VALENCIA, Spain -- The airport luggage carousel goes around and around. Who are these lucky people who push through the mob and claim their bags first? If luggage retrieval were a lottery game, I'd lose my money every time.
The crowd thins. The mechanism that spits out bags, random ly and sporadic ally like beads thrown from a carnival float, has stopped. As a few unclaimed suitcases rumble past on the belt , I realize with a sinking feeling that I am the only person still waiting.
A delayed flight from John F. Kennedy International Airport to Madrid caused a missed connection, but I figure my bag will eventually arrive. I file a claim, with the luggage I D code and the address of my hotel, and leave, assured it will be found and delivered, possibly that afternoon.
I wander the streets in this bustling Mediterranean seaside town, overdressed in clothes donned yesterday morning for the flight: pants, long- sleeve shirt, socks, and leather shoes. Did I mention the temperature is in the 90s?
And that it's Sunday? Most stores appear to be closed. The banks are closed. The streets are oddly empty. I stumble upon a local department store and it's humming inside. I thought everyone was at the beach but, no, the town's population is here in this six-story wonder, riding escalators, buying perfume, and spending euros.
I see everything a traveler without luggage could possibly need. Using mime-like gestures (my foreign language skills are of the American variety), I locate a few necessities, just in case my bag is delayed a day: two sleeveless tops, some underwear, flip-flops with a stylish graffiti pattern. The salesperson removes the tags and I exit wearing my new fashions, satisfied and cooler. Things are looking up. I stop for pizza and a glass of wine before heading back to the hotel.
My room has a few basic s: comb, shampoo, soap. For the long flight, I had a toothbrush in my carry-on purse. I make a mental inventory of what I'm missing: toiletries, vitamins, various over-the-counter medicines, prescription medicines, my favorite black pants from Miami, my favorite stretchy orange tank top, my favorite lime green sun hat from France, my favorite . . . well, just about everything.
I had been so pleased with myself before embarking on this two-week European trip. I managed to squeeze everything into a small suitcase that could have fit in the airplane's overhead bin. Why did I check my bag? The hotel personnel nod their heads in sympathy. They call the airport. They call the airlines. There is no record of the bag existing anywhere in the known universe, but they are certain it will be found. Maybe tomorrow. Of course it will. It must.
On my second day I move, as planned, to another hotel a few miles away at the beach. The staff at Hotel No. 1 assures me they will call Hotel No. 2 if my bags arrive. I'm certain they use the word ``if" and not ``when," and a small knot forms in my stomach. I raid the hotel bathroom -- snatching tiny bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion -- just in case.
Since I'm traveling on a budget, I can't go out willy-nilly and buy more clothes. At the new hotel, I launder my few sweaty garments and drape them across any available surface to dry. The room looks like the Beverly Hillbillies suite.
On the third day, the staff at Hotel No. 2 assures me they are calling the airlines ``every three hours."
I gaze longingly at the stunning pool and can't stop thinking about the brand new Speedo I packed for the trip. But hey, I'm in Europe, so I peel off my clothes and -- voila! My black underwear morphs into a chic bikini. No one pays any attention as I backstroke across the wide expanse of blue. And then a curious thing happens: I feel liberated, I feel lighter, without all my stuff.
In the evening, I wander along the beach promenade, past vendors grilling corn and couples strolling arm in arm in the waning sun, and find a seemingly endless row of tents with all manner of inexpensive goods for sale. Facing my fourth day -- and possibly an entire trip -- without luggage (I'm flying to a new city on Day 5 ) my survival skills kick in.
This flea market is a lot like shopping at the old
I pull some capris on over the white jeans I've worn since leaving Boston four days ago. They're a good enough fit. I gather a handful of shirts and try one on but it bunches up over my clothes. I eye the crowd: People are in bathing suits, beach wraps, and other assorted casual attire. What the heck, I think, and whip off my shirt, pretending again that I'm wearing a bathing suit.
But then another dilemma: The only shirt that fits is pink. I am not a pink person. Pink is for little girls, or teenagers, or women with beautiful dark skin, not pasty white flesh like mine. When it comes to fashion I'm pink-phobic .
I hand the man 2 euros.
I find some pants with pink and tan stripes. I also buy a white scarf, a black cap, and a bathing suit. I find a small duffle bag for my new purchases.
Back at the airport, I query the airline one last time. A kindly ticket agent calls a sympathetic security guard who -- unbelievably and most probably breaking the rules -- leads me back into the forlorn-looking ``Room of Lost Luggage." No luck. But wait, he motions and we head deeper into the building through a maze of halls into what he tell s me is, if I understand him correctly, the domain of customs and security. There, among a handful of other suitcases, I am reunited with my bag.
When had it arrived? Why was it in security? Would the airlines ever have found it in this remote place? Who knows? For whatever reason it landed here and in my glee I don't care. I sign some papers and catch my flight.
Back in Boston, I have a new fondness for my emergency purchases, wearing my pink ensemble to a recent concert on the Esplanade.
``You look good in pink. It's your color," says a friend who never knew of my phobia.
``I got these clothes in Europe. Five euros! Can you believe my luck?" I say, and smile.
Contact Necee Regis, a freelance writer in Boston and Miami, at email@example.com.