What Happened After I Forgot My Laptop at TSA in Denver

View from our window before leaving the gate at DIA

I didn’t realize I’d left my laptop computer at a TSA checkpoint in Denver until we were unpacking here in Cambridge, Mass.

This was two nights ago. In my study, about to connect my Mac to the Thunderbolt display, I suddenly realized my knapsack was too light. That’s when I knew exactly where I’d left the computer. And I knew why.

My story begins back in our Denver apartment, where I had packed early enough to take care of a bit of paperwork — making a copy of my Colorado driver’s license to attach to a form requested by my bank. I placed the license on the glass of my HP printer, made a nice color copy, scanned the form and license into my Evernote file, and placed the papers in a FedEx envelope that I left at the concierge’s desk on our way out.

I was enjoying the righteous glow of Being On Top of Things as we wheeled our stuff to Union Station for the A Train to DIA.

I didn’t realize I had left my driver’s license on the printer until it was time to show it to the Southwest agent at luggage check-in. Confidence vanished. Disorientation and mild panic. Do they even let you get on a flight without government ID? My passport was in Cambridge.

On my iPhone I pulled up a photo of the license, and that was enough for the luggage lady at Southwest. “We’ll take that,” she said, “But I don’t think TSA is going to buy it. They may show you some extra love in screening.”

The blue-uniformed TSA official at the TSA Pre podium confirmed Southwest’s prediction. I wasn’t going anywhere soon. Darlene and Claire, riding in her black mesh shoulder bag, breezed through. We agreed to meet on the other side of security.

The first TSA guy was sympathetic but completely clear about the unacceptability of my forms of identification. He did me the kindness of not laughing at the Evernote view of my driver’s license. He did look at my Medicare card, and a couple of credit cards as if they mattered slightly.

I waited at the TSA Pre podium for about 10 minutes, waiting for another TSA rep to take me through the regular security lines. I was passed along to two other TSAs, and I began to overhear exactly what category I had fallen into.

“Alt ID,” I heard them say. This became my new view of myself, and with it came an eagerness to follow every instruction given to me, promptly and politely.

As I put my guitar and knapsack on the rolling tubes of the conveyor, one of my Alt ID minders asked, “Do you have a laptop?”

Right. I had forgotten that without TSA Pre’s streamlined security, you have to place a laptop in its own gray bin, rolling separately through the scanning machine. I quickly zipped open my knapsack and fetched the MacBook Air in its beige fabric InCase cover, trying not to look as if I had intentionally planned to sneak it through hidden from sight.

I felt as if I had an “Alt ID” sign on my chest as I raised my hands for the human screening machine. A TSA guy on the other side took my things to a bench with special equipment, off to the side of the flow of travelers headed to the escalator and trains to the concourses.

Darlene sat on a metal bench near the escalators, holding a big turquoise carryon bag and Claire in the black bag. I wasn’t sure how to decode the look on my wife’s face. I guessed worried, but it was more likely a mix of irritated and impatient. She never did mention the times I’ve been less than supportive when she’s forgotten things on trips. Never again, Lord, as long as you encourage these very professional people to let me through.

I can’t remember what inspections were given to my guitar, knapsack, computer, and fanny pack. All of my attention went to the TSA officer in blue plastic gloves who stood before me, explaining in matter-of-fact detail exactly what the pat-down was going to entail.

The Southwest rep wasn’t kidding about the extra love.

“Would like to do this in a private area?” the TSA guy asked, an offer I appreciated, but I decided it would be slightly less creepy in public.

In reality, it wasn’t so bad. I raised and lowered my arms when he told me to. Like at the dentist’s, I didn’t look at his face during the procedure. I willed my body language to say over and over, “It’s okay, I’m cool, take your time, I’m not dangerous in any way.”

When it was over, I was really, really ready to be out of there, headed for Concourse C and the late lunch we had been looking forward at Root Down. I grabbed my guitar, knapsack, and fanny pack and made a beeline for the moving stairs.

If I had left a business card inside the Mac’s beige case, I am sure I would have received an email or a call during the following three hours before our flight left. I would have had plenty of time to return to TSA to fetch the computer.

Instead, I found myself dialing DIA’s Lost and Found Department at 11 p.m. Boston time, just after it closed. I left a phone message and filled out a website form describing the computer. I attached a photo of the beige case that I found online, and I was able to list the serial number with phone help from an AppleCare rep.

The next morning, yesterday, I reached someone at Lost and Found. She told me they receive lost items from TSA each day in the afternoon and evening.

I called again yesterday evening. A Lost and Found rep named Carlos answered. I liked the sound of his voice. I heard no trace of judgement or worry. He simply began asking me about my computer.

“Is it in a case?” he asked.

“Yes, a beige fabric one.”

“What color is the computer?”

“Space gray.”

“What’s on the screen?”

“A photo of trees and sky.”

“I’ve got it right here,” Carlos said.

“Omigod I can’t believe it. Thank you, thank you!”

“I hear that a lot,” Carlos replied with a smile in his voice.

I asked if it would be possible to FedEx the Mac to me here in Cambridge by Tuesday if I gave him my FedEx number. No problem. Carlos gave me a tracking number and said it would be picked up at DIA this evening for delivery tomorrow morning.

When I checked the FedEx tracking number early this evening, nothing showed up, so I called Lost and Found again. Carlos was still on duty, and he said FedEx is pretty busy now, so the pickup might be a little late.

“Would you like me to call you when she picks it up?” he asked.

Can you believe it? Props to Denver International Airport’s Lost and Found Department. And true to his word, Carlos called back to let me know the FedEx driver had just logged in my computer and that it would show up in tracking soon.

“Do you want me to wait until you see it?” he asked.

I said that was okay, we were headed to buy some groceries and I’d check it when we got home. I thanked him again, and again.

So here is the moment of truth. I haven’t entered the FedEx tracking number yet. It’s just before 11 p.m. in Cambridge. Here goes…

Well whaddya know? My computer is scheduled to arrive here by 8 a.m. tomorrow morning!

I won’t have to reschedule my Kindle Chronicles interview with Pastor Bryan Hudson of New Covenant Church in Indianapolis, set for 3 p.m. ET. I won’t have to file a police report and insurance claim while buying a replacement computer. And I will put a business card inside the beige case as soon as it comes out of the FedEx box.

Before signing off with Carlos I asked him how many people leave computers at TSA checkpoints in Denver each week.

“We get about 10 a day,” he said.

So Carlos probably makes 10 people a day as happy as he made me. It would have been fine if he’d been officious and dull about it, going through the motions with a sneer in his voice. I would still have been very grateful at the outcome.

As it is, relief at getting my new computer back was made unforgettable by Carlos’s courtesy, professionalism, and old-fashioned human kindness in helping me out.

So you rock, Carlos.

And so do the TSA reps who processed a guitar-toting “Alt ID” through security two days ago in Denver. Professionals all, keeping us safe.