If you plan to fly this summer, you're already steeling yourself for long lines at the airport, security hassles, endless delays, etc.
But that's nothing compared with the horror that awaits when you land.
I speak, of course, of the baggage carousel.
Something happens to the human psyche, something dark and troubling, when a person arrives at the baggage carousel.
There's a buzz of anticipation from the de-planing passengers that is way out of proportion to what's about to take place.
Suddenly, a bell rings, a light blinks on.
The carousel's belt begins to move!
Now, the crowd surges forward, the way desperate people do at a refugee camp when the Red Cross trucks rumble in.
For some reason, many passengers feel the need to be right up against the carousel as the luggage goes around.
It's as if only by being 2 inches from the carousel they can spot their suitcase - how could they possibly spot it from 3 or 4 feet away?
So they stand there, necks craned, with a look of fierce concentration on their fat little faces.
They square their shoulders.
They put their hands on their hips.
They lock their legs.
Everything about their posture says, This is my turf. I'm not moving till I get my bags. Don't try any funny business.
If you're behind them when you spot your luggage, you have to do a hook-and-grab move, almost like an NFL defensive lineman shedding a blocker, to get to the carousel.
Sometimes, if they're distracted by a cell phone call ("Yeah, hi, we just landed ... "), you can make a quick feint, then move the other way, slip inside and grab your bag before they re-establish position.
But you're wasting your breath if you say something like, "Pardon me, that's my bag."
That'll fall on deaf ears. These people aren't about to move.
Of course, at every baggage carousel, there is always that person who cries out every five seconds: "There it is! That's our suitcase!"
This is usually followed by the person excitedly pulling a random black suitcase from the carousel, only to realize it's the wrong one and put it back.
I have always wanted to take this person aside and say, "Look, Mr. or Ms. World Traveler, there are about 400 black suitcases on every flight leaving the continental U.S., Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.
"All the black suitcases look the same, too.
"They're black, see.
"They have little zippers. They have little handles. They have little wheels so you can drag them around.
"You'll see lots and lots of them.
"So, maybe, you could wait for the one that actually has your name on it before you yell, 'That's our suitcase!'"
But I never take the person aside and say this.
I don't want any trouble.
I just want to get my luggage and go.
Of course, sometimes your luggage never comes, no matter how long you wait.
Is there a lonelier feeling in the world than being the last person at a baggage carousel?
Everyone else is gone. The belt keeps slowly going round and round.
Suddenly, it groans to a stop.
Which is when it dawns on you: Your luggage is not coming out.
Your luggage is lost.
Your luggage is in Phoenix, Ariz.
Or it's in Miami, or Nashville, Tenn., or Seattle.
Wherever it is, it's not here, where you are.
So you trudge over to the windowless little airline office, where it's hot and stuffy and the person behind the counter is always cranky.
All that person wants to do is go get something to eat.
But she can't do that, because here you are, reporting a lost suitcase.
With a sigh, the airline person asks you to describe the suitcase.
Well, you say, it's black, of course.
With little zippers. And a little handle.
And little wheels.
"That should make it easy to find," the airline rep says.
She's quite a kidder.
Which you like to see when your luggage is lost.