I recently flew to Saskatoon for the day to visit my friend John. Every time I make that trip I am reminded of the first time. It's a story that does not put me in an especially favourable light so I was at first reluctant to release it into the wild on the internet, but then I remembered that nobody actually reads this blog. In fact, my recent viewing statistics reveal that the blog is getting the most hits from people searching for pictures of "cow shet" (sic) and of the Karachi airport. Those few that do read the stories are those whose arms I've twisted to do so and who have already heard this story. More than once.
So, a little background first. Veterinary medicine is a fine profession, but it has few tangible perks and fringe benefits. Stacks of post-it notes from pharmaceutical companies and bottles of homemade wine from grateful clients more or less cover it. I did, however, discover that I could accumulate Aeroplan points on the clinic's purchases of drugs and supplies by having a work Visa Aerogold card in my name. This amounts to a lot of points. Picture a fire-hose. As the points began to pile up it occurred to me that an appropriately decadent use would be to fly, jet set style, to Saskatoon just for the day to drink with John.
I arrived about 8:30 in the morning and by 10:00 we were into our first beer. In fairness, my flight back was at 5:30, so we had no choice but to start early. The wisdom of this decision was confirmed when we were each given an enormous complimentary Hoegaarden glass for being the first customers of the day to order that beer. Hoegaarden is a Belgian "wit" (wheat ale) and is served in a glass the size of a baby's head. I mean this literally. Giant Hoegaarden glasses in hand we headed to John's place so he wouldn't have to drive anymore.
The afternoon passed enjoyably in an ever thickening fog as beer piled upon beer. When it was time to call a taxi to the airport John broke out the Irish whiskey. The well-worn expression "the final straw" comes immediately to mind. Before we knew it the taxi was there. I lurched towards the door while John careened into the kitchen. He emerged with a plastic Safeway bag for my Hoegaarden glass. Can't forget that!
After a round of back-slapping hugs I was out the door and into the cab.
I sat in the front passenger seat with my Hoegaarden glass in my lap.
"No luggage sir?"
"Nope! Just this!"
The driver was lifelong Saskatonian and since I had grown up there we were able to swap jolly tales of the "good old days". Everything was very friendly and cheery until we pulled up to the terminal.
"That'll be $21.50 sir."
I began feeling my pockets and slapping my sides. I could see the cab driver's facial expression slide from happy to puzzled to irritated to borderline angry in seconds.
He stared at me.
"Uh, my wallet and keys and ID and everything were in my waist pack. I must have left it at my friend's."
He stared at me some more.
"I don't have a cellphone; can I borrow yours and try to call him? Maybe he can get it here in time."
"Ok." Very terse.
I dialed John's number and it rang and rang until eventually the answering machine picked up. John was evidently too far gone to answer the phone. But then I remembered that I had my PDA (remember the old Palm Pilot PDAs?) in my jacket pocket and I had my credit card number recorded in it.
"I'm really sorry man. Really really sorry. But I have my credit card number written down, can you just take that?"
"I guess I don't have a choice." Still very terse.
I read out the number, wrote a $10 tip on the slip and then bailed out of the cab, mumbling more apologies.
That was the easy part. The hard part was getting on the plane. This was the fall of 2005, four years after the September 11th attacks and well into the era of hyper-security.
I approached the Air Canada counter, mustering all of my self control to walk a straight line. I did, however, sway very slightly when I stood still.
"Hi! I'm on the 5:30 to Winnipeg, but I accidentally left my boarding pass, all my ID and everything at my friend's house! Is there any way I can still get on this flight?"
The agent raised an eyebrow. The other agents stopped what they were doing and looked over. I might have been a bit loud.
"No, but my name is Philipp Schott and I was on this morning's flight! The flight number was 8981 and the pilot's name was Dave!"
The agent raised her eyebrows a little higher and glanced over at her colleagues.
I swayed a little.
She paused a long moment and then smiled at me.
"Do you have any luggage?"
"Nope! Just this!"
I held the Safeway bag high.
"It's a beer glass!"
I wanted to be helpful.
She smiled again.
"I'll see what I can do."
I smiled back and gripped the counter with my free hand.
There was the clatter of a keyboard and the hum of a printer. The agent made a cryptic note on the boarding pass and then handed it to me.
"You should go through security now."
And off I went.
At security they asked for my ID, which is not usual, but perhaps not surprising given the fact that I was reeling towards them, clutching a plastic shopping bag. I began to explain about the ID when they cut me off saying, "Oh, you're that guy!"
"But you'll have to put that into the x-ray scanner." They indicated my Safeway bag.
I gingerly placed the bag on the conveyor belt so that the glass would remain upright. The security people grinned broadly as the Hoegaarden glass made it's stately progress through their machine. I think I made their day.
"Thanks!" I shouted as I tottered towards my gate.
There is nothing quite like flying buzzed. It's just over an hour from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and every minute of that I spent staring out the window being amazed by.... stuff. On arrival I remembered that I didn't have car keys either and that my car was in the airport parking lot. Moreover I had used my credit card, now at John's house in Saskatoon, to get the car into the lot and would need it to get it out again. In retrospect it was, of course, rather a good thing that I didn't have access to my car then. So, I grabbed a taxi and asked him to wait when I got home so that I could get some money for him from my wife. She was a little surprised.
For a long time I wanted to write to Air Canada to commend that agent on her humanity and common sense during the "War On Terror", but fearing I would actually get her into trouble I thought the better of it. I still have and use that Hoegaarden glass and I still go to Saskatoon every year to visit John, but now I keep my wallet and ID and everything in my pockets.