Sometimes the road home is paved with obstacles.
I got out of Glen’s car in front of my hotel after a massive dose of Southern cooking, stretched, admired the alabaster dome of the U.S. Capitol in the distance, and waved goodbye as he drove off. An instant later, my heart sank as I realized I didn’t have my murse.
I had come to Washington from my home in San Francisco with a small film crew to shoot a quick interview at the Department of Education. Glen was an old friend from California who had moved to D.C. We hadn’t seen each other in a long time, but the warmth of our friendship had quickly re-surfaced as we spent the evening catching up over dinner at Georgia Brown’s Restaurant.
But now — panic! I had an early flight home in the morning, and my murse, my man-purse with my only identification, was on the floor of his car. Or was it?
Years before, I had tired of carrying my wallet, money, keys, and ID in my pockets, especially when I was skinny and wore skinny jeans, and I’d resorted to an army-surplus shoulder bag to hold most of my pocket essentials. Eventually I’d started using a small nylon pack that cinched around my waist.
But one day on a film shoot in New Zealand, I’d announced loudly to my crew that I would be ready to go shoot outside “as soon as I grab my fanny pack.” They were aghast, doubled over with laughter, and I wasn’t in on the joke. Then one of them told me that they referred to a carrier like mine as a bum bag or belt bag. “Fanny,” in much of the Commonwealth, was a vulgar term for women’s genitalia.
So I started calling my bag a purse, because … well, it was a purse. My kids were intrigued that their daddy, an avowed heterosexual, carried a purse. They were the first I heard call it a murse.
I ran toward Glen’s car as he sped off, but he didn’t see me, turned a corner, and was gone. I knew he had recently moved from the D.C. suburbs to a rural spot in Barnesville, MD, more than an hour out of the city. I called his wife from my hotel room and learned that he had no cell phone, no pager. “He’s a bit of a Luddite,” she told me. “But I’ll have him call you when he gets home.”
What to do? It was after ten, and I had a flight home the next morning at 8. I called Georgia Brown’s, which was getting ready to close, and implored the manager to look for my bag, on the off chance that I’d left it there, tied to a chair. No luck. It had to be in Glen’s car.
I called American Airlines, but the agent I spoke with assured me that, with no picture ID, I would not be allowed on the plane. Since this trip, I’ve learned to carry at least two IDs – my driver’s license and a California ID, and sometimes a passport. But that night I was stuck.
Glen called after 11. My murse was in his car. He planned to return to the city around nine the next morning, but I had to leave for the airport by six. If we’d had a rental car, I would have driven out to his place, but our trip had been so short and so simple that we’d taken cabs. “How about a messenger?” he suggested, and gave me directions to his house. “I’ll put the bag in an envelope and leave it on the porch with your name on it.”
I dove into the D.C. Yellow Pages and found a dozen messenger services. I started down the list. Half didn’t even answer their phones, despite ads offering 24-hour service. Of the remainder, one after another – even the ones that claimed “We go anywhere” – told me they didn’t know where Barnesville was, didn’t care, and wouldn’t pick up outside the District of Columbia and immediate suburbs. In Washington, apparently, “anywhere” has limits.
Finally, with great trepidation, I dialed the last service on the list. A cheery female voice answered. In my nervousness, I over-shared. I explained about my dinner with an old friend, a Luddite with no cell phone, leaving my murse in his car, needing the bag and ID to get on the plane. Clearly this was Too Much Information.
The cheery voice hesitated, then said, “Well, I see Barnesville on the map. Do you know how to get there?” I could have hugged her, if only we’d been in the same room. I passed along the directions I’d gotten from Glen, along with my name and hotel.
“It’ll take us several hours to retrieve the package,” said the voice. “And it will cost $96, cash.” No problem, I thought, blowing her mental, telephonic kisses. That was still cheaper than spending another night in Washington or paying the airline ticket-change fee for a later flight. We rang off, and I checked my pockets. About $28 in bills, plus some coins.
I called my producer, down the hall.
“Tom, sorry to wake you. I need $100 cash, right now.”
“What?” came a sleepy voice.
“It’s me. I need a hundred bucks, before morning.”
“Whaddaya got a girl in your room?”
Once again, I explained about Glen, Georgia Brown’s, the airline, my murse, my ID, the messenger …
“Okay, okay,” he said. “Whatever. Come on by.”
At 4 am I got a call from the desk. “Mr. Zar-kee?” No one correctly pronounces my name, which rhymes with starchy. “You have, uh, a visitor.”
I threw on clothes, rushed downstairs, and found a nervous young man with acne on his cheeks and a manila envelope tightly clutched under one arm. I shook his hand vigorously, thanking him over and over. He smelled like cigarette smoke. I held out the $100 bill I’d gotten from Tom, and he recoiled as if I were offering him a poisonous snake. “I can’t make change for that,” he cried in alarm.
“Please, keep the whole thing. Let me tip you four dollars.”
“But I have to pay the service $96, exactly. I can’t give them a $100 bill.”
This made no sense, but I dashed to the sleepy night clerk, changed the Ben Franklin to four Alexander Hamiltons, a Jefferson, two Lincolns, and five Washingtons, then gave it all to the nervous young man, insisting he keep the extra four Georges. I didn’t feel right embracing him, so I beamed him a mental hug and sent him on his way.
Two hours later, murse in hand, I was awake, packed, and heading for the airport with my crew. “Bill got lucky last night,” said Tom, telling everyone about my nocturnal need for cash.
They teased me all the way back to California, not wanting to hear my real description of the night I’d just had. In their minds, I’d had some voluptuous babe in my room, not a pimply messenger in the lobby.
But I didn’t care what they thought. I was on my way home. With my murse. All was right with the world.