Nuria from Ethiopia took me to Alamo Car Rental out by the airport in New Orleans. She misses her family and has been in the States four years now, driving in NOLA for a year. She was smart and pretty, and honked and waved at every cab driver we passed.
She took two phone calls on the drive and I took one. Thirty minutes later I hugged her, thanking her for her kindness, with my mind prepped to drive into the sunrise toward the Gulf Coast.
Problem: I had no idea where I was heading.
Solution: There's a Ramada up ahead on the right, I'll pull in there, get out my travel atlas, ask the front desk clerk how to get out of town, and I'll be on my way.
Problem: My briefcase is missing.
Solution: It's in the trunk.
Problem: It's not in the trunk.
Problem Magnified: My briefcase is in Nuria's cab.
Solution: None in sight.
Panic starts to overtake me. What am I going to do? I have to have that back. Ohmygosh---I'm never getting that back. I don't even have a receipt.
I manage to think clearly for a second and call my only hope...the bellman at the Hilton Riverside who put me in Nuria's cab at 6:30 a.m., less than an hour ago.
"Hi, My name is Casey and I was a guest in your hotel. I checked out this morning."
What can I do for you?
"The bellman put me in a cab and I left something in that cab? Would you have any idea if I could talk to my bellman?"
Let me put you through to security.
This is Terrance.
"Terrance....Hi...I....I took a cab from the hotel this morning to Alamo Rental Car out by the airport...and I've left something in that cab. Do you think there's anyway the bellman would know the cab driver?"
What color was the cab?
"Ummm. I have no idea? Tan? It was a mini-van. Maybe it was multi-colored. I don't know. Ohmygosh. I have no idea?!"
Did you get a receipt?
Do you happen to know the cab number?
I'm completely defeated.
Honey, can you tell me anything else about the cab?
My voice is deflated: "I had a woman driver, from Ethiopia, she's been here four years, she misses her family, she likes driving a cab...." I shake my head and close my eyes.
Well, that certainly narrows it. I'll go out and see if she's possibly returned here. How can I reach you?
"Do the cab drivers usually head straight back to the same hotel? Do you think she's gone over to the airport or somewhere else?"
No, usually they do come back here.
"Then I'm on my way."
Terrance takes my number and tells me he will call as soon as he knows anything. He gives me directions and on the 30 minute drive back to the French Quarter I silently, and selfishly, pray that my bag falls into the hands of good people. I had faith in that, but doubt planted by the media after Hurricane Katrina kept seeping into my thoughts..."New Orleans is full of crime...everyone steals in New Orleans...beggars will take your belongings...." How will I explain this to the school? What is Mrs. James going to say? How am I going to pay this back?
Please...let it fall into the hands of good people. Someone who will find me.
There was nothing in my bag that would identify who I was or where I lived. But my school computer was there, my I-pod, a digital camera, my planner for work, and most importantly, something far more precious...pictures of me and my mother...I brought them along to do some writing about us over vacation. My praying intensifies.
Please...let it fall into the hands of good people. Someone who will find me. Or one good person. Someone who will do what it takes to find me.
Problem: When I arrived at the Hilton, my good buddy Terrance, the security guard who calmed me on the phone, was on break.
Solution: Call another security guard.
Second solution: I'm going out to talk to cab drivers.
I'm in the middle of Poydras Street and Convention Center Blvd when the new security guard yells at me. I turn around to walk toward her when, from behind, someone else yells..."Casey!"
I turn back around to find Nuria. I started running toward her, my hands on my head in disbelief.
"I have your bag."
Ohmygosh! I cannot believe you found me.
"I drove all the way back out to Alamo to find you."
Ohmygosh. I cannot believe it. And I hug without even getting my hands on the bag yet.
"You have pictures in there. And journals."
I know....you don't even understand...those are of my mother and me...before she died. I was 10. You don't even know how important it is to me to get those back.
"I was going to find you."
Thank you. Thank you! Thank YOU!!
She leads me to her cab and I grab the bag and look at the envelope with the pictures. I don't even think about the computer, the i-pod, the camera. The photo I pull is a faded one, but my mother's smile still glistens when I kiss her cheek in the dining room.
I kiss Nuria's cheek. "Thank you," I whisper one last time in strong embrace.
She walks me to my car and says a prayer for my safe journey. Two hours later, I'm finally heading toward the sunrise.
Problem: Doubtful of the goodness in the human race.
Solution: Leave important belongings in a cab on a Saturday morning in a city of 2 million people, still living in disaster zones, and meet Nuria, an immigrant from Ethiopia.