The Great Dungeness Crab Caper

Ryan at Pike Place MarketI was thrilled when my annual nursing conference was to be held in Seattle, WA this year. I had wonderful memories from the last time I visited Pike Place Market where I dodged fish sailing over my head as orders were filled for waiting customers. This year I had my eyes on Dungeness crab. My daughter learned to love the bounty of the ocean when she spent a summer on the Oregon coast while in college. She in turn introduced the delight of Dungeness crab to me.

The morning of my departing flight, I made an early trip to the market with the notion that I would place an order to be shipped home as a special gift straight from the Washington coast. I had recently enjoyed fresh crab at a local restaurant near the wharf. Not bad for a girl who was raised on catfish! We might see an occasional crawdad in our backyard in KY, but really fresh seafood is a rarity.

After deciding on 4 large Dungeness crabs, I made my way with the special cardboard box back to my motel and caught the shuttle to the airport. The adventure begins!

I arrived at the airport in plenty of time. My shuttle left the motel around 10:30 a.m. and my flight was scheduled to depart at 1:15 p.m. I checked the large bag holding my clothes and nursing conference treasures in record time and headed to my boarding gate. This brought back a memory of an event many years ago, when I stopped for coffee and missed a flight to Toronto. To this day my family gives me grief over that one little error in judgment brought about by my love of good Java.

Other than the bag I checked, I had only a small carry on and that delicious cargo in a cardboard box. I rounded a corner and suddenly saw the line at security screening. It wasn’t a line, it was actually a web of despair that snaked back and forth single file, creating 7 rows of passengers all carrying what appeared to be tons of “stuff” and waiting to be screened.

The line didn’t seem to be moving. I entertained myself checking social media on my iPhone. After a bit, I checked the time on my cell phone and saw that about 45 minutes had passed. I was nowhere near the screening checkpoint. Finally, a TSA agent walked by and I politely asked “Ma’am, I have a flight that leaves at 1:15 p.m. What do you suggest I do?” At this point, the agent simply shrugged her shoulders and continued to walk past.

I was deeply touched by her support and show of concern for my dilemma. Actually, at that moment I was convinced she had a heart of pure stone and wondered how it managed to circulate the oxygen to her brain. The moments continued to tick by and I realized my flight was now boarding. My mood quickly escalated to frenzy and I could feel the trickles of perspiration on my forehead.

Finally I saw an opening in the crowd at one of the screening points. I placed my shoes, purse, etc. in the bin on the convey beltline. Next I placed the cardboard box and carry on bag on the conveyor. I told the screener I would alarm as I passed through due to the titanium joint replacements in my knees. The agent said I would have to submit to a pat search and asked why I hadn’t gone through a line with a body scanner. I had been waist deep in the crowd and all I wanted was to go through a checkpoint. I really didn’t care where or about available instrumentation.

I was told to step to the side for a full body pat down. I said “No problem.” The screener then began a long detailed narrative about what she intended to check and how and she wondered whether I minded being screened in public. Once again I told her that I didn’t mind and that I had been patted down before.

She continued explaining her method in explicit detail. I interrupted her abruptly. “Ma’am, just do the screening. You don’t have to explain every step because I‘m familiar with pat searches. I work in a prison. Just go ahead and pat me down.” I begged. “I am going to miss my flight. “ Her face was expressionless, totally unconcerned with my need to catch a plane.

Meanwhile another screener asked if I was carrying a laptop. I was not. I had long since grown tired of the battery of special tests done on certain portable electronics (including C-pap machines). I knew I was harmless, but they apparently did not. My bags were coming through the screener now. I could see my green carry on coming out the end of the conveyor belt beneath the clear plastic hood. Did I mention I was about to miss my plane? I reached for my bag. A large non-Caucasian lady with blaring eyes snapped at me. DON’T TOUCH THAT! You’re not supposed to touch your bags until they are through the screener. “I’m sorry, Ma’am. I’m just in a hurry. Did I mention I’m about to miss my flight? They’re boarding my plane this very moment in a different terminal.” I got no response.

