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Unplanned Giving

Monday, October 29, 2018

Did you know that a lot of people lose their lives in the final moments of a rescue, when a happy ending seems assured? With a lifeline within reach, they think they're out of danger and lower their guard, only to be swept away by the raging waters all around.

Okay, well that's an overly dramatic metaphor for what happened to me when I was returning my rental car to the Denver airport last Sunday afternoon, but it comes to mind because I had been in nervous-wreck mode throughout my trip to Colorado for my nephew's wedding, in a semi-panic about driving in unfamiliar places. My fears turned out to be unfounded, the drive turned out to be easy, and I somehow managed to make it all the way back to the car rental place without getting lost or breaking down, feeling as triumphant upon arrival as an astronaut back from the moon. After turning in to the gate at the correct car rental place and driving over those scary spikes that look like they're going to shred your tires but magically retract at the last moment, I soon found myself being motioned forward by two tall, handsome young black men to a spot where they gestured for me to stop. That was it. I was safe. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and felt the bliss of at last relinquishing control. I had not died or killed anybody.

There's a lot of pressure at these car return places to hurry up and get out of the way because of the long line of cars driven by people worried about missing their flights. I myself did not need to hurry because I was headed to an airport hotel before flying out early the next day, but I was affected by the frenzied atmosphere, the slamming doors and shouted instructions. I felt rushed. I scooped up my handbag and carry-on bag from the passenger seat, and then sprang from the car to open the trunk and get out my suticase. "Do I need to do anything else?" I asked the guys, and they said, "No, you're good," so I shouldered my bags and rolled my suitcase over to the curb, where a shuttle bus was waiting to take us customers to the terminal. My plan was to be dropped off at ground transportation and take another shuttle bus to my hotel.

I was the first to board the bus, and the driver approached me and asked me something I didn't understand. He was a bald, athletically built Hispanic guy who seemed to be in his mid-thirties. "Do you have your cellphone and wallet?" he said again, and I wondered why he was asking such a thing. Do cellphones and wallets pose some kind of security risk? "Yeees," I answered hesitantly, and he explained he was just asking because so many people leave such items behind when returning their cars. Huh, I thought, how could anyone leave stuff like that behind? I am constantly checking all around me to see whether I have everything, especially my passport, money, and cellphone, items that if I were to lose would cause a big delay in my journey back to Japan.

But then, after finally arriving at my hotel and approaching the front desk to check in, I glanced down at my bags and sensed that something was missing. How was that possible, especially after I had just been congratulating myself for being so vigilant? Hadn't I had more stuff when I started out that morning? What had I lost? I had my handbag, my carry-on and my suitcase. Then I realized--it was my coat! There was a vacant space where I had been draping my coat over my suitcase, threading the sleeves through the metal bars of the roller extensions. And the moment I realized that I had forgotten my coat, I knew exactly where it was--in the rental car, on the floor of the passenger side. I remembered that when turning onto the highway out of the parking lot of the Best Western way back up in the mountains, my coat had slipped off the front passenger seat and onto the floor. I had driven all the way to the airport without stopping, so there was no chance I had left the coat anywhere along the way. It was warmer in Denver than it had been high up in the mountains, and I was wearing a heavy sweater, so I didn't feel cold when exiting the car or walking to the shuttle, and that's why I didn't notice right away that I no longer had my coat.

My immediate thought was that my coat was gone forever and there was no use trying to get it back. I've been rather fatalistic all my life, and it has been my bad habit to believe that there are problems without solutions, and even when there is a solution, I've often shrugged and said what's the use. (I used to unravel or throw away sewing and knitting projects, for example, when it was too much trouble to correct my mistakes.) Anyway, I thought, it was just a coat, not my passport or wallet or anything hard to replace, so would it really be worth it to take all the time to ride all those shuttle buses and try to get it back? Since I had to be at the airport so early the next morning, wouldn't it be better just to lie on my bed and read a book, get an early dinner, and then go to bed at sundown? But then I remembered that I was trying to change and become a better, more confident person, it was only four thirty in the afternoon, the shuttle buses were running every fifteen minutes, and I would see myself as spoiled, negligent, and lazy if I did not try to get back my coat—a Lands' End dark blue fleece parka purchased only a year earlier for a hundred dollars, stylish and not yet even slightly pilled. I should not abandon the coat so easily.

