“My wallet! Where is my wallet?” That is what I asked myself after parking my car at the Madison Airport to catch a flight to Milwaukee and then on to Atlanta. I suddenly realized I must have left my wallet at home. All I had was my airline ticket—no cash, no credit cards, and worst of all, no identification. Time was too short for me to drive back home for my wallet—my flight was leaving in 30 minutes. What to do?
I hurried into the terminal and lined up at the Midwest Airlines counter. Immediately, I began scanning the faces of people in the terminal, hoping to spot a friend who could loan me some money. No luck despite the large early morning crowd. I finally decided to approach the well-dressed, middle-aged man immediately in front of me for a loan. I got his attention, explained my plight, and then asked if he could loan me $20. I promised I would get his address and send a check to repay him immediately after returning to Madison. He listened politely and then without further explanation said “No.” This unsettled me but what could I do? I glanced at the person behind me who was obviously a student and concluded he would be unlikely to have any spare cash to loan to a stranger. Still, no familiar faces in the terminal.
As the line inched forward, I realized I might have difficulty with the airline agent and began thinking about my approach. When the fellow in front of me obtained his boarding pass, he turned to wish me luck. As he shook my hand, he pressed into it a $5 bill. He probably felt guilty and refused to give me his name.
As I took my place at the front of the line, I greeted the agent warmly and then placed on the counter my ticket, which fortunately I did have with me. I also made a show of placing my cane on the counter in front of me. I carried a cane because only a couple of days earlier I had minor knee surgery, and the doctor urged me to walk with a cane for better balance. After hearing my explanation about why I lacked any ID or credit card, the airline agent asked for some other identification. Reaching into my briefcase, I found the letter inviting me to the Atlanta conference. That was sufficient for the agent. She handed me my boarding pass, and I headed for the gate. (All this occurred in 1999, prior to 9/11 with its more stringent security measures.)
As I proceeded through the airport terminal, I kept looking for someone I might know. No luck. I continued doing so as I boarded the plane. Still no luck. But then I saw a UW-Madison academic staff member, Char Tortorice, who worked in testing and evaluation, boarding the plane, along with her husband and child. After we were airborne en route to Milwaukee, I walked up to Char’s seat and explained my situation. With a straight face, she responded, “Yeh, Lee, we’ve all heard that story before. Sorry. Forget it.” Then she smiled and handed over a $20 bill. I offered my profuse thanks, promising to send her a check immediately after I returned to Madison.
I now had $25 of “working capital.” I knew that was not enough, because before flying to Atlanta, I wanted to stop in Milwaukee to attend the morning meeting of the UW Board of Regents at the UW-Milwaukee campus. The reason: the Board was scheduled to vote to approve implementation of Plan 2008, the UW System’s new diversity effort, and I hoped to speak to the issue.
After arriving at the Milwaukee airport terminal, I checked my suitcase in a storage locker because I did not want to carry it around all day. Besides, managing with my cane was difficult enough. But to check my suitcase required a handful of quarters, so I exchanged my $5 bill for three singles and inserted into the coin slot the $2 in quarters. Then I inquired about the taxi fare to the UW-Milwaukee campus. I was told it would be about $20. While I had enough to pay the fare—$25 less the $2 luggage storage charge—I asked if there was any less expensive way to get there? The driver suggested I walk further down the sidewalk to a parked van. I did and learned the van charge would be $12. I paid the fare and off we went. This left me with $11.
But I was not yet out of the woods. I needed to stop at a Kinko’s store to xerox 30 copies of the statement I hoped to present at the Regent meeting. The van driver dropped me off at a Kinko’s shop a mile or so from the campus. I hurried inside and explained my need to make copies. Worried I would not have sufficient cash to pay for them, take a taxi to the campus, and then get something to eat, I decided to phone Sally to get my credit card number. After experiencing some difficulty finding my wallet—it was in the trousers I wore the previous day—she gave me the number. I paid for the copies with my credit card and then asked Kinko’s to phone for a taxi. The cab fare to the campus was $6 which I paid in cash. This left me with $5.
