Some people merely lose their luggage at an airport. I lost Grandma. Grandma was returning from her winter home in Florida. My job was to meet her flight in Cleveland and drive Grandma home to Conneaut. Simple, right?
Shortly before leaving my office an hour away in Warren, I called the airport to check the status of Flight 412 landing at 4:50 p.m. "It's on time and will arrive from Chicago at 4:35."
How a spring blizzard in North Dakota rerouted Grandma's flight from Tampa direct to Cleveland through Chicago made no sense. I didn't ask. I'd lost 15 minutes before starting.
This was 1997, so Grandma counted on someone to meet her at the gate to push her wheelchair, such as a doting grandson who wouldn't abandon his own loving grandmother in the sprawling vastness of an airport.
Boy, was I in trouble.
I skittered through yellow lights, then leaped luggage in a mad dash through the airport. I huffed and puffed up to Gate A10 in time to see a skycap backing a wheelchair out of the jet bridge.
HE wasn't my grandmother. Nor was HE amused.
I peered at passing faces. I scanned the departure lounge. I squinted into the shadows of the bridge. I'd lost Grandma.
The guy checking boarding passes suggested Gate C2. A flight from Tampa was due there at 4:55. Ah ha! Wrong flight number! Let's see, 4:55 - Yikes. Now!
I ran what seemed like three miles, pausing at every terminal to check for any abandoned grandmothers, just in case. I panted up to the empty gate just as an attendant closed the doors.
Grandma was lost. Any moment, the loudspeaker would rumble, "Will the jerk who stranded his grandmother please report to the Hall of Shame?"
A muffled voice inside the bridge yelled, "Wait, there's one more." The doors blew back and a harried hostess pushed a wheelchair through the gate.
"I couldn't get anybody's attention," she said. "They were going to leave me on the plane - to Newark."
I'd never have made it to New Jersey on time.
A late-arriving skycap commandeered Grandma's wheelchair and sent me for my van. I hesitated. "We'll meet you outside the arrivals door," the skycap ordered.
When I pulled up to the door, Grandma's familiar luggage sat at the curb. Grandma did not.
I'd lost her again!
I left the van in the don't-you-dare-park-here-for-more-than-22-seconds space and dashed from terminal window to window, peering inside.
"Lose someone?" a policeman asked.
"Um Grandma," I whimpered. "Just lock me up now."
A voice boomed: "Here she is!" The skycap careened the wheelchair through a dodging and parting crowd. "She had to go to the BATHROOM! So I took her to the BATHROOM."
People by the dozens turned to stare at the reddening face of Grandma. The skycap kept hollering as she propelled the wheelchair: "Yep, she had to go to the BATHROOM!"
The chair barely screeched to a halt beside the van before I had Grandma and luggage loaded.
"Let's get out of here," I said as I zipped out of the airport. "I don't want you lost, rerouted or embarrassed again!"
"Dear," Grandma smiled. "You just took the wrong exit."
----- This retelling of a Classic Cole is in homage to Cole's grandmother, Genevieve Anttila, who died June 9 at age 92. The airport fiasco was one of her favorite adventures with her oldest, but not necessarily brightest, grandson. "Safe flight, Grandma!"