THE FOLLOWING IS ALL TRUE. NOTHING HAS BEEN INVENTED FOR YOUR READING PLEASURE OR AMAZEMENT.
I expected a wheelchair to meet me at the gate and take me through Customs and to Baggage Claim. Only the first part happened. The fellow took me about 20 yards and stopped. We then waited 15 minutes for an electric four-seater to collect me. (I had ordered a driver to pick me up at the airport, so I texted and updated him as I progressed.) We then proceeded to drive all around the airport picking up other wheelchair passengers, while I longingly looked back at the signs to Baggage Claim.
We finally arrived downstairs at Baggage Claim, only to be driven to a waiting area with 20 other people in various stages of decrepitude sitting in a long line along the wall. When told to join them, I declined, since I could see the luggage carousels were close enough to walk to. When I found my flight’s carousel, the area was abandoned and the carousel completely empty. (We were, after all, over an hour late.) On my way to Lost and Found, I saw two bags standing unattended against a wall. They were mine. I was safely in Barcelona with my bags! I could finally relax.
I texted the driver that I was on my way, and he said he’d be in front of a restaurant with a sign with my name. Dragging two large bags and two small, I arrived at the destination and saw no one with a card with my name. I called him, and he walked up to me while on the phone. I asked him where his sign was, and he showed me my name on his cellphone. Not helpful, but now irrelevant. He took my two large bags. I bent down to tie my shoes and, when I stood up, he and my bags were gone.
I looked around, and he was nowhere to be found. I called and he answered, but I couldn’t hear him. This went on for 10 minutes, at which point I was frantic. Two nice people came and offered assistance. When I explained what had happened, they said we should call the police. While the gentleman was on the phone, the driver returned. I asked, “Where did you go?”
“I took your bags to my car.”
“Why didn’t you wait for me?”
“I thought you were behind me.”
“WHY DIDN’T YOU TURN AROUND AND LOOK?!”
Remembering that I hadn’t slept in 25 hours, I chose to stop talking and breathe. We then went to his car, but there was more to come.
The owner of my rental had requested the 1500-euro deposit in cash, so I had $1700 which I needed to exchange. I was going to do it at the airport, but there hadn’t been enough time. I asked the driver if he knew a place, and the only one open this late was a Western Union in la Rambla. So off we went. I figured that Western Union was a place I could trust.
The driver, whose job to pick me up was beginning its third hour, waited out front with the engine running. Inside, the young woman was very charming, and we traded pleasantries while doing our transaction. She gave me a paper to sign, which I did, and then gave me another paper with the amount I was to receive. Instead of the 1500 I expected, it was 1150 euros. I was shocked and argued and yelled at her to give me the dollars back, to no avail. She said she couldn’t because I’d signed the paper. It was a classic scam. (I know, I should have demanded the amount before signing, but I’d had a long and stressful day.) There was an ATM there, so I took the remainder out of my bank account.
I later learned that she was not with Western Union but shared the small kiosk with them.
The driver brought me to my rental, and everything went fine with the owner. Finally, all was well.
But it wasn’t.
Exhausted, I was in no hurry to settle in; so I just dealt with the basics. A bit later, I realized that I needed something in one of my bags. I opened it, only to find women’s clothing.
As these had been the only two bags in Baggage Claim, and as they had looked like mine, I actually pondered if, indeed, this was my bag and that somehow, when security had examined the contents, they had accidentally given me someone else’s belongings. Of course, when I looked at the top of the bag, the tags weren’t mine and the color was close, but, in the light, clearly different.
So, off in a taxi to the airport, which I’d by then nicknamed the pit of hell.
At the airport, I went to the operations area and searched for my bag among the unclaimed luggage. I then spoke with an agent, and, during one of my longer relationships, Roberto and I did all the required paperwork. He assured me that people usually return bags taken by mistake. And I congratulated myself for buying locks before the trip. I did wonder why the person who took it didn’t call me, since I’d also had ID tags made with all possible ways to contact me.
I said farewell to Roberto and went to get a taxi into town. On a whim, I went back to the carousel, now dark, from my flight five hours prior. There on the carousel, I found my bag.
Perhaps whoever had taken it brought it back and left it where she’d found it. In any event, I happily took it in a taxi back to my rental.
Between the scam and the taxis and paying the driver for extra time, I had lost about $400. But the drama was over.
In preparation for the trip, I had purchased several adaptors for the electrical outlets. After I bought them, a European friend of mine who lives in the states said that he always brought one adaptor and one power-strip. So I brought a power-strip. In order to plug in my electric toothbrush, I plugged in the strip and there was a puff of smoke as the entire apartment went black.
It was 1:00 in the morning, I was sitting on a toilet in a pitch-black bathroom at the end of a long hallway in a strange pitch-black apartment. And I had been stressed to the max.
I groped my way carefully until I found my telephone in the living room and turned on the flashlight. I then searched every room and closet until I managed to find the circuit breaker which, thank god, turned everything back on.
I waited a while to see if the old wiring in the bathroom wall had caught fire. It hadn’t.
Me too. I went to bed. I ruminated over the meaning of all of these events and thought maybe it was a sign. Maybe I should just return to the US. But, before I could make a decision, I fell asleep.