The last post about the laptop exchange episode reminded me of another harrowing experience on an airport.
This happened in December 1999. We, M&N Consultants, the company I started with Narayan, had landed a software development project in Philadelphia and I was to visit the client to receive the requirement specs for for the project.
The itinerary was defined. I was to land at the Newark airport in New Jercy and a cab was to pick me up at the airport and drive me to a hotel in Philadelphia. We had received some documentation from the client. I had read it before I took off and made some notes. I fully utilized the time in the flight and read the documentation multiple times and made copious notes.
Finally, I got down at Newark. All my notes and client’s documentation were stashed in my briefcase. I cleared immigration and collected my baggage. Since this was winter, and my stay was to be for almost 3 weeks, I had two suitcases with a lot of warm clothing apart from my briefcase. I also had some eatables with me. I cleared the customs without any event. I was particularly worried about the eatables, but the customs officer didn’t even look at them.
I was quite upbeat, though a little tired and was looking forward to the cab ride to Philadelphia. I came out expecting the cabbie waiting with a name placard for me, but didn’t spot anyone. I thought he might have gotten late and started waiting. No sign even after half an hour, so I decided to call the cab company. This is the time before the cell phones were ubiquitous. So I called the cab company using a public pay phone. I kept the luggage trolley containing both my suitcases and the briefcase in front of me so I could watch it while I was on the phone. When I called, an IVR system greeted me. I couldn’t understand the message clearly, due to the different accent and the noise around me. So I bent down into the telephone to listen and after some struggle, realized that the cab was not going to arrive.
I was depressed. I was wondering what to do now. But an even bigger shock was awaiting me. When I looked up, my briefcase had vanished! I looked around, no briefcase!! I was not watching my luggage for probably just about a minute, and within that minute someone just picked my briefcase. Now I completely panicked. Apart from the work papers, all my traveller’s cheques were in the briefcase. Fortunately for me, my passport, return ticket and some cash were in the waist pouch on my body. My mind was in a whirr. I couldn’t think of what to do. I pushed the trolley to a corner and sat in front of the trolley trying to figure out what to do.
Then I remembered that Mukund Karwe alias Mandy, a long time friend from IIT Mumbai mountaineering, is a faculty member in Rutgers, which is nearby. I dug thru my diary and got his phone number. This time, I sat on the suitcases on the trolley when I called Mandy. When he came on line, I told him my predicament and asked him to come to airport and pick me up. He was in a lab and said that it would be at least two hours before he can come to the airport and asked whether I could reach a particular place using the public transport. I was completely shaken and not willing to budge, and insisted that he comes to the airport to meet me.
He asked me to give him the phone number of the public telephone booth near me. That was the first time I realized that even a public telephone has a phone number. He told me that he would call me on that number before he started from the lab. I sat in front of that pay phone for about two hours waiting for Mandy’s call. They were probably the longest two hours in my life. I must have smoked 5-6 cigarettes as I was waiting for his call. Finally, the call came and soon Mandy arrived.
As I came out of the lobby and we started walking to where Mandy had parked his car, I spotted my briefcase about 100 meters away from the exit. I ran to it, only to find that it was empty.
Once we reached Mandy’s house, we informed American Express about the lost travellers cheques. The details of the cheques were also in the pouch along with my passport and cash. I was very grateful that I was wearing a pouch. Even to date on all my travels, local or abroad, I carry a waist pouch that contains all the important stuff.
What saved the day for me was Mandy. I can’t imagine what I would have done if he was not around. Thank you Mandy. It’s friends like you who make this life fantastic.