Christmas Fiasco Vignettes

Christmas storm Elliott had people, flights, and luggage in unexpected places and with unexpected circumstances. Thousands were caught in very difficult situations. This is a fictional vignette of four lives on Christmas weekend, 2022.

A Big Apple Christmas

Matt McPherson was headed to the nightlife and excitement of New York City. “Christmas with my little brother,” he thought. “Yeah, this will be good.”

Recently divorced, Matt had decided it was time to party. A week ago, he had convinced Mark that having a big brother tagging along for the holiday wasn’t going to cramp his style.

Plans don’t always work out, however. Maybe little brothers’ wishes sometimes get answered. Matt didn’t land in the Big Apple. 

“The Universe should not allow storms and holidays to coincide,” he groaned with disgust. “What the hell am I going to do in Baltimore? I don’t know a soul here. There’s no big city partying like I was going to have with Matt. And I don’t have a free room, either,” he growled.

Finding the cheapest hotel he could, Matt decided that at least he could splurge a bit on dinner. “After all, aren’t Maryland crab cakes supposed to be famous?” he thought “Maybe I can find some good ones.”

The front desk clerk told him if it was crab cakes he wanted, he had to go about three miles down the road to Philips. “They make the best crab cakes in the state,” she promised. “You’ll get some exercise, too,” she added. “The restaurant is in the Arundel Mills Mall. Plus, it’s an easy Uber ride to and from.”

In Love with Vegas

Elaine Schmidt had been a flight attendant for PanAm back when the job title was “stewardess.”  She had loved being assigned the Miami to Los Angeles flights. If she worked it right, she could plan her schedule to catch a hop to Vegas and take in the shows, the amazing and inexpensive meals, the excitement. She loved it all.

In 1991, however, PanAm went bankrupt. She could have taken a job with Delta in the transition, but she tied her wings to Delta in another way. She’d married one of the PanAm pilots and he was hired by Delta. They settled into the uneven schedules and, a few years later, had a son. Unfortunately, that was followed by another airline cancellation. Her husband divorced her.

As a single mom, Elaine worked for 30 years in property management. Her airline customer service and quick problem-solving skills were broadly transferable.

On Christmas Eve, she’s thinking. “Uh huh, tomorrow I’m on my way to Christmas in Vegas with Gabrielle.” A dear friend who’s always fun. Great weather. Good food. Plentiful drinks. Lucky tables. Yeah, she was ready for it all.

Crazy Christmas Eve Plans

Sabrina Henderson loved her job. Living in the comfort of Nashville with its manageable excitement, she loved flying to the big cities with all the big delightful surprises. As a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines, she lived the good life. In fact, the good life for Christmas was her plan and she was on her way. Christmas in New York City.

Those big city delights and the big city lights, too. The tree in Rockefeller Square never ceased to thrill her. “This over-hyped storm Elliott can just blow out to sea,” she thought. “I have big plans.”

Sabrina’s friend, Samuel, was hosting a Crazy Christmas Eve party. Although Sabrina had no idea what to expect, Samuel always had the best parties. A little wicked, a little wild, always creative. In fact, she had her burlap toga all packed as Samuel had instructed. “A burlap toga? What in the world is he planning?” she thought.

As Sabrina was trying to imagine just what she was getting into, the Captain called. “The storm has gotten really bad in New York he told her. We’re being diverted from La Guardia to Baltimore. We’ll need to make some adjustments. Please prepare the flight crew. Our passengers are not going to be happy.” 

“Baltimore? Seriously?” she moaned to her co-worker. “Couldn’t they have gotten into Long Island or Philadelphia? I’m supposed to be in New York City tonight! Not, definitely not, Baltimore! I’ve got a party to attend!”

“Baltimore!” she wailed once more as she got off the plane. “Shit. Shit. Shit! I had plans!”

It wasn’t really Baltimore that had Sabrina upset. It was not being in New York City.  And mostly, it was missing Samuel’s party. They were always so much fun.  “Just where am I going to find any fun by myself on Christmas Eve in Baltimore?” she moaned.

The airline had a contract with Marriott, so Sabrina checked into the nearest one with an available room. As she always did when finished with a flight, Sabrina stepped into a long, hot shower. She then turned on the TV to find something interesting to watch. As she scrolled through the menu, an ad for Live! Casino rolled by.

“Wait. Wait. Wait. Go back. What was that? “ she thought.  “A casino, Christmas Eve drink discount, free show,” she read. “Ooooh. A casino. Whoo Hoo!” Thinking that seemed like the best option for Christmas Eve fun alone, she wondered. “But, where is it and what could I wear?” Then she chuckled to herself, “A burlap toga is not going to work in a casino in Baltimore.”

With a short internet search, she discovered the casino was only four miles away AND it was connected to a mall. Bonus!

