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Dude, where’s my car!?

March 26, 2008

Flying is not the fun experience it once was. As a kid, it was glamorous and special. I was about 14 when I flew for the first time. We all dressed up and marveled at the airplane food. Now, I would liken it to a bus ride across country.

dsc_5689.jpgMy daughter wasn’t even a year old when she first flew. My son was just six weeks old – that was five months ago. So, when I arrange to fly cross-country with the Fam, I’m looking for cheap (as in least expensive) and simple (as in few stops with few layovers). Our trip to Lincoln, NE met one of those requirements. Our return flight did not: zero for two.

Actually, we were able to use some frequent-flier miles to purchase two of the three tickets, but because of the requirements of using those miles, we had to buy the third ticket at twice the price of what it was going to cost. So, in effect, we got one ticket free and bought two – even though that’s not the way it is listed on my AMEX bill.

On the way home, we were going to have a two and a half hour layover in Chicago, but due to some issues with UAL, we ended up having a five hour layover. This is tolerable when I fly alone; It is doable when I’ve flown with my wife; but when the whole family hasn’t slept well and is sick, it is nearly unbearable. Somehow, infants and toddlers just don’t understand waiting.

We finally arrived at PDX and got off the airplane around 10:30pm last Wednesday. We collected our luggage and stacked it near the terminal pickup area. We left mommy and son to guard the stuff while daddy and daughter got on the shuttle bus to get our car. This was quite the adventure for her!

We arrived in the red lot around 11:30pm. It had just started to rain. I asked the driver to let us off in the corner, right where we left our car. Just before getting off the bus, I joked, “I hope someone didn’t steal our car.” The bus drove off, leaving my three year-old, her rolling suitcase, a car-seat, and me standing in the rain – in the middle of a dark and lonely parking lot. We took off walking towards the car, but as we got close, I realized that it wasn’t there!

Where is my car? My heart sank. Did it get stolen? I kept a brave exterior and attitude as we began to walk through the lonely parking lot. I was sure I parked right there(!) but things always look different in the dark; in the rain; after being gone a week; when I’m exhausted. As we walked along, I kept talking to my daughter and pushing the “PANIC” button on the remote. Nothing.

She was unaffected at first, but after walking several rows, she began to sense the futility of our search. “Let’s go back daddy!” She tugged at my hand. Isn’t this just human nature: to shy away from the unknown and to return to the safety of the known? It was raining harder and she was getting tired of walking – it had been a long day as it was – she just wanted to stop. We walked a few more rows and then stopped to pray: “Dear Jesus, please help us to find our car.”

I lost a car once before – about 25 years ago in Chicago. The crosstreets where I parked it, didn’t cross – they ran parallel. I walked around downtown Chicago for three hours looking for that VW Beetle containing all my worldly possessions. I didn’t even know the license number of the car.

“Hey officer, could you please help me find my car? It’s blue and has four tires.”

Right after praying, we stashed our luggage in the bushes. My daughter is quite attached to her suitcase, but if it meant that Daddy would hold her, she was quite willing to ditch the bag. Just then a security official stopped to ask us if we needed help. Yep! He directed us to the nearest kiosk/bus shelter and told us to call the helpline. They inventory every car every night. Fortunately I remembered half of my license plate number and the operator was able to tell me where the car was: Row “K.” We were calling from Row “F.” He suggested we wait for a shuttle bus, but daddy isn’t one to sit around and wait.

It turns out that Row K is on the opposite side, opposite corner of the lot. I put on my parka, snuggled my daughter in my arms, and off we trudged in the rain. There was our Subaru – right where I left it. We drove over and picked up the cached luggage and as I was installing the car seat, mommy called. “Where are you guys? It’s been over an hour?” Oops, I said we’d be back in 15 minutes.

I got my daughter settled into her car seat, wrapped her in a blanket, and put her stories on the stereo. As we drove back to the terminal, I looked in the mirror and complimented her on her bravery. She responded with a meek voice questioning her bravery: “But Daddy, why did I cry?”

“It’s OK to cry,” I said. “You were still very courageous and brave.”

We picked up the rest of the Fam and our three tons of luggage and began the hour drive home. After everyone else was fast asleep I had time to think. I’m glad I lost my car. It gave us me some memorable moments with my daughter. In fact, it was an awesome night. I wouldn’t give that time up for anything in the world. It was a special time!

One Comment
  1. Jonathan Michael permalink
    March 31, 2008 11:50 am

    Hey Gary:

    Great story!

    How are things going for you?

    We’re plugging along here.

    Any chance you have a myspace page too? Let me know. I’d love to keep in contact in that way too.



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