On entering the UW-Milwaukee Student Union I immediately spent $1 for a copy of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. I wanted to know what was coming up at the Regent meeting. I then headed for the snack bar where I paid $3.50 for a cup of coffee and sweet roll to nourish me while I read the newspaper. By the time I entered the Regent meeting room, my cash was almost depleted; all I had left was fifty cents.
Yet another complication. The day before I had phoned Leon Schur, a UW-Milwaukee economics professor and invited him to join me for lunch. He was a long-time friend and had been one of my TAs when I was a Madison undergraduate in the late 1940s. Leon had told me he would be at the Regent meeting so we could join up there. But, now I did not have enough money to pay for lunch. How embarrassing! What to do? During the mid-morning break in the Regent meeting, I spoke to Leon explaining that I would have to borrow money from him to pay for our lunch. He replied that something had come up to prevent him from lunching with me. What luck! No need for me to spend money on our lunch. But then I still had to ask him to lend me $20 which he did. Now I had another check to write out after returning to Madison.
The Regent meeting proved to be a disappointment. Before the meeting began, I spoke to the Regent who would be conducted the meeting, asking that I have an opportunity to make a brief statement. She said fine. After the mid-morning break when Plan 2008 came up for discussion, Regent President Jay Smith asked Tessa Arenas—then Assistant Vice-President of Academic Affairs and Senior Adviser to the President on Academic Diversity in the University of Wisconsin System—to review the Plan 2008 implementation reports submitted by the various UW System campuses describing the programs these campuses would be implementing to promote greater racial/ethnic diversity. With more than a dozen campuses and many programs at each campus, she had plenty to talk about and went on and on and on in painful, boring detail. Regent attention began to waver; eyes glazed over, and several Regents seemed to nod off. There was nothing I could do except watch the hands of the clock as they eventually reached 12 noon and the meeting was adjourned for lunch. I realized that my plan to speak to the Regents had been foiled. But, I was hardly surprised. The Board, knowing my views on its Plan 2008, was unwilling to permit me to express those views in a public forum.
After the meeting when it came time to leave to catch my flight to Atlanta, I negotiated with the taxi driver to pay no more than $20 for the ride to the airport. The fare came to only $19 so I still had $1.50 in cash. After arriving at the Milwaukee airport I retrieved my carry-on suitcase without any difficulty. To minimize waiting for my bag at the Atlanta airport, I decided to carry it with me onto the plane despite my awkwardness with a cane.
While waiting for the flight to Atlanta, a sudden thunderstorm swept through Milwaukee, bringing air traffic to a standstill. After some further delay, we were told that a plane would be arriving shortly to take us to Atlanta. But soon it was dinner time. With no plane in sight, Midwest gave us meal tickets for supper. We were also given round-trip ticket vouchers to make amends for the delay.
More time passed. At about 9 pm the news was most discouraging; Midwest was offering hotel and breakfast vouchers with the promise we would be on the first flight to Atlanta the next morning. Or we could wait on the chance that another plane would arrive. I decided to wait. A Midwest plane finally did arrive at 11 pm, and those of us who had remained eagerly boarded the flight. After we were airborne, the stewardess announced that as a result of the delay, they could not serve us any food because it had spoiled. And they could not give us any drinks because the deplaning passengers had consumed every last bit of liquid on the plane. Because of this and the long delay, the stewardess announced that we would each be issued a round-trip travel voucher. What a paradox. Here I was with virtually no money in my pocket but now possessing two round-trip ticket vouchers!
