Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kafka's Mom and Dad


I miss Mom and Pop. I really do. I don’t mean my mother and father, though I think about them daily. I mean the family-run business where you get what you need plus a conversation. As a kid, my mother always took me along to Sam and Andy’s produce place, where Sam was sure to tossle my hair and give me a ripe peach or some other treat. (Never did find out who Andy was.) I bought my candy bars at Debbie and Irv’s, got my haircut at Jack’s and occasionally went to Burt’s Hardware, where Burt’s daughter was my school classmate.

Years later in San Francisco, I took my own kids to Heidi’s Bakery where she would greet them in her Austrian accent and give them a little treat. When she retired, Noah’s Bagels moved in, but Noah was a distant corporate executive who we would never meet. And then came Starbucks with young pierced workers who came and went before you ever learned their name. The film You Have Mail got it right. In the old bookstores, the person at the counter was the one who read with a passion and would recommend and discuss books. The new corporate version had to look things up on the computer.

And so back to the sad story of my lost suitcases. After my anger, frustration and first-world grief, I decided not to keep calling Iberia every day with a half-hour on hold and the story du jour about where they might be. I spoke to one sympathetic agent and when I asked her name and hoped I could speak to her again the next time I called, she let me know that this was a call center with a couple of hundred people answering the phone who did not need to get personally involved with your story. I’d have to tell it again every day and get the same non-answer.

Alfonso, this marvelous course-director who took over negotiations when Sofia left for Salzburg, did call yesterday and was told that the suitcases were being held in Customs. So we decided to drive the hour trip to the airport and see for ourselves. Naturally, the Customs people were confused and needed a form from Iberia and back we went to the desk where I first filed the claim. A man looked into the computer, frowned and told us to follow him. His theory was that the suitcases were somewhere in the deep catacombs of Madrid Airport where some 800 other lost suitcases were spread out in various tunnels. We followed him to three different rooms with some 50 suitcases each and I could tell immediately upon entering that mine were not there.

But miracles do happen and in the third, we found one of Sofia’s two suitcases. He had a theory about what had happened (won’t get into it here), but I didn’t need an explanation, I needed my suitcases. And now with only two days left here and two weeks of travel in Europe ahead, I needed a plan. So this man, who was both helpful and somewhat sympathetic, let me talk to his supervisor.

And I here I met Maria José, a women with a beating heart and a smile who understood my dilemma and affirmed my suggestion that I stop ruining my every day by checking in—and in any case, didn’t have my own phone and couldn’t check in after leaving Alfonso in two days. She assured me that when my bags where found—and she seemed reasonably confident they would be—they would send them to San Francisco and they’d be driven to whatever address I gave them. Meanwhile, I should buy more necessities and a new suitcase. She gave me an e-mail address, her name and her assurance that she personally would oversee this. After the Kafka-esque nightmare of running in circles in the maze of Iberia’s bureaucracy by phone where nobody ever knew anything but pretended that they were doing all they can, this was like Sam and Andy and Debbie and Irv and Jack and Burt and Heidi rising from the past and gathering around to help. Kafka’s parents taking me in the kitchen for milk and cookies.

I still don’t have my own clothes or recorder or books and such. But it helps. Gracias a Maria José.

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