I have four shirts and some pants in Budapest, or they might be in Paris or Damascus. Those are nice places to have belongings, unless of course you are in Beirut, which is where I am right now.
This adventure began on Thursday in New York City. ABC was sending me to Beirut to replace ABC's David Wright, who had been in that war-ravaged city for a month and had done simply unbelievable, unparalleled work. He was also dressing very nicely. So I figured that I would pack accordingly, bringing plenty of stuff for foreign war coverage that could last a couple of weeks.
The only problem with my plan was the international terror scare that gripped the world the day I was due to leave. I arrived at JFK International Airport four hours early, but that didn't keep my flight from leaving four hours late. As a result, I missed my connection in Paris for Damascus, from where I was supposed to drive to Beirut.
This might be hard to follow so far, but it gets worse. Just to recap: At this point it is Friday afternoon, and I am in the Paris airport, and the last direct flight to Damascus has already left.
This is when ABC's foreign assignment editor Michael Kreisel stepped in (I am including Michael's name because of the amazing work he did, and also in case there is any legal action).
Michael figured out how to get me to Damascus by flying on Malev Airlines. Malev is the national carrier of Hungary, so my flight would take me through Budapest. This sounded like a grand plan, as I always wanted to see Budapest, or at least the airport. The only potential pitfall was my luggage. All I had with me was my carry-on bag containing my computer, iPod and some books, but no clothes or deodorant.
My luggage, that had/has all my clothes, toiletries, chargers, etc. remained somewhere in the Paris airport luggage system. I tried to explain to several French officials that I needed my bag transferred somehow to this Hungarian flight through Budapest. The lovely French helpers alternated between telling me that everything would be taken care of and that there was simply no hope.
Nevertheless, I had no choice; I had to get on the plane to Budapest in order to get to Damascus early enough so that I could drive to Beirut in time to replace the very nicely clad David Wright. Still with me?
Anxious in Budapest
When I arrived in Budapest for my layover, I asked the airport staff if my luggage had made it on my flight. They told me they had no record of my luggage at all, which didn't seem like a good sign.
I spent three restless hours in the Budapest airport lounge where several men were watching a broadcast of a professional wrestling cage match. Between the cage match and my deteriorating state of hygiene, it was hard to relax.
[Incidentally, as I was waiting in Budapest, "Nightline" aired this spot from me that I had prepared a few days before -- ah, the magic of television. VIDEO]
Then, it was on to Damascus, where I arrived at 4:30 a.m. local time Saturday morning. (Remember, I had left my NYC apartment on Thursday evening at 6:30 p.m.)
I arrived, but my luggage did not. The Syrian airport had a "lost luggage" desk, and I tried to explain my situation to the Arabic-speaking men behind the counter: "I was flying to Damascus from New York, but I missed my connection in Paris, and there was an unexpected layover, and now I have to leave for Beirut, can you please find my bag?"
They told me everything would be OK, while looking at me in a way that made me believe there were certain pairs of pants I would never see again. They also said that when my bag did arrive (they still allegedly believed that it would) that I would need to claim it personally, which was exceedingly problematic since I was about to get in a car to drive to Beirut.
Alas, bagless, grumpy and grungy, I got in a car and began the five-hour drive to Beirut.
We had to drive around several bomb craters, since there is a war going on here, but all in all it was a nice journey, except for the lack of air conditioning, which left me bagless, grumpy, grungy and quite sweaty. Nevertheless, I arrived in Beirut at about 11 a.m. on Saturday (remember, I had left my apartment at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday).
Have You Seen My Bags?
So here I am in Beirut, after brief stops in the capitals of three other countries. I have bought a toothbrush and some deodorant, and have been borrowing clothes from my producer Auzzie Deen, which fit, for the most part, except that I am a bit more muscular (naturally).
I have called the Damascus airport several times, and they tell me my bag has not arrived yet, and that when it does it will take nothing short of an act of Congress to get it, since they require that I claim it personally.
But for anyone who might be passing through Paris or Budapest or Damascus in the next few days, if you see a black bag with my name on it and my pants inside, please give me a ring.
By the way, Beirut is fascinating and this story is riveting, even in borrowed clothes. I promise to write more on that soon.