow. We spotted them immediately.

We'd given up on our previous half-hearted attempts of tying brightly colored yarn to our luggage to make them stand out from the crowd of similar black bags. The yarn always shredded during god-knows-what journey it took in the cargo hold. And it seems everybody else had the same idea, of course, and by the time we arrived, weary and bleary eyed, I could never even remember the color of the yarn we used. Pointless.

So I finally bought some bright, cobalt blue plastic luggage tags and affixed them to each of our bags. We'd also replaced some of our battered black bags with some new ones, colored in a bright tomato red, hoping those would also stand out from the field of basic black.

I think Kmart and Walmart, however, must have been running a sale on red bags since the sea of black perched on the carousel was now peppered with bright red bags throughout. Next year, we go for purple.

Still, thanks to the blue tags we soon saw our odd assortment of red and black bags quickly pile up at our feet as Peter hauled them off the moving belt. Five out of six, I counted. And we waited. And waited. I turned to the luggage carts upon which he'd stacked the bags and counted again, just to be sure. Still only five out of six. The remaining bags on the moving belt were quickly plucked up by their owners until a few lonely odd sorts remained, only to circle the loop again and again unclaimed.

And no number six.

You know when you are the last people standing at the luggage carousel, for 10 minutes or more, that it is a bad sign. I walked over to the black rubber slats where the bags punched through the wall from outdoors and poked my head outside. The baggage handler standing on the other side confirmed what I feared. No more bags coming from the Delta flight.

So we made the long walk back across the customs hall to the small cluster of desks near the entryway, where we were told to report our missing bag. One desk had an Air Jamaica sign with a smiling uniformed attendant at the ready, another sported an American Airline sign and was similarly occupied by an attendant smartly dressed in red white and blue.

And squeezed in between the two was a nameless desk, with a bored looking woman wearing neither an airline uniform nor a pleasant expression on her face. She was wearing a bright fluourescent green vest, the sort that indicated she spent much of her day out on the tarmac, dodging vehicles and airplanes. I approached her, asking if I could report a missing bag from a Delta flight at her desk.

She slowly turned her face toward me, expressionless, casually tossing her long, auburn hair weave over one shoulder. She nodded and came around the desk.

"What does de bag look like?" she asked.

Now I thought the description portion of the report came later, after submitting the baggage receipt, flight number, name, and so on but I figured she was going to go at her own pace.

"It's black and looks almost identical to this one," I said, pointing to another of our large boxy black bags, with the extendable handle, which allowed you to pull it on its small wheels. "But I have the baggage receipt sticker right here," I said, "I've checked off all the other bags and this is the one that is missing", showing her the official receipt with it's ID number.

She clearly was not interested in filing any paperwork. She took the receipt from me, still looking quite bored, and began to walk away from us, heading across the vast room, toward our flight's carousel, which by now had even stopped circulating. She was not going to take us at our word that the bag had not arrived. She was going to see for herself that it was not on the carousel.

And she walked as if her feet carried ten pound cinderblocks in each shoe. Through a field of molasses. She simply could not have walked more slowly. Slightly knock-kneed, and wearing uncomfortable looking chunky heels, we stood watching her slowly sail off, as if she were a tiny rowboat setting out to cross the Atlantic.

This was going to take longer than I thought.

We'd been up since 5 am, our flight and connections were delayed by several hours each. We should have arrived at 2pm but it was now nearing 8pm and we were anxious to get to our cottage. But Miss Baggage Boss was not about to hustle on our behalf.

When she finally reached the carousel, she stooped over each remaining bag and carefully read the ID number on it's long flapping sticker, comparing it to our missing bag number. It seemed to take hours. After finally confirming that we were indeed missing our bag, she turned and began her slow walk back across the hall to us.

It was like watching grass grow.

I felt my New-York-City-Everything-Innna-Hot-Minute attitude bubbling under the surface of my calm demeanor. Losing my cool would only provide her with some entertainment and a good story to share with her co-workers. Over the years I've learned that The White Lady Fram Farrin Temper Tantrum is only grist for the mill and never gets you anywhere. If anything, it will slow up the process even further.

She slowly slid behind her counter and reached beneath to get a claim form for me to complete.

"Fill in dis part here, and dat part here and sign at de bottom." She handed me a pen. She told me the bag would be delivered to our hotel when it arrived. She began slowly punching ID numbers and all of our information into the keyboard at her desk.

"Thank you so very much, " I said. "You are such a professional, I really appreciate this, I'm so worried about the bag." I delivered this compliment with as much sincerity as I could muster. Not so easy considering I felt like throttling her at that very moment.

She slowly tilted her head up at me, blinked and slowly smiled. Her entire demeanor changed. She probably had never been called "professional" in her entire life. She visibly straightend up, gave me a beautiful grin and began typing even more furiously into her computer. "Do you think they'll find my bag?" I sighed.

"Oh, of course, they'll find it Miss," she beamed, " It soon come, in just a day or two. And we will have it promptly delivered to your hotel. Here is your claim numbah, and I will also give you the phone numbah for dis desk so you may call tomorrow and check to see if it has arrived. We will, of course, call you at your place when we collect your bag. No worry yuhself, Miss," she cooed,still smiling, " it WILL arrive."

Ok, so maybe there's something else Jamaicans do fast -- they'll soak up a respectful acknowledgement of their worth and repay it in kind. Just as anybody else would do.

Now if we could only do something about those driving habits..........

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