When we finally arrived in Atlanta at about 2 a.m., I worried that my remaining $1.50 would not be enough to pay for a taxi to my hotel. Fortunately, the hotel operated its own van; I phoned, and it soon I arrived. When I went to check into the hotel, I faced a new difficulty. Who was I? I had no ID and no credit card. However, anticipating this difficulty, I had the presence of mind during my morning phone call to Sally from Kinkos to ask her to phone the hotel and give it my credit card number. But, the hotel staff was still concerned because I had no ID to prove who I was. Finally, I showed them the invitation to the conference, which persuaded them to give me my reserved room.
What a relief to finally jump into bed after being up for almost 24 hours. The next morning I quickly approached Bruce Kauffman, the fellow in charge of the conference and who had invited me to attend, and asked for a loan of $20 to take care of incidental expenses. Fortunately, I was able to charge my meals on my hotel bill, the conference and my presentation went well, and I still had $20 when I left the conference two days later.
When I went to the airport to fly back to Madison again through Milwaukee, I decided I didn’t want to bother with my carry-on suitcase, so I checked it through to Madison. But when I finally arrived in Madison, my suitcase had gone missing. The baggage counter people told me it was somewhere between Atlanta and Madison and would be delivered to my house later that evening. I headed for my car in the airport parking ramp and realized that to lighten my load I had put my keys into my suitcase. So, another problem: I could not get into my car to drive home.
I contemplated paying the $20 cab fare from the money I borrowed from Bruce in Atlanta. But then it occurred to me that under the circumstances the airline might pay my cab fare home. I asked, they agreed, and I had a chit for the taxi ride home.
By this time I was more eager than ever to get home. After the taxi deposited me at my house, I tried the garage door entrance but the door was locked, as was the front door. Without my house keys, which along with my car key, were in the air somewhere between Atlanta and Madison, I was stymied. Unfortunately, we had no extra key secreted somewhere outside the house.
I decided to sit down on the front steps and wait for Sally to return. After almost an hour the neighbors across the street returned home. I explained my situation and they invited me in for a drink. While there I kept close watch out their front window for Sally’s return. After another hour Sally arrived home; she had gone off to see a movie and had left just minutes before I arrived at the house.
That pretty much ends the story. On Monday I mailed three checks to repay my friends. On the credit side: I had $5 from the anonymous guy at the Madison Airport, and two round-trip Midwest Airline ticket vouchers. Not to mention the meal chit at the Milwaukee Airport, and the taxi chit that got me back to my Madison home. Not a bad haul for a guy who forgot his wallet.
About the Author
At age 92 I decided to showcase my recent and current writings on a variety of topics outside of my career interests as an economist. My wife Sally’s dementia, my experiences of war, and my interests in improving higher education all compel me to write.
For most of the last decade I maintained a low profile, necessitated by my wife Sally's suffering from a decade-long siege of vascular dementia. After she passed away several years ago I wrote about our experience, in the belief that this would be helpful to the many others who suffer from dementia and their family caregivers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my book manuscript: The Forgotten: Dementia and the Right to Die.
Over the past few years I began working on several other writing projects that are described more fully elsewhere in my blog. These include a nearly-completed book manuscript on my "expected proficiencies approach to the college major'' as a vehicle for reinvigorating liberal education. I continue to write on the shortcomings of UW-Madison's affirmative action policies and programs that over the years have been renamed "diversity and inclusion" policies and programs.
Within two weeks of my graduation from UW-Madison in June 1950, the Korean War broke out. I was drafted and expected to be sent to Korea to join our fighting forces there. But instead I was sent to Turkey for 18 months. How lucky I was. I am also writing a memoir of my Korean War military experience when I served as an U.S. Army adviser in our military aid program in Turkey.
Until I began branching out beyond economics, I failed to realize what a profound effect the Great Depression and World War II had on me as I grew up. I have already captured some of these recollections, with more of them to follow.
With that introduction, I turn you over to my blog entries as well as my other writing projects described more fully elsewhere in my blog. Best wishes ~ W. Lee Hansen
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Award-winning author W. Lee Hansen, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Full bio.