“They want me to open this box” she said as she began ripping off the strapping tape placed so carefully at the market. “Didn’t it just pass through the X-ray?” I asked. “The box contains 4 Dungeness crabs. I have the receipt from the market.” I offered.

She pretended not to hear as she continued to rip off the tape. However, she was unable to break the strapping tape with her hands and had no box cutter at the checkpoint (I think they banned these a few years ago….) So now she had to leave her station and go in search of a pair of scissors.

As she was walking away, I asked (ever so politely) “Are you going to re-tape the box when you’re finished?”

I swear I saw fire shoot from that woman’s eyes at that moment. I returned visual “fire.” After all, I was invested in a full-fledged crisis. How much worse could it get?

Briefly she returned with scissors and a roll of duct tape. She did a quick look inside and then began re-taping the box lid. When she was finished, she asked whether I wanted her to put tape on the handles. I said “No thank you, Ma’am. You’ve done enough. Please just give me the box so I can be on my way. I’m going to miss my flight!”

So off I raced onto the train transferring me 2 terminals away and up two flights of escalators. I was praying out loud over and over again “Lord, please don’t let me miss my flight.”

My flight departed (of course) from the gate farthest from the terminal entrance. I continued to weave in and out of passengers who clearly were not in a time crunch. I made it to the designated gate, only to learn they were boarding at a different (but thankfully nearby) gate. I arrived with a full 7 minutes to spare before they closed my flight.

I reached Atlanta 4 hours later to catch my flight home to Lexington. I was to depart at 10:15 p.m. and arrive home at 11:28 p.m. My flight was boarded and my personal belongings were stowed overhead. We were seated on the plane waiting to depart when the flight attendant announced that runway lights were out at Bluegrass Airport and our flight had been cancelled. We were to report to the gate attendant for re-ticketing and motel accommodations for the night.

I headed to the gate, joining a long line of other passengers. The gate attendant mentioned there was one remaining seat on a flight to Louisville. In hindsight, I wish I had never waved my hand, but I did. I was directed to hurry to that gate (2 terminals away). I picked up my belongings and off I went. By the time I made it to the departure gate, I had discovered that none of my family or friends were going to be able to pick me up in Louisville. I had to let go of the hope of getting home and join yet another re-ticketing line (which was much longer than the one I had just left). I was directed to a row of phones where I would receive information and be booked on an early flight in the morning. Once I had my new boarding pass, the gate agent would tell me which motel would accommodate me for the night.

After hanging up the phone, I bent over to gather my belongings…….wait! Where is my box of crabs? They were gone! I looked left and right. Where were they? Did somebody actually steal my crabs? I imagined every scenario and especially the one about them feasting on meal I was supposed to share with my family. I interrupted the busy gate attendant to report that my package was missing. I would return later for motel information after I found my package.

I remembered boarding the train with them (or so I thought), but that was the last time I remembered having them in my possession. I began to backtrack my steps, even returning to the train and riding back to the other terminal. But wait! Wasn’t I just talking to somebody on the train about how excited my daughter was going to be about this box of Dungeness crabs? No, I was certain I had them when I left the train at terminal B. I had just gone up two escalators with them, but where were they now? I headed back to terminal B where I asked several people who (by their uniforms) looked as though they might work there in the terminal about reporting my lost package.

At this moment I became aware that I was distraught about this package and that I needed to calm myself and let it go. I began to resign myself to the notion that I would probably never see that box of crabs again and instead refocus on the important priority of where I was going to sleep tonight.

In one final effort, I approached someone in airport security and was directed where I could go to file a claim for a lost parcel. Once I completed the claim, I headed back to the gate attendant who would book me in a motel for the night. By this time it was well past midnight. I caught the shuttle to my ½ star motel where I stood in a line with other displaced passengers that extended out of the lobby and into the parking lot.

