Chapter Five – Arrivederci Roma. Hello Trouble!

P1000089Chapter Five – Arrivederci Roma.  Hello Trouble!

Act IX: Is This A Hit, The Curious Christmas Caper At CDG, Home Sweet Home, Discovery…Denial…Disgust…Dejection, A Sleuth In Paris And A Hollywood Ending?

Our wake up call came as planned at the bewitching hour of 4 a.m. Carefully, or as carefully one can do anything at four in the morning, we packed the last remaining items into our carry-on luggage, including a couple of cameras, a netbook and an iPhone.

Promptly, at 4:45 a.m., a town car pulled up, and we were off to the airport for our 7:20 flight to Paris. About 10 minutes into the drive, the driver pulled off the highway, and we were now in what looked like a very remote area for a few minutes. I didn’t make too much of it, but Tracy must have watched too many Sopranos’ episodes, because she told me at the airport that she thought we were going to be whacked. At five in the morning, with still no caffeine in my body, I think that would have been ok by me.

The flight to Paris was on time, but we only had one hour and ten minutes to take a bus to one terminal, take a tram to the next terminal and get through security in time for to our flight. When we reached the security line, we knew this was going to be cut very, very close.

Finally through the long (and slow) security line, Tracy and I huffed and puffed as we scurried quickly (well, as quickly as we could) to make our flight. When we reached the gate, most of the passengers had already boarded, but as we handed our boarding passes to the Air France worker, Tracy and I breathed a sigh of relief. The entrance to the plane was just about 40 feet to our right. “We made it,” I said. We then heard a voice.

“Excuse me,” a voice blurted out. I turned and saw a man sitting at a table with white gloves on, and it wasn’t Michael Jackson.

jacko“I need to check your carry-on bag,” he said. Exhausted, tired and completely under-caffeinated, I gave the “security guy” my bag. He did a quick check, put everything back inside with our down vests on top and handed me back the bag. Tracy and I were just happy we made our flight so the extra security check was of no bother to us.

As we started for the plane, he said (and I can still hear his monotone, rather unpleasant voice), “Merry Christmas.”

On board, we stashed our bags, watched television and movies, got our usual amount of sleep (virtually none) and landed at LAX. After passing through Customs and waiting for our two checked bags, a voice came over the speaker, “Mr. and Mrs. Maitai (still not our real names), please see the agent.” Air France had only checked one bag through to Los Angeles. We wouldn’t see the other one until tomorrow. “No big deal,” we said.  It was the bag with all our dirty clothes.

The rest of the day was a blur.  Our friend picked us up and we heard on the radio about the guy who tried to blow up the Delta plane in Detroit. “Wow, glad we didn’t have that drama,” I said.

Back home, we said a quick hello to the cats that had been picked up by our friend at the Cat Hotel (one of them was sitting on the bill so I didn’t have to know right away how much that cost). We freshened up, got in the car and drove about 45 minutes to my sister’s house for Christmas dinner. After nearly passing out in the dessert, we drove (very carefully) home and promptly went to bed without unpacking.

The next morning after running some errands, I was sitting at my computer.  “Hey Tracy,” I said. “Could you bring me my camera so I can download all the photos?” I had brought two cameras, my new and compact Panasonic ZS1 that I had just bought before the trip and my larger, old Sony, that I just brought in case I didn’t like the new camera. I loved the new camera, so the Sony stayed in the hotel safe for the entire trip.

Seconds later, Tracy yelled back at me, “You must have unpacked it last night. You were probably so tired you don’t remember.” I knew I had not been that tired.

Suddenly, I got that sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach, the kind you know is not going to get better soon. “Please tell me you’re kidding,” I said.  She was not.

To say I was angry might be the understatement of the year. I was so mad that after about half an hour Tracy was checking the life insurance policies to see what the payout is for a self-induced heart attack. “What could have happened?” she asked.  “Were they stolen on the plane while we were sleeping?”

We decided that would have been impossible, but outside of that, our carry-on bags had never been out of our sight. Then we remembered the security guy at CDG, or whom we thought was a security guy. “Crap, that piece of (I believe you know the word) stole our cameras!”

We tried to recreate the moment we gave him the bag, but we were both so relieved about making the flight, not to mention feeling pretty damn tired, that we both must have had the most serious malady a traveler can suffer; a momentary brain cramp where we were not paying full attention.  Although momentary, it was enough time for that guy to palm our two cameras.

We sent off an email to security at Charles de Gaulle, but as the day progressed, the harsh reality set in; all of our pictures (about 250) from Rome were gone, and the odds of getting them back were about the same as a Padres’ World Series title.

I must say that it surprised me how much the theft affected me. We had been to Rome before. I had pictures from past trips. It’s not like I’m Ansel Adams when it comes to photography.