Sabrina looked at her green tote bag and thought, “Well, it’s not so very big, but it’s big enough,” she thought. “Even though it’s a campy color, it’s leather and it is Christmas.” Putting on her easy-to-compress gym clothes, Sabrina grabbed her Christmas-green tote bag and headed for the mall.

Is it at Dulles, Spokane or San Francisco?

On Thursday, Dec. 22, Keri Poulson arrived at Dulles for her 4:00 flight. Online check-in and TSA Pre-check made the process of getting to her distant gate easy. She grabbed a sandwich and settled in for departure.

As she finished eating, one of those dreaded airport announcements began. “Flight 393 to Denver has been delayed.” Since Spokane isn’t really easy to get to, Keri was going to miss her connecting flight.

Keri was already a day late from her original plans. Based on the local weather forecasters’ hype about winter storm Elliott, Keri had decided to play it safe and wait until the storm had passed her destination. Elliott had left the west coast and hadn’t reached the east coast yet. However, it was playing havoc across the middle of the country creating a domino effect in every direction.

With all the storm disruptions, flight alternatives were few and fleeting. Even with the help of customer service, there was no way to Spokane for the next few days. The customer service rep told her he would have her bag taken off the flight and she could find it at Carousel 2. “Probably in 30 minutes,” he said.

Forty-five minutes later, Keri looked over the range of suitcases and bags outside the United baggage claim office. Her bag wasn’t there. As she pondered who to ask, several people in United uniforms walked by. She couldn’t catch the guy with the jacket, but was able to stop one of the women in a United vest.

“Excuse me,” Keri said. “Since I’m missing my connection in Denver, I was told my bag would be pulled off my delayed flight and brought down here. How much longer do you think that will take?” she asked.

“Oh, honey,” the woman replied. “They’re not going to take your bag off a plane. We don’t have the staff to do that. Customer service doesn’t know baggage handling very well. They were wrong. Your bag will go all the way to the final destination because that’s how it’s marked.”

“Well, sugar-dugggar!” Keri thought with exasperation. “What now? Just what do I do now?”

Considering alternatives, Keri pulled out her phone and started researching. While she was standing in front of the baggage claim office, the man she’d seen previously stopped in front of her. When he asked if she needed help, Keri explained her situation. He asked, “Have you filed a lost bag report yet?”

“No,” Keri answered. “It’s not really lost. I’m told it’s going to Spokane. Can I get it back tomorrow?”

“Probably not,” he answered. “Come into my office. Let’s see what we can do.” Noticing the name on his name tag, Keri said, “Thank you, Saiad.”

Opening a file on screen, Saiad asked where she was going. “First, I am trying to find a new way to get to Spokane for Christmas. Then on Monday, I’m going to San Francisco for a week,” she answered. “How long will it take for the bag to get back here?”

“Probably two to four days,” Saiad replied. “We could have it sent to San Francisco if you’re sure you’re going to be there.”

“I don’t know yet. I had a flight out of Spokane, not from here. Let me see if I can get there,” she said as she frustratingly opened her United app. “Oh, this is going to take too much time!” she exclaimed.

“It’s OK, just take you time,” Saiad soothed.

“Where did this angel come from,” Keri thought as she thumbed through disappearing options.

With a flight finally reserved and file claim instructions modified to have her bag go to San Francisco, Keri left the office with her baggage claim ticket, her lost luggage file claim number, and two contact methods for tracking the bag. Since the her original flight was to land in Spokane, Keri went to bed with plans to confirm the location of her luggage in the morning.

Friday morning, coffee cup in hand, Keri opened the baggage tracking site. The response was, “No flight matches this claim.”

“What!” she exclaimed. “Maybe I was to use the other tracking number after landing.”

Having no luck with that number either, Keri tried the Chat option. After a total of 6 hours on hold, “chatting” with chat bots and a two hour wait for a live human to return her call, Keri learned both that her bag was back at Dulles and that it was at San Francisco waiting for her.

Finally, on the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 23, Keri found a Southwest flight through Las Vegas to Spokane on Christmas morning. She wouldn’t arrive until mid-day, but she’d have half a day with her family. The day after Christmas, Keri had a flight from Spokane to SFO to spend a pre-paid week with a friend. With hopes of her large bag being in San Francisco, Keri packed a few essentials and prepared to fly to Spokane.

However, just in case one of those baggage tracking messages was right, Keri drove to Dulles on Saturday morning. She wanted to be sure it hadn’t come back. As expected, her bag wasn’t there but surprisingly, Saiad was there again.

“Have you still not found your bag?” he asked.  “No,” she replied. “Let’s check,” he said. “Come on back to my office.”

After a system check, Saiad said, “It’s waiting for you in San Francisco. It’s in the locker on hold in the office.”

