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It had begun a few days before. Roaming the streets of Paris, I had found a store with an abundance of beautiful French fabrics.

I could see the Starbucks stand just beyond the O'Hare Airport security checkpoint, but the TSA agent there was giving me a suspicious look. It was 5 a.m. and I needed coffee. Now. He looked at my ticket, my passport and back to me. He wasn't going to let me through.

It had begun a few days before. Roaming the streets of Paris, I had found a store with an abundance of beautiful French fabrics. I could sew this into curtains, duvets, pillows for my home! I carefully chose a large yardage of several and had them packed into two big shopping bags, planning to mail them home the next day. When it was my turn at the Paris Post Office, however, I found that it was going to cost more to ship home than it had cost to purchase, even going by slow boat. Reluctantly, I decided to carry them onboard my flights home, since my luggage was already full from shopping all over France with friends. This was before strict carry-on limitations on flights, and I stuffed the bags into the overhead bins for the flight to Chicago. I had a connecting flight from Chicago to Portland soon after, making for a long day. I was ready to get home after weeks away.

While waiting in Chicago for my Portland flight, however, a huge Midwestern storm rolled in. My flight out, and all others, was canceled. I was stuck at the airport overnight. Downstairs in the baggage section hundreds of cots had been set up, so I picked one near the baggage conveyor belt and carefully stowed my carry on, purse and fabric safely. While others around me chatted with excitement, at 10 p.m. I brought out the travel supplies I always carried on long flights and put on my sleep mask and earplugs. Years of travel had taught me to sleep anywhere when I was tired, whether on planes or in noisy hotel rooms, and soon I was fast asleep.

I woke up about 4 a.m., pulled off my mask in the dim light and was amazed to find all the cots occupied by sleeping people who had been forced, like me, to stay there due to the storm. I had slept through their arrival during the night. Quickly I grabbed my purse, walked quietly along the baggage belt to the ladies room to avoid the cots, and made myself as presentable as one can look after sleeping all night in an airport. I always wore comfortable black clothes to travel so looked rather like a bag lady just off the street, but did my best and crept back down the baggage belt to my cot just as the lights came on. A loudspeaker announced that flights were finally about to come in so everyone had to leave the baggage area immediately. Amid sleepy groans, there was a rush for the restrooms. Feeling rather smug that I had beat the crowd, I got a rolling cart, loaded my bags of fabric and went up to my concourse to check through security to my gate. There were few people there at this hour, and the smell of coffee was intoxicating.

But now the security agent was looking disapprovingly at me, this somewhat bedraggled, messy-haired woman with wrinkled clothes and two huge shopping bags. He looked again at my ticket, then passport, assuming, I think, that they were somehow counterfeit and that I had wandered into the airport just to get warm. I tried to look respectable and dignified. Finally, rather reluctantly, he let me through. I got my coffee and eventually my flight to Portland, with my two precious bags of fabric as reminders of a happy vacation and the adventurous journey home.

Peggy Keonjian is a member of the Jottings Group of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.


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