However, the more I thought about it, the more upset I became. Just the thought of that guy taking our stuff pissed the hell out of me. I was beating myself up pretty good, too. “How could I have been so blind?”

On Saturday, Tracy emailed our friends who had spent Christmas week in Paris and warned them about what we perceived as a “security scam.” One of those friends in Paris just happened to be another person on the Fodor’s Travel Board (or Fodorite, as we are sometimes called), LikToTravel.

On Sunday morning, we emailed CDG again (we had received the standard reply overnight to give the description of the “lost” merchandise), but by Sunday night we had pretty much given up any hope that we would ever see our cameras or the photos.

“Why didn’t I take out the memory chip?  Why didn’t I just download them on my netbook?” I couldn’t get my mind off the stolen cameras. I never travel without my camera right next to me. For once I felt like an idiot and even Tracy didn’t have the heart to call me one.

I didn’t get a lot of sleep Saturday and Sunday, but when I woke up Monday morning I was determined to let this go (or I really might have a heart attack). Hey, it’s not like somebody tried to blow up our plane. Nobody got hurt. Get over it! No doubt about it, however, I was still bummed.

Just before heading to work on Monday, we got a telephone call. It was none other than LikToTravel (LTT), who had arrived home from Paris.  Thanks to the Underwear Bomber’s shenanigans on Christmas Day, her flight on Sunday had been delayed a few hours at CDG. Instead of resting, LTT (or Emma Peel from the 1960s The Avengers television show, as we now call her) went into action mode, and our CDG “secret agent” did a little sleuthing at the airport on our behalf. We don’t know if any kung fu moves were necessary on her part.

peelLTT (aka Emma) has never given me the full details of what she did or said in her secret agent activities at the airport, but somehow during her three hour-plus delay she was able to ascertain from officials that a Panasonic and Sony camera had been located at CDG.

I’d like to think that LTT somehow deviously delayed her own flight and then held an extra bright light to the culprit’s face (or beat the crap out of him) to force a confession, but in any event, she was able to definitively find out that the cameras were somewhere at the airport. Emma (I mean LTT) gave me phone numbers and email addresses to attempt to reach the party who physically was holding my cameras.  I’m sure with a couple of more hours at CDG, she would have retrieved the cameras, locked up the thief and flown the jet back to Los Angeles herself, however she was technically still on vacation.

For a moment I was ecstatic, but I was determined to stay cautiously optimistic. There was still more sleuthing to do, so I had to now go into John Steed mode after Emma’s heroics on the other side of the pond.  Using my suave and debonair voice while wearing a bowler (ok, that might be a stretch), for the next three nights, between the hours of 1 a.m. and 4 a.m., I called and e-mailed back and forth with CDG security and then the CDG Lost and Found Department.

I told them to look on the small Panasonic and check to see if there were a lot of out-of-focus photographs of Rome on it. A couple of mornings later, on December 29, I received the e-mail that both cameras were definitely at CDG, and that the Lost and Found people had gone through the photos to make sure the camera was indeed mine.  It was at that moment I was glad Tracy and I don’t do any Paris Hilton-type photo shoots.

I was then turned over to a company named Bagages du Monde, who emailed and stated they would have the cameras back to me shortly after the first of the year for a hefty fee of 80€, but at that moment I didn’t care.

On January 6, a UPS shipment arrived at my office, and, voila, there were my two cameras, and my photos were still there. My business partner shook his head in amazement. “You are one very lucky guy!” I had my Hollywood ending, although like many blockbusters, it had gone way over budget.

P1000275For their secret agent work in Paris, LTT and her sister will be coming over soon to have a home-cooked “thank you” meal.  Broccolo Romanesco (if I can find it) and Zabaione will most certainly be on the menu. I think LTT’s new motto should be, “LikToTravel: Fighting Crime Against Fodorites Worldwide!”  I think a little bird told me that!

P1000220Of course, I will never know the true story behind the CDG Camera Caper. I can’t believe it was a simple case of the guy just forgetting to put the cameras back in the carry-on, because the two cameras (in their cases) were not together in the bag, and the larger case is pretty big (how I missed seeing him hide it is beyond me). We were the only people at the table, so it’s not like there was a lot of clutter.  Plus, he had ten minutes until the doors closed on the plane to get them to me on board the aircraft if it was not done purposely.

Did he get caught? Did he have a change of heart? Perhaps one of you has heard of a situation like this before, and we just fell for a common scam that I don’t know about.

In any event, we learned a valuable (and expensive) lesson.

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Had we not had a secret agent who happened to be going through CDG when she did, this story might have had a very different ending.

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Although not the greatest photographer in the world, I must say I have never been happier to go though a series of photographs in my entire life than the ones I took in Rome, and my picture of the priest playing the organ at Santa Maria degli Angeli came out even better than I had expected.

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Life is truly good!

Enjoy The Journey! Attitude Is Everything!

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