So after checking in, I deposited my luggage in my room and telephoned the number stamped on the car rental agreement, which was the toll-free nationwide number. I explained the situation, and the young man on the line told me not to worry. It was their policy that whenever anything was left behind in a returned car, it was immediately taken to Lost and Found. If I just went back to where I'd left the car, my coat would be returned to me. There should be no problem at all, especially as I had completed the transaction less than two hours before. So with abundant optimism, I got back on the hotel shuttle and switched at the airport to the rental car shuttle, the very same one I had been on earlier, with the very same driver, who gave me a puzzled look. I told him my story. I was the lone passenger, so he kindly drove me right to the lot where the cars were being processed and asked if I saw my car amongst the huge fleet stretching into the distance.

"Yes," I replied, "it's that gold Hyundai in the middle of the fourth row over there next to the fence."

"Okay," he said, and approached a young Hispanic woman who was observing from nearby. The two spoke Spanish for a moment, she shook her head somberly, and he told me the car had already been processed and as far as the young woman knew, nothing had been found inside.

"You should ask at the front desk," she advised me in English. So I handed the shuttle bus driver a tip to say thanks and entered the building, where I recognized the manager who had helped me a few days earlier when I was picking up the car. He was of Asian heritage, he had told me when learning I had traveled all the way from Japan, in the way American people so often do, sharing their life stories with strangers they'll never meet again. The manager's name was Willard, and he remembered me from the day I picked up the car, because we had stood talking for a long time before I chose which car I wanted to take from Row C. He had told me he was planning a trip to Japan and asked me a good place to buy robot toys for his sons. Here I was a few days later, telling him about my missing coat and the attendant’s report that there had been no sign of it in the car.

Willard escorted me over to a different building where lost and found items were kept. On the second floor in a dusty back room, he showed me five or six ratty items hanging on a rack, items that seemed to have been there for years.

"My coat's not here," I said.

"Oh, that's too bad," said Willard, and we walked back over to the main building. Willard then called someone on the lot to find out if anyone had found a coat. He spoke into a walkie-talkie type device, so I could hear it when the person on the line irritably replied, "I ain’t seen no coat and I was supposed to be outta here ten minutes ago!"

"You can go now," Willard said into the walkie-talkie.

And then he turned to me. "Let's go take a look at the car."

By this time, I had pretty much figured out that I was not going to get my coat back, so I said, "No, no, that won't be necessary," but someone had driven the car up to the side of the building, and Willard wanted me to look inside. He opened the car door, I went through the ritual of inspecting the interior, saw the empty floor on the passenger side, and said in a conclusive tone, "Thanks very much for all your help, Willard. It’s clear that my coat is gone."

"Do you want to fill out the paperwork and have us send it to you in Japan if it's found?" asked Willard. "I'm afraid you'll have to pay the shipping fee, though."

I had a vision of what had happened to my coat, and I was at peace with what I saw. There was no doubt in my mind that I had left it behind in the car. So what seemed clear was that someone on the cleanup crew quickly inspected the coat, deemed it worth keeping (unlike those moth-eaten relics I'd been shown in Lost and Found), and assuming that whatever customer had left it behind in the car was already on a flight to who-knows-where and was very unlikely to come back, had confiscated it, either for her own personal use or to give to her mother or sister. Whoever took my coat, I thought, most likely did not see him- or herself as stealing, and my reappearance on the scene put him or her in an impossible situation. He or she could not suddenly come forward and say, "I took the coat. It's in my car. I'll go get it." There was no way whoever took my coat could return it without incriminating him or herself and perhaps being fired.

"No thanks," I said to Willard. We stood there in silence for an awkward moment. "I’ll skip the paper work."

Willard was visibly relieved. I could have asked him to confront his employees to find out who had taken my coat. I could have threatened to write a letter to company headquarters and complain about the Denver branch. I could have made a scene and taken up a whole lot more of his time. But I was not angry or upset or even very disappointed.

"Was it an expensive coat?" Willard asked quietly, after he knew I would not be taking any action. I sensed this was his way of showing sympathy. He never questioned my version of events, but there had been not been even the slightest acknowledgment of responsibility on his part. Maybe he had been trained not to apologize, because to do so would have been to admit guilt and be forced to take action.