It was after 1 a.m. when it was my turn to check in. The phone rang and the desk clerk repeated my name to the person on the other end. Nobody knows where I am and yet the person on the other end of the phone does? I haven’t even told my family which motel. Anybody who knows me would have called my cell phone. The desk clerk hands the phone to me. “Hello?” I timidly ask, wondering who on Earth this male voice is on the other end. “Ms. Baker, did you leave a package at the airport?”

“Yes, I did!” I excitedly replied.

“I have it here.” He replied. “Can you come get it?”

“I have no way there, but I will be back at the airport tomorrow morning. Could you keep it there for me until tomorrow and let me pick it up then?” I inquired.

“I’m bringing it to you. Wait right there in the lobby for me.” He replied.

So I hung up the phone with renewed faith in mankind because this wonderful person was going out of his way to help a total stranger.

Shortly thereafter, a black police car pulls up in front of the entrance. A uniformed office from the Atlanta Police Department steps into the lobby with my very frazzled-looking box of crabs under his arm. The tape has been ripped off and the outer paper torn. That didn’t matter at this point. The contents were much more important than the box.

Frazzled package

“Thank you so much! I’m probably not supposed to do this.” I said as I wrapped my arms around him and gave this wonderful police officer a hug of gratitude. “You have been an angel and an answered prayer this evening. I will be forever grateful.”

He explained that the box looked a little rough because the tape had to be removed (the second time now on a single journey) and the dogs were sniffing it.

“Oh my goodness!” I exclaimed. “You called out the K-9s to sniff my package!” It hadn’t occurred to me until that moment that my lost package was handled as a security threat. I was getting an intense mental image I can attribute to watching too many crime shows on TV.

“I am so sorry for all the drama, but I want to thank you so much for what you’ve done and apologize for the extra work I caused.” I said. I went on to ask his name so I could remember his kindness.

“Moseley.” He said.

“Thank you Officer Moseley.” I said. “You were an answered prayer tonight.” As he turned to leave, waving his hand as he exited, the word “Wow” popped in my mind. Once again I began to play out the mental scenario of that discovery of my unattended package.

The next morning, I was back at the airport with my box of crabs safely in tow (this time like a mother who had allowed her child out of her range of sight for a moment and gone into a panic as a result).

It was a hassle-free check in and the severe thunderstorms that had created such chaos of cancelled and delayed flights the evening prior had finally passed.

As I approached my departure gate, I saw two airport security guards standing to the side. I stopped to ask about airport procedure when an unattended package is found, quickly explaining my lost box of crabs the previous evening.

Just then a lady in airport security uniform walked up, looked down at my package and then at me. “So you’re the one that box belonged to.” She said. “My gate attendant got the report of an unattended package and notified me. We immediately called the APD (Atlanta Police Department) who came with the K-9 unit. It is airport procedure.” What are the chances in an airport the size of Atlanta, that our paths would cross? Welcome to my reality!

I quickly apologized, then thanked her, explaining that these 4 incredible Dungeness crabs were the souvenirs I was bringing home from Pike Place Market. I hadn’t meant to cause such chaos, but in my distraught state, I hadn’t realized I left them while rushing to catch a departing flight. My story had now come full circle. I asked that she relay to the gate attendant the details of the person and situation behind that package.

In my own chaos, I had managed to cause still more with my unattended package. And so the Great Dungeness Crab Caper ends on a positive note with photos that speak 1,000 words. I have gotten a good many belly laughs when recanting this story to my son and daughter. They say it epitomizes the lived experience of my life and what it is like having me for their mother. I say it portrays both drama and humor along the journey of my life. So, to Ryan at Pike Place Fish Market, if you read this: ‘Ms. Lexington’ wants you to know if I had shipped that package, I would have missed this story. I say the story made a better memory and the evidence of the happy ending is the very best part! (Did I happen to mention that my baggage went to Louisville instead of Lexington? Oh well, just icing on the cake!)

Happy endingsIf you enjoyed this story, you might enjoy these other humorous stories:   The Tale of Three Drivers

OR  The Story of the Dueling Wheelchairs

AND  The Nurse, Evening Shift & The Parking Lot Mishap
Pam Baker, RN

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