Coming through Hartsfield in Atlanta is more a rite of passage than a point of embarkation. America West 702 out of Atlanta was to deliver Jerry and I to Phoenix, thence to LA to begin the drive out to Mojave. In Jerry’s well-worn carry-on bag (he calls it his Carrion) was $28,000 worth of gyros, accelerometers, computers and the usual array of high-spec machined parts the distinguishes us and our calling to instrumentation. After being all but cavity-searched by Hartsfield security, Jerry is forced to surrender his Mitutoyo caliper, an electronic ruler, since it looks both sinister and metallic. Having done so, he is delayed enough to barely make the flight and is then forced to surrender the Carrion, under duress and amid much protest. The America West rep assured him that he’d get the bag back planeside in Phoenix, no problem. We both sweated bullets the entire flight.

Once in Phoenix, the bag isn’t planeside. It’s on it’s way to LA without us, we’re told by the nice lady at the Am West counter. She cheerfully explained that as long as you fly with your bag on the first leg, it’s free to go along without you the rest of the trip and detonate in flight, if that’s what its designed to do. This is not a Good Thing

After pitching a force twelve shit fit, Jerry gets the attention of Howard, Daniel C, Supervisor who does his dead-level best to find and retrieve Carrion from Flight 27 -- which he did, and did well. This guy was great: he rebooks us both on the next flight, gets the bag, sends it downstairs to Am West baggage ops and we haul ass down to get it. The dudes (and one very nice but bewildered lady) inform us that yes, they’ve seen that bag. It came in with a tag for LA a few minutes ago and just barely made it back on Flight 27! “We sent on it’s way!” the bewildered lady is proud to report. Now also bewildered, I ask politely “Are you shitting me?”

Jerry goes to Def Con 1 and starts threatening litigation and asking how he’s supposed to get his fucking bag back since Daniel, Howard Fucking C Fucking Supervisor had the only fucking claim check, now attached to the fucking bag enroute to fucking LA. I start writing down names. We both simultaneously and loudly explain about the twenty-eight grand worth of inertials, the trouble Howard, Daniel C went through to retrieve the bag and the howling goat rodeo this whole thing has become. No deal. Carrion’s gone to LAX and we are headed to the nearest bar to pray; Jerry to St. Christopher for safe travel, me to my laptop since I am visited by an idea for my next novel:

Two men are traveling together preparing to get on a plane headed west. The clean cut one is searched extensively and is extremely reluctant to give up his carry-on bag. “It must fly next to me.” He says. “This bag contains delicate electronic devices, and must not leave my side. I must carry it with me on the airplane, it must not be checked as baggage!” Frantic, he offers his other bags, his computers, anything as long as this one can go with him in the pressurized cabin.

The long-haired one walks away quietly. He’s not part of this anymore. He knows the line about “computer prototypes” will only get his friend so far. Some one will recognize the shape, the size, and the high spec machined parts. Surely the Americans are not all stupid. Someone will know what it is his friend carries.

At the first stop, both men get off the plane and ask desperately for the bag. It is too late, they are told, the bag full of “ delicate electronic devices” is on it’s way to LA without them. They walk away separately, disappearing into the crowd and wondering how many cameras recorded their faces, and how many people saw them together.

Put that one in the Al-Queda handbook! Book a flight, let them take your tritium-triggered suitcase nuke to ground zero and get the hell off at the next stop. For the terrorist on a budget, these guys are a godsend.

Maybe that can be their new slogan: America West – On Time, On Target.