Disaster Averted

August 24,2011

Here's the totebag and its contents, after the ordeal.

On Sunday, August 21, tired and frazzled after a bumpy plane ride from Dallas and dreading a drive home in the pouring rain, I inadvertently left a totebag containing my iPad, GPS, and ALL the research for my next book somewhere between the luggage carousel at Newark Airport and the shuttle bus drop-off at the lot where I parked my car. I didn’t realize the bag was gone until I arrived home, and the immediate panic I felt got progressively more intense. First, I focused on my iPad, wondering how many passwords could be discovered or private accounts breached. Then I remembered the book research, scores of printouts from newspapers gathered during a trip to the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. I also flashed on the book I’d been reading, Bonnie Jo Campbell’s Once Upon a River, and felt annoyed that I’d have to buy or borrow another copy to find out how the compelling story turned out. But that was an easily remedied problem. I spent most of my anxious moments wondering which was worse, the need to recreate all my carefully gathered research or the potential disaster of stolen passwords and illegally accessed accounts.

I tried to picture where I’d last seen the bag and knew I’d had it at baggage claim. I visualized it on a bench at the shuttle bus stop, but never after that. So I called Alexis at the Avistar Haynes Avenue parking lot and tried to calm my voice as I laid out the predicament. She promised to check around her office and ask her shuttle drivers to look on their buses and at the bus stop. I decided to try and call Newark Airport security, but finding a number is nearly impossible. I finally got one that seemed promising: The Port of Authority of NY and NJ Lost & Found for Newark Liberty, but when I called it, the message said no one was there and the message mailbox was full. It’s maddening that there’s no simple directory readily available for people to contact during moments like these.

It was after I checked back with Alexis, who said she hadn’t heard from her drivers yet, that my phone rang. The called I.D. showed a number I didn’t recognize, and when I answered, the caller asked, “Were you just at Newark Airport?” I said, “Yes, did you find my bag?” She said, “I might have, if you can tell me what’s in it.” I proceeded to list the iPad, book research, Campbell book, and the avocado wrapped in bubble wrap. (When I was in a store in Texas, I noticed that avocados were only 99 cents, as opposed to $2.50 in NJ, so I bought one. I just happened to have the bubble wrap with me.) She—Vicky—told me her son Cooper had seen the bag sitting on the bench at the shuttle stop and had brought it home. He and his sister were returning from a trip to L.A. with their dad. Cooper, 15, got on the phone and I thanked him profusely. Then Vicky told me her daughter Katharine, 13, had the brilliant idea to locate me by pressing “Home” on my GPS—I’d forgotten that my GPS was in the bag, too. They got my last name from a bill that was in there, and called information for my number. After thanking them again, I made plans to pick up the bag the next day. When I did, I brought along a monetary reward and a copy of one of my books. I also promised to thank them in my next book, the one based on all the research in the bag. 

I wrote about this incident on Facebook, and many people who posted comments pointed out how great it was that these two kids were so honest and clever. I know how lucky I was and how disastrous this moment of carelessness could have been. It’s not at all how I wanted to remember the summer of 2011. Fortunately, I can remember it instead as the summer when two young heroes saved my hide.