Seven shirts – check.
Three pairs of jeans – check.
Two pair of hiking shorts – check.
Swimming trunks – check.
Two sweaters – check.
Jacket – check.
Shoes, socks, etc. – check.

You know the drill! Plan ahead, figure out what you need to pack, lay it all out on the bed, determine what will go in which part of the suitcase (the bag that will be checked all the way to final destination and thus inaccessible during travel), what will be put in the carry-on bag(s).

The modern-world, security-conscious additions to all of this are weight limits and carry-on item restrictions. The checked luggage cannot weigh more than 50 pounds each; you cannot check more than two bags (without incurring hefty fees). You cannot have bottles of liquid in your carry-on bags (except for itty-bitty ones). And so on and so forth.

I started writing this at home, while I was sorting the clothes, toiletries, etc. I had planned to pack, but then the phone rang or something and I set this aside. In Newark Liberty International Airport, I tried to added to it. (I thought I was just going to surf the web or play on Facebook or something, but for reasons I was too tired to try to understand, I couldn’t seem to sign on through the airport’s Boingo network. I’m not a big fan of Boingo, in any event, so I’m not broken-hearted. It gave me a chance to share a few thoughts about modern air travel … and share the annoyances of the day.)

So, anyway this is what I wrote in Newark….

I thought I would check just one bag and carry on another. So I packed my rolling dufflebag as carefully as I could, sure I was not over-packing and that I would be under that 50-pound limit. Got it all zipped up! “My God, I thought, this thing is heavy. I can’t be that much over the limit!” I was – slightly more than 20 pounds over! The carry-on was awfully heavy, too. So … time to rethink the only-one-checked-bag decision.

I am using Continental Airlines this trip. On international flights, Continental (which charges $25 for the first checked bag on domestic flights) permits one piece of checked luggage without an additional fee. The weight limit, of course, is 50 pounds. The over-weight fee is $200. On the other hand, you can check a second 50-pound bag for $50 (or, I could because I purchased my ticket several months ago; for a passenger with a more recently purchased ticket, it’s $70). A no-brainer, right?

So I spent another 30 minutes or so juggling things from one back to another and finally getting the duffle down to 48.5 pounds and the second bag came in at 31 pounds. My single carry on item was now manageable – a backpack with a jacket, my computer, my camera, and a book.

Evie (my lovely wife) helped me get the bags to and into the car and, as we were doing this, my cellphone made it’s “you’ve-got-a-text-message” bong. It was Orbitz – my plane is delayed an hour because of high winds in Newark. This was not a problem; after all, I have a long layover at Newark.

We decided to take advantage of the delay to run and errand or two before heading for the highway and, as we were doing that, I realized … I had left my hat at home. So back we go, get the hat, get on the freeway. For some reason traffic in Medina that day was heavy! Lots of cars, slow speeds, crazy drivers … I’m the sort who likes to get to the airport rather early, so this drove me nuts!

On the way to the airport, I plugged my cellphone into the “cigarette lighter” charger to get that last little bit of power topped up. (You know what’s coming, but let’s wait for that … OK?)

We finally got to the airport. Evie decided that, rather than just drop me off, she would come in with me to see how the check-in process with an e-ticket works at the Continental counter since she’ll be doing this herself in a couple of months. The truth is, it doesn’t work all that well. After standing in the queue, we are directed to one of the self-serve kiosks and after claiming not to find my reservation by Continental’s tracking number, the machine responded to my driver’s license and led me through the baggage check (and payment) process and the boarding passes were printed. It then directed me to wait until an agent assists with baggage tagging. So we waited … and waited … and waited … Finally I went to the woman who was directing the traffic in the queue and said to her, politely, “No one seems to be working kiosk 25 to which I was directed.”

“Well,” came the exasperated reply, “all you have to do is ask!”

“I’m asking,” I said with a smile. Together we walked to the kiosk, I stopping on the customer side and she walking around the agent’s side.

“Here’s the problem,” she says, “you haven’t completed the process. There are no baggage tickets printed.”

“Yes, I have. Here is my receipt for $50 telling me to wait for an agent.”

“Oh.” She took my receipt and walked off. After she fiddled with the agent’s keyboard of another kiosk terminal, she turned my receipt (and the problem) over to a young man who was apparently able to solve the problem. In a few minutes, he came back to kiosk 25 with the tags for my bags, my receipt, my claim tickets, and good wishes for a safe trip.

Evie and I said our good-byes and I got in the line for the security check. About two-thirds of the way through the line, while organizing my items to put in the bins for the x-ray scanner, I realized (you saw this coming, remember?) that I didn’t have my cell phone! When I got to the woman who was checking identification, I asked if there was any way, if I could find a way to contact my wife, if she could get my phone to me. No. I would have to go back out and do the security thing all over again. I decided the phone wasn’t worth it since it would only be good in Newark (I don’t have an international phone).

Next thing I know, as I’m taking off my shoes, I heard my name on the PA system. (OK, I think, I’ll deal with that from the other side of security.) Just as I exitted the body scanner, a man with airport credentials around his neck comes up to me and asks if I am Eric Funston. Yes. “I have something for you from your wife,” he says. He was holding a plastic bowl containing the phone and my car charger! Bless you, Evelyn! These had to be run through the scanner while I put on my shoes, first locating my wife outside the security line, waving to her and blowing her a kiss.

It turned out that on returning to the car, she’d seen the phone and brought it back in. Continental Airlines was unable to help, but she had quickly figured out who to get to and gotten the phone over to me. Bless her! Because although it doesn’t work in Europe, it does have all my Stateside phone numbers in it and I can use it as an address book to get numbers I can call with the European phone I intend to buy.

(The boarding call for my flight has just sounded, so I will put this away and finish it later.)

— Seven days later —

Sitting in a Burger King just within the city limits of Coventry – I’m going to go ahead and post this odd little squib as an introductory piece to some thoughts about travel and monks … more on that in a later piece. I also want to post it as a big thank you and tribute to my wife who got my phone to me and without whose support I couldn’t be doing this at all! Love you, dear!