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Nettleton Column: Those baggage carousel blues are mostly black

Posted: Sunday, October 07, 2001

Standing around at the baggage pickup area in the airport is always a combination of restless expectation and dread. As the first few bags appear and are unclaimed to go around and around, many of us begin thinking of all the reasons our bags have not appeared. They should have because we boarded last and our bags should have been first out, but they aren't and it isn't fair. Pointless logic is only engaging for a short time, then we simply study the strangers' bags that trundle past. Ninety-six percent of the bags are black or a shade of green or blue so dark as to be indistinguishable from the black ones. Why is that?

Peeking in my closet just now, I see that 96 percent of my available luggage is black. Is that all there is on the market? Once in Mexico when we had more stuff to bring home than space to pack it, black was the only color bag we could find. I checked two local retailers who have luggage for sale, both carry colors other than black. I found the deep, deep green or blue, I can't tell, along with red. Also, there is a muddy, but not totally cheerless, tapestry print in about eight sizes. I checked some of the yuppie catalogs for luggage and found a majority to be the black and clones, but also red.

I can't think of any reason to have a black bag for travel. True, it goes with any outfit, but who cares about that? And if you do care about fashion colors, wouldn't you use a summer color in the summer? Something in a khaki, taupe or sand? Maybe a black bag says, "I am a totally sober and utilitarian type traveler, there is nothing in this bag of a frivolous or expensive nature or of any interest to anyone with a personality." No one would want to seal it. Since most of us travel only occasionally, our bags hang out in the back of a closet where we don't want them to make a fuss. I'm guessing here, I honestly can't see the attraction to black luggage.

I can give you two reasons not to have a black bag. The most obvious is the small adrenaline thrill you get when you see what looks like your bag shoot into view on the baggage carousel only to be bitterly disappointed when you read the tag. Who needs that? Next is the trouble you have in packing and unpacking in what is essentially total darkness in the bottom of the bag. There is a whole culture of vagabond black socks in the bottom of my husband's duffel bag that have traveled for years with him. Neither he nor I can see them in there, but if you get a flashlight and are quick enough, you can catch them before they scuttle into the corners. We could at least line our bags in a light color or install a light that comes on when you open the lid.

Long ago, people had diverse and personal luggage that reflected their socio-economic status and taste. There were rattans, dyed leathers and various shapes in carpet before we came into plastics. You would think our palette would have blossomed with versatile manmade materials, and perhaps it did, briefly. I can't quite remember, but I think Barbie had plaid or pink luggage. We still buy colorful bags for children, but adults cling in droves to the most nondescript and lifeless luggage money can buy. Perhaps we think that a person appraising a pile of luggage for valuables will dial in on the one that stands out. If you really worry about this, why not use clear vinyl bags that show at a glance you have nothing worth taking.

I am proud to say that some Alaskans are still identifiable by their luggage. If you spend any time at our big airports in the winter, when visitor traffic is lowest, check out the stuff Alaskans on their way home to the smaller communities are carrying. You will find among the boat motors and big metal toolboxes (and this is the stuff brought home from vacation), the most practical of all luggage, the 5-gallon bucket. My sister swears by this. The white plastic bucket with snap-on sealing lid and handle is totally practical. You can tape the lid if you're paranoid and write your name anywhere with a grease pen. They are easy to carry, stackable and they float. Pouring down rain? No problem.

Christmas is coming. We all have to adjust to new air travel rules, so let's buy each other some new luggage. Show our new attitude of not being sheep when we fly, taking responsibility for our safety and that of our fellow passengers. When I come home from vacation in early spring, I want to see a proud and colorful parade of bags strutting along the baggage carousel with no fear of appearing different. I want to be able to stand back a bit and say with confidence, "that's not mine" ... "that's not mine" ... "that's not mine ..."

*****

Nita Nettleton owns a luggage shop in the Valley. Ha! Just kidding! She can be reached at nitan@alaska.com.



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