I didn't know how to answer his question. "Expensive" is a relative term. I have never bought anything that I paid so much money for that it would break me to lose it, but I knew that for many, a hundred-dollar coat might be expensive. But by then, the cost had become irrelevant. I had shifted my thinking, trying to turn my mistake into something positive by hoping my small loss could be someone else's small gain. I hoped my coat would keep someone warm and comfortable in the cold winter months to come, and that she would agree with my taste and feel pretty when wearing it. I had not planned to give the coat away, but it was gone, and I did not mind losing it if I could imagine that whoever ended up using it needed it more than I did. I couldn’t say this to Willard, though, because I didn't want to call any of his employees a thief.

"I'll just say I wanted to keep the coat," I finally answered. "That's why I came back to get it."

"I see," Willard said quietly.

"But I’m letting it go," I assured him. "Anyway, it was my mistake. This whole thing is my own fault for being careless and leaving the coat in the car." I knew I was saying aloud what Willard had privately thought but out of politeness had left unsaid. I let out a little laugh and turned to leave. "Thanks for your time."

When I was just about to push open the glass door, Willard called out, "No!" Employees and customers looked up from their screens and phones. It seemed Willard had something more to say, an afterthought. I waited. "It's not your fault!” he assured me in a loud, clear voice. “It's the weather's fault!"

And I thought that was absolutely the wisest, best thing he could have said.

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P.S. I specify "black," "Hispanic," "Asian" and other (no whites in this story) because to me it makes the scene easier to visualize. i love details. I live in an extremely racially homogeneous country (Japan), where on the surface everybody looks and acts the same. It is thrilling to go back to the US and experience the rich, colorful tapestry of the multitudes of people there.
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • PROVERBS31JULIA
    Ahhh that is disappointing to lose a nice coat... but there is a maturity from realizing it is our own fault for not double checking everything when traveling. I lost a really nice denim baby carrier on the plaine from At Louis to JFK before we flew to Ammon. Similar kind of deal. Lost and Found didn’t have it, when it had only been gone an hour or so and we had like a4 hour layover at JFK. Obvious it was found by someone who just decided no one was gonna come check lost and found. I had to do pretty much the same “release it to the universe” thing.
    402 days ago
  • GINIEMIE
    I am ashamed to say that I am just now reading your blog. Does that tell you anything of my mental state this past winter. I know I was frequently responding to your beautifully, interesting blogs and then this winter came and I became buried under a fog both literally and figuratively.
    Now I saw your comment from a few days ago on my page and realized how neglectful I have been.
    Janet552, another sparkfriend, with whom I used to talk on the phone and compete against on our fitbits passed away in February. Her cancer treatment had shredded her joy of life, she wasn't able to talk on the phone, was worried about family members whom she helped care for. Mercifully her dad and step mom passed before she did. I just learned she passed recently after learning one of my friends here in Georgia has cancer. The big C is all around me and has been emotionally gutting me.
    I am leaving for Belgium in 9 days with two of my younger siblings. I pray we have a fun time together and they get to see as much as we can cram in 13 days. We will be there in time for my aunts 97 birthday.
    Thank you for your writing about the change in your attitude and your graciousness in letting go of the coat.
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    514 days ago
  • CRADLEY
    You are such an amazing writer - I can visualize the story as you tell it!
    631 days ago
  • POLSKARENIA
    The person who took the coat is so very lucky that you are so kind. Willard probably knew exactly who took the coat, but was obviously terribly embarrassed too by the awkward situation.
    Go you!
    655 days ago
  • ANNIESADVENTURE
    The joys of traveling. I enjoyed reading your detailed description of your visit to Denver. A lesson to be learned here about accepting the things we cannot change.
    664 days ago
  • CARDIOQUEEN82
    I loved how you described the characters, emotions, places, etc. in your story. You are such a fantastic writer. I admire your ability to express yourself so well and your ability to be a light in dark places. Many people (including myself!) would have thrown a fit and caused a big scene, instead you took the high ground and were gracious about the whole ordeal. I wish you had been rewarded for your courage in going out and standing up for yourself by getting your coat back, but the fact that you let it go and saw the positive just shows what a wonderful, loving person you are. Hopefully, whoever stole your coat either grows a conscious or gives it to someone that needs it more than they do - I would think that whoever took it would be able to afford a new one but who knows, so many people live paycheck to paycheck. Not a right for them to take it - but I'm so very glad that you are the kind of person to be a blessing to someone else even if you weren't given the original choice in the matter and could have been angry and upset about it.
    667 days ago
  • BECCABOO127
    Very nice! Great attitude about ur coat!
    674 days ago
  • OSHEONA
    Wow, that sounds like a bit of an ordeal! I'm sorry that someone stole your coat. It sounds like a nice one. I hope you've replaced it by now, or that the new one is on its way! I would have filled out a form, myself, if it was offered. But you may be right, someone may have needed it. I'm thinking, though, with a job, they could have bought one instead. Well, I admire your equanimity throughout all of that! It's a lot for someone to have to put up with! They shouldn't think new coats are an acceptable perk to the job. How rude!
    675 days ago
  • PACEKA1
    What a wonderful story. I am sorry you lost your coat but you certainly took what could have been a very disappointing situation and turned it into something positive! And rather than just give up when you realized your loss, you stepped out of your comfort zone and took steps to see if you might be able to retrieve hour coat. You probably made the day of Willard who remembered you from when you picked up the car! Such adventures.

