Your weekend gets jumbled when your phone rings at 2:30 in the morning. When our bedroom phone jangled recently during the dark hours that bridge Saturday and Sunday, I was hoping it was one of those wrong number, "Who's this?" calls.
It was not. It was a telephone call from one of our kids. Listening to my wife, who had bounded out of bed to take the call while I was still half asleep, I was able to discern that one of our two twentysomething sons was on the line, and that he (a) was not in a hospital and (b) was not in jail.
Instead this kid, who is spending part of his junior year in college studying in England, was in an airport. His flight was being called and his wallet was missing.
Fresh from Paris, he had spent the night trying to sleep in the Luton Airport outside London, waiting for a flight. He had checked his bag on a flight bound for Barcelona, where he was supposed to rendezvous with buddies who, like he, were on spring break from Oxford. Punchy from lack of sleep, the kid wanted to know if he should board the plane or stay in the airport.
My first thought was, "This wouldn't have happened if he were home, cleaning his room instead of jaunting around Europe." But I am a reluctant traveler, someone who believes that on every journey there is a giant water balloon of trouble hanging over your head waiting to rain down on you.
It was a view I developed years ago when the kids were younger and during spring breaks from school we used to pack everyone in the station wagon and take family trips. I never relaxed then until the luggage had been unloaded at our destination and a beverage or two had been consumed. Even then I started worrying about what could go wrong on the return trip.
Like many other members of their generation, our kids are enthusiastic travelers. They have already been to places around the world that I have only seen in brochures. Friends of theirs are regularly flying off to study in Japan, Italy, France, Turkey and Australia. When I was their age, a trip to Chicago was a big deal.
But during the middle-of-the-night phone call, I had to get beyond such niggling thoughts and give the troubled traveler advice.
My advice, true to form, was to stay put. The kid followed it. He retrieved his bag and waited at the airport as his mother began the process of canceling his missing credit cards.
My contribution to the rescue effort was to stretch out on a sofa and try to think. I did ask my son if he had checked with airport security. Whenever I fly, I worry that during the disrobing process known as going through security, I will leave something important -- my driver's license, my ticket, a shoe -- at the checkpoint. My son assured me that he had visited the airport security station and had been told no wallet had turned up.
Sometime around 4 in the morning the phone rang again, this time with news that the wallet had appeared. The wallet had, after all, been left at security. Earlier when he had inquired at the security checkpoint about it, the abandoned wallet had not yet been entered in the checkpoint logbooks.So he now had his wallet, but thanks to the speedy action of his sleepy parents on the other side of the Atlantic, the credit cards in it were no good.
I went back to bed. Somehow during the night, my wife booked a hotel for the kid. Somehow he got there, and waited there for two days until a new card arrived and he could resume his travels.
Last Friday when I picked him up at BWI, he looked a little shaggy but none the worse for wear. After a shaky start, his trip had been terrific; he told of warm beaches in Spain, of brewery tours in Germany and memorable meals in Paris.
I told him the big event in my life had been setting up a new workbench in the basement.
If there is reincarnation, I want to come back in the next life as one of my kids, transformed from a sleepy-stay-at-home type into a seasoned world traveler. It would only be fair.