Monday, February 25, 2013

The Woes of the Wineless Luggage

Easy come, easy go, so they say. On the other hand, parting is such sweet sorrow.

When I arrived at the Professional Wine Writers Symposium at Napa Valley’s lovely Meadowood Resort, I was pleased to find that each registrant was given a bottle of wine courtesy of the Napa Valley Vintners. My friend Jennifer and I drank her bottle the first night, glad that we weren’t tempted to open the mini-bar’s bottle of Matriarch at about $300.

But my bottle of Ackerman Cabernet Sauvignon was still intact on the date of my checkout. As was a bottle of Stony Hill Chardonnay, another gift from the NVV bestowed on writers who attended the premier party for their short promotional film “Napa Rocks.”

Curious about my loot, I researched the prices - $75 for the Cab, $42 for the Chardonnay. While traveling writers can’t always take back all the wine they acquire on trips, I figured these were worth schlepping back to New Jersey. Thanks to post-9/11 liquid restrictions, I’d need to check my bag – a $25 fee. Yet, purely on an economic level, I’d still come out $92 ahead. Besides, I looked forward to aging these wines, especially the Cabernet, to wait for them to show more character.

On my last day in San Francisco, I met my friend for lunch and we enjoyed sparkling rosé and a delicious plate of salumi and Cowgirl creamery cheese. We laughed and talked. And talked. A little too long.

By the time I returned to the hotel and loaded my rental car, I was a little behind my already tight schedule. Zooming down highway 101 past the exit for the airport stole another precious ten minutes.

Finally at the rental car drop off, I checked the extra charges – a $20 fee just to ride the airport shuttle to the car rental area? Fuming slightly at this unexpected charge, I settled up and rushed to the over-priced shuttle. As we chugged, chugged, chugged slowly past six other stops, I nervously checked my watch.

I leapt out at Terminal 3 and rushed to the United self service luggage check. It was 3:16 and my flight left at 3.50. “It is less than 45 before your flight. You cannot check your bag” a message on the screen read. I spoke to a check-in attendant who echoed what the machine said. She told me to talk to the curbside checkin. I raced outside. “You can’t check your bag, it’s less than 45 before you flight departs.” “Then why did the other person tell me to come out here?” She repeated, “You can’t check your bag, it’s less than 45 before you flight departs.” I said, “I know, but..” She told me to talk to another United check-in person.

I advanced to a new line and told another blue-uniformed matron of the air, “I am trying to check my bag.” “Oh, well, you can’t check it, it’s less than 45 minutes before your flight takes off.”

I tried to maintain my calm and a modicum of my natural charm, “Yes, I know that. Do you think I can speak to a manager?” An authoritative man with light brown skin and skeptical eyes strode over. “I know it’s less than 45 minutes before my flight, but I’d really like to check this bag. There’s not shampoo in here, it’s more than $100 worth of wine.” This is northern California, I thought, surely he’d understand. “I mean, if you can check your bags at the gate right before the plane leaves, why would it take 45 minutes before the flight takes off to check a bag?”

“We need to give TSA that time so they can check the bags.”


I surrendered to circumstances and pulled my bag away. I kneeled on the dirty terminal carpet and dug out my bottles, which I had carefully wrapped in jeans, sweaters, and skirts. I looked up and saw a mild-mannered man of about 40 with his wife, “Do you like wine?” I asked. “Well…” he stammered, probably thinking I was about to scam him somehow. “Look,” I hurriedly unwrapped the treasures. “Here are two very good bottles of Napa Valley wine – this one is worth $75,” I ran my hand along side of it ala Vanna White, “and this one is worth $42.” He stared, still a little confused. “I can’t bring them with me, they’re yours if you want them.” “Well,” he said, “if you’re sure.” “I’m sure – you do like wine?” “Yes,” he smiled.

As he bent down to get his booty, I wheeled my wineless luggage away, knowing that the Napa Valley Vintners Association had just made one couple very happy indeed.

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