    And thank you for your comment on my last blog. I am really trying to give Daisy at least a short walk each day, she loves it so much. We had a couple of warmer days which made it so much easier to get out but snow is on the way tonight.

    Have a wonderful weekend!
    677 days ago
  • BEESHELL8
    Carolyn - I realized I had come to check on YOU a couple of days ago and read both of your lovely blogs,but hadn't commented. Don't recall why...

    And both are amazing. Your description of the trip to Colorado was filled with so much openness and honesty. I am very nervous driving places I don't know as well. I'm glad you went. It sounds like I beautiful place. We used to go to Colorado a lot, my grandparents lived there.
    And this - losing your coat - wow. You went through so much to try & get it back! It sounds like at least they made some effort to look for it. One time when I was visiting my mother in NC, I found someone's briefcase in the backseat of the rental car. I mean, it was chock ful of everything - a phone, iPad, identification badge, etc. I tried calling Hertz but couldn't get a hold of a live person. Luckily, I was able to use the ICE button to get past the password and call the woman's husband. She was traveling with a friend for work so he was able to connect with her, she called me on my cell and I was able to meet her to return the stuff. All I could think of was that HER WHOLE LIFE WAS IN THAT BAG!

    And your shift in thinking sounds very Japanese to me!!! Making something good out of something not so good. hugs toyou.
    680 days ago
  • LONGLEANNLANKY
    I loved reading about your family visit and all of your travels. Traveling by plane and then driving new terrain, in unfamiliar territory, all while alone, takes much more planning and courage than is imagined. Until one has done it, they won’t know the remarkable achievements you’ve accompanied. I sure appreciate learning of all of these family happenings and adventures
    686 days ago
  • no profile photo CD23858752
    I’m a visual person so I love the detailed description of each person or character in a story. I think that is part of why you are such a good writer. I felt I was reading a short story. You are a gifted writer.
    687 days ago
  • LOSEDAPOUNDS
    I like how you mentally worked through the coat ordeal. Once you realized it wasn't coming back to you, you at least turned things around by hoping it was making someone happy and I certainly hope that person is at the very least someone who cannot afford any coat and not just some greedy jerk, not that either way makes it right. I hope you find a new coat that you love!
    687 days ago
  • MYBESTLIFEISNOW
    What a great attitude. Im sorry you lost your coat but I too believe it will be keeping someone warm this winter (who maybe didn’t have a nice coat to stat warm in). God bless!
    689 days ago
  • HARRIETT14
    Sorry that you had such a bad ending of your visit back home.
    690 days ago
  • no profile photo CD23266885
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    691 days ago
  • FLORIDASUN
    Now, this is the most 'grown up' story I've heard in a long, long time, dear Carolyn. First of all you overcame your natural inclination to just to 'let it go'...but then put your big girl panties on and bucked up and kicked that 'easier...but quite unsatisfying' urge right in the teeth and took yourself right back to the scene of the crime!

    I would have been hopping mad...and probably would have made a pretty nasty scene...so I'm very thankful to have you for a role model and realize that sometimes the means just don't justify the end.

    It still leaves me rattled that whoever took the coat felt entitled to it and it just emphasizes how far our society has strayed from honesty and morals in the USA gone mad under the current man at the top of the role model chain... in charge.

    We will never overcome human nature...the good, the bad, or the ugly...but I loved your story and the richness of the share.

