March 29th, 2014

A couple of years ago I had to travel, for a job, with a large group of people. The day before our flight, we met to discuss logistics. One member of the group, who lived a little bit out of town, had arranged to stay the night with a friend, so as to be closer to the airport for the next day’s early departure. She showed up, then, to our meeting with all of her luggage. And all of her luggage turned out to mean two giant suitcases plus a carry-on. The rest of the group was incredulous. We teased her for extravagance, for her willingness to pay all that she was surely going to have to pay for the privilege of keeping access to what must have been every one of her belongings, for one tiny little week away. And we made it very clear that no one would be lifting a finger to help when that burden got overwhelming.

Surprise, surprise, though, the next morning this woman showed up at the airport with only the carry-on sized rolling bag. “I reorganized,” she said, and we all just nodded in appreciation.

Half an hour later we were trudging our way through security. Most of us had been cleared and were looking around for the gate when we realized that this woman was being held up for extra security screening. “Racial profiling,” sneered one of our number, and indeed this is a black woman we’re talking about, but a couple moments later we understood that it was a little more complicated than that. We watched as she pulled off a jacket, only to reveal another underneath. That came off and then she was asked to remove first one and then two sweaters. Next came the three dresses that she had put on over I can’t remember how many blouses. Once the dresses were out of the way, it was possible, too, to get to the first, second and third pairs of pants she had put on over her leggings. Needless to say, there was jewelry in there too. And a hairpiece. If you haven’t guessed it by now, let me tell you what was going on: The solution she found to having too much luggage was to take everything out of those giant suitcases and wear it to the airport!

The moral of this story is that when you travel with people you work with, you get to know them in ways maybe none of you would have expected.

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