My dad started calling me “the absent-minded professor” when I was only eight or nine years old. More often than not, it seems, by the time I got to where I was going to get something, I would have forgotten what it was I was going to get. Once, I had to run nearly half a mile from the field to get him a monkey wrench. Standing at the tool panel in Dad’s garage, I remembered I was supposed to get a monkey wrench. Trouble was, I wasn’t sure exactly what a monkey wrench was. So I brought him back a pipe wrench and a monkey wrench. I sure didn’t want to run another mile round trip just to clarify.
So it was no surprise to me that at the Higher Learning Commission’s annual conference in Chicago earlier this week, I ended up leaving my conference bag at three different places. In addition to my notes and guide, I’d stashed four small folding umbrellas inside so my colleagues from Cowley College and I could stay reasonably dry on our treks outside during the conference. Which certainly added to my incentive for retrieving the bag.
The first time, I only had to backtrack about a quarter-mile, inside the Illinois Center on Wacker Drive. The second time, I’d only walked a couple hundred feet. The third time I left it at a small Irish pub where several of us ate lunch together. Didn’t remember it until I was back at the hotel. With only thirty minutes before our airport ride was scheduled to arrive, I had to hotfoot it back up Wacker Drive,
cross over and take the long stairs down to the next level, cross the bridge, go down another long stairs to the river bank level and hoof along the river walk another tenth of a mile or so back to Lizzie McNeill’s.
The waitress was standing at a makeshift workstation, folding up napkins. She saw me walking back toward the table where we’d eaten. She smiled at me, reached inside the lower space of her cart and pulled out the bag. I grinned and asked her if my computer was still in it. “I don’t know,” she replied instantly, “I didn’t look inside. I figured you’d probably be back for it.” I thanked her and headed back out, grateful for the honesty of strangers in a large city.
For the third time, I’d left that bag somewhere it could have easily been snatched up by someone else. Whether it was for fear or respect, everyone who’d seen it had neglected the opportunity to take something that belonged to someone else. And I’d gained some extra exercise as well. Sometimes even our mistakes have a happy ending.