By KATHRYN HARRISON
January 15, 2007
SUNDAY, Jan. 7. Newark International Airport.
I disembark at Gate C85, with my two daughters, from Continental Flight
488 at 5:55 a.m. Weve just arrived from Puerto Rico, our skin tight with
sunburn and salt. I navigate the terminal at the minimal level of
consciousness required to find the baggage claim, collect our suitcases,
and get into the taxi line.
Tempted to buy coffee from the kiosk between Baggage Carousels 2 and 3,
I discover I dont have my wallet. I must have left it on or around my
seat, 23B, where I paused to rifle through my carry-on to be sure I
wasnt leaving any of my younger daughters toys or games behind.
Jolted by adrenaline, I instruct my daughters, ages 16 and 6, to remain
at the baggage claim while I try to retrieve my wallet. Carrying only my
passport, I run upstairs to find someone who can issue me a gate pass
allowing my return through security to Concourse C.
Impressing the validity of my request on one distracted airline employee
after another takes a discouragingly long time. I am referred to and
from and back again to the agent at Desk 72. By the time I pass through
the gantlet of uniformed security personnel busy separating travelers
from their toothpaste and emollients, Ive lost 30 minutes, more than
long enough for a cleaning crew to straighten, vacuum and de-wallet the
airplane. I run, my shoes in one hand, passport in the other, to Gate
C85, at the end of the abandoned concourse. Gates 85, 84, 83 all gates
in sight are bereft of both airline and airport personnel, but my planes
still there; I can see it through the window.
I stand at the closed metal door that separates Gate 85 from its jetway.
Hello, I call, idiotically, and I knock, as loudly as possible, using
the heel of my shoe. Surprisingly, when I turn the handle of the door to
the jetway, I find it unlocked. Unsurprisingly, when I push it open, an
alarm goes off. I stand there, holding the handle, waiting for someone
official to come, expecting to be chastised and confident that, as I am
holding a valid United States passport and making no attempt to flee, I
can explain my predicament.
But no one answers the alarm, which is shatteringly loud and still
ringing. The handful of travelers in the waiting area, rumpled
middle-aged men, watch without expression as I prop the door open with
my little black shoe in case its locked from the other side and
disappear down the jetway toward the plane. Am I a federal criminal now?
Does anyone care?
The airplanes front hatch is open, and I enter, disappointed to see that
each seat already holds a tidy white pillow and plastic-wrapped blanket.
The cleaning crew has come and gone. I search under and around Seat 23B.
My wallet is nowhere to be found. Back at the gate, my little black shoe
still holds the door open, the alarm still rings, and the rumpled
middle-aged men in the waiting area continue to read their Sunday
papers. I retrieve my shoe; the door closes; the alarm stops.
You what! says the woman at Continentals customer service desk after Ive
told her what Ive just done. You cant, you cannot, do that. You cannot.
I know, I tell her, but my wallet is missing, Ive left my children at
the baggage claim, and theres no one at Gate 85 or any of the adjacent
gates. Anyway, I say, I waited for security but no one came.
Its your own fault you lost your wallet, she says when I ask her to
contact the cleaning crew. She gives me a sharp look I interpret as her
judgment that violators of federal airline security regulations deserve
no special courtesies.
Back at the baggage claim area, I file a lost item report, collect my
children and our luggage, and use my cellphone to wake my husband. Does
he have enough cash to pay our cab fare from Newark to Brooklyn? Ill
explain when we get home, I tell him.
When I do, he shakes his head. Let me get this straight, he says.
Unauthorized, you open the gate door to the airplane. You set off a very
loud security alarm. You wait a few minutes, and then take it upon
yourself to enter the empty aircraft. You spend some time moving around
its interior. No one sees you there. You leave of your own accord. You
exit the way you came and you stop the alarm from ringing. And you
confessed this, chapter and verse, to airline personnel and nothing
Yes, I say. Exactly so.
Kathryn Harrison is the author, most recently, of Envy, a novel.
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