    Sometimes I really miss that neurotic crowd of women I palled around with for so many years. It sure puts a dent in my storytelling...each and every rich detail of entitled narcissism...those stories are ALWAYS the best aren't they? emoticon

    The good news is now you can treat yourself to another pretty coat! emoticon


    692 days ago

    Comment edited on: 11/2/2018 9:09:10 AM
  • no profile photo CD22518161

    I know someone is just LOVING your coat. I'm sorry you lost it though.....,
    692 days ago
  • DESERTDREAMERS
    “Unplanned giving” is a wonderful way to think about it. I tend to be absent minded, especially when in a hurry. I always hope the things I lost went to someone who could use it, not a trash can!
    693 days ago
  • KENDRACARROLL
    I always feel rushed too when returning a rental car. Sorry you lost your coat.
    Still, I'm glad you went back to try and retrieve it. You're right, we sometimes really give up too easily.
    Looking back on your trip, just remember those glorious Rockies and that super blue Colorado sky.
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    695 days ago
  • LIVINHEALTHY9
    Oh that's a shame you didn't get your coat back, Carolyn.
    You should be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone to try and retrieve it. It did sound like most of those people you encountered during your search were doing what they could to help you.


    695 days ago
  • BEATLETOT
    Well, dang it! I wanted you to have your coat back so badly!

    You know, I just had a memory flash back into my head of a time when I left my character shoes...somewhere. I don't remember where. I asked the janitor at school if she'd seen my shoes, and she walked me over to her locker and took them out! I was so happy to have my shoes back, because they were expensive, so I didn't realize until several hours later that they were IN HER LOCKER. I'm sure I thought to myself how that isn't cool, that she tried to take my shoes, but maybe she thought they would fit her daughter, and maybe her daughter would like dancing around in fancy character shoes. I'm still absentminded to this day, so like you, I can't really blame that janitor, but I wish your ending had been more like mine.
    696 days ago
  • PHOENIX1949
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    696 days ago
  • KRISZTA11
    Oh Carolyn, I'm sorry for the coat, what an adventure!
    But I'm glad it was not car accident or an injury at the end of your trip, I was afraif that was going to be the end of the story!
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    696 days ago
  • NANASUEH
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    696 days ago
  • GOING-STRONG
    I’ve had similar situations. My daughter even left a diamond ring on a hotel bed one time. She had taken it off to put on lotion and then got distracted and forgot it... never to be seen again of course. Hugs to you Carolyn for handling the situation with such grace.
    696 days ago
  • WHITE-GREEN
    Oh, you had me on the tip of my seat there, waiting to hear if you got your coat back!
    696 days ago
  • DESIREE672
    I admire your energy in changing your mind and going back for the coat.
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    696 days ago
  • TUTUNAN
    So well written, but, unfortunately, not an unusual story. You were right to let it go as obviously there was not going to be a different outcome.
    696 days ago
  • HARROWJET
    I am sorry about your coat. Willard's answer is absolutely right.
    696 days ago
  • 1CRAZYDOG
    My heavens. I do ike the way you put a positive spin on things. HUGS and hope you find another equally suitable coat.
    696 days ago
  • no profile photo CD23741364
    Another great chapter in the story of your life! My Father always used to say” they must have needed it more than I do” when things were stolen, and I thought it was a very kind thing to say, softening the situation.
    696 days ago
  • KATRINAKAT23
    Well you tried. I find traveling so tiring so I would of probably not bothered, though I couldn't really afford to lose the coat. Glad you had a safe and happy visit. emoticon
    696 days ago
  • SLIMMERJESSE
    Life has so many twists and turns. Yes, quite an adventure.
    696 days ago
  • WATERMELLEN
    Love your attitude -- and hope your coat found (another) good home.

    This story is worth the price of a new coat -- like you I often find LandsEnd has just the thing!!
    696 days ago
  • GLORIAZ
    Thank God you didn’t have your phone or important cards in your coat pocket. Sorry you lost your coat, I have one similar that I wear a lot. Sad that someone didn’t do the right thing and take it to Lost and Found.

    Caroline.........you must start writing, you have a flair and a great talent. I was actuallly on that “adventure” with you. Always enjoy spending time with you! emoticon
    696 days ago
  • ARNETTELEE
    What an adventure!
    696 days ago
  • EISSA7
    Good for you for taking the steps, out of your comfort zone, to follow through on the missing coat. Sadly, opportunistic people exist everywhere...we can only hope that the coat has been united with someone who needed it more than you.
    696 days ago
  • _BABE_
    I know exactly what you mean when you talk about something going wrong at the 11th hour. Usually I am relieved the entire trip went "okay" without any problems that something minor at the end is worth the sacrifice! Not to say losing a coat is minor but you got through the trip. emoticon
    696 days ago
  • LOF7203
    Wow! What an adventure
    696 days ago
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