Keri drove back home with fingers crossed and thinking, “Now, what and how to pack?”

What if her suitcase really is in San Francisco? How many suitcases did she want to carry home?

What if her suitcase is not in San Francisco? What must she have with her for the week’s itinerary that she couldn’t buy in San Francisco?  Shoes, for sure. It was always hard to find just the right comfy shoes. And some special top. A pair of black pants are easy to acquire, but a well-fitting, perfect top? Not so easy.

“Oooh, my make-up,” she moaned. “I always carry it with me. What was I thinking when I put it in the suitcase?” 

“Eeegads. My hairbrush. And my flat iron!  And just where are all those little airplane courtesy packets of toothbrush and toothpaste I’m always shuffling through? Why can’t I find one now for tomorrow morning?” Keri exclaimed with frustration “I guess I’ll just have to ask for one.”

Christmas Eve

Matt

As Matt stood in line at the recommended Phillip’s restaurant, he rapidly became annoyed by the child in front of him. The curly-headed little girl of maybe 4 or 5 years old could not be still. She had bumped into his elbow three or four times, stepped on his shoes twice and came really close to his Harris tweed jacket with her lollipop one too many times.

“Geez, kids!” he thought and stepped back a bit farther while still trying to hold the appearance of being in line. He then turned his back on the child. “Maybe if I seem a long way away, she’ll stay closer to her parents,” he thought.

As he turned around, he saw a vision of Christmas walking down the mall. Glittery dress and “look-at-me” bright green heels with a big green bag just the right size for an evening’s entertainment. “Oh, my God! She’s coming this way. Stay cool,” he thought.

Elaine

Having planned and prepared for her Vegas getaway, Elaine stopped at Arundel Mills Mall to pick up a few things for the trip. Since she was practically all packed, she decided to cross over to Live! Casino for a little time at blackjack. “I’ll just warm up my skills for Vegas,” she chuckled.

She was doing great until she noticed the woman in a gold dress behind her signally the guy across the table. “Is that why my great hands aren’t winning like usual?” she thought with exasperation. “I’ve dropped over $400 before I even get out of town!”

In anger, she turned around and threw her Piña Colada in the woman’s face. “You deserve that, you cheat!” she exclaimed.

Sabrina

Sabrina had a successful walk around the mall. She had found a cute and sparkly little dress at Zara and some sexy pumps at Off Broadway.

“Thank you, God,” Sabrina thought. “These shoes make my little tote bag look like a perfectly planned accessory. How was I blessed with such a perrrfect match?”

“Now, when in Rome – Yada, yada, yada. Maybe some great crab cakes at the restaurant I passed,” she thought and then discovered a lot of others had the same idea. The line at Phillip’s was long. “However,” she thought, “That guy at the end of the line is kinda cute. Why not enjoy a little eye candy while I wait?”

Keri

Since her flight departed really early on Christmas morning, Keri had reserved a room at the Fairfield Inn near the airport for Christmas Eve. Not a choice she relished, but better than a really early drive from home.

Her Christmas Eve dinner was a tuna fish sandwich and a bunch of red grapes her neighbor had given her when she returned home Thursday evening. Plus, two Lindt peppermint truffles from her dependable chocolate stash. “Definitely memorable,” she mused.

After watching her church’s live streamed Christmas Eve service, Keri went down to the front desk to ask for that tube of toothpaste she needed. “The hotel is full tonight yet surprisingly quiet,” she thought.

She’d read a notice when she came in that housekeeping was off for the Christmas weekend. “Oh, man, they’re going to be really busy on Monday!”

Making Plans

The gorgeous woman in a gold dress walked over as Matt was trying not to watch. “Is this the line for Phillip’s?” she asked.

“Afraid so,” Matt answered. “I was told this was the place for crab cakes and since I’m stuck in town, I decided to try it. I guess the line proves the hotel clerk was right.”

The woman looked up and asked, “Why are you stuck in town?”

Momentarily stopped by her deep green eyes, Matt then replied, “My plane was diverted because of this damn storm. I was headed to New York to spend Christmas partying in the Big Apple with my little brother. So much for that. Here I am stuck in Baltimore,” he replied. “I’ve decided to forget New York and just fly to Vegas for some great food, the slots and maybe a show. It’s an overrated holiday, anyway.”

The woman laughed!

“What the hell?“ Matt thought. “Why is this woman I just met laughing at my bad news?”

“I was working a flight to New York that also got diverted here. And now, I’m assigned on a Vegas flight tomorrow. Welcome to my world,” she said and then added, “What flight are you taking?”

“The 6:00 a.m. flight on Southwest,” Matt answered.

“That’s the flight I’m working,” Sabrina said with a grin.

“Well, then let me start our conversation again,” he said with a nod. “Hi. My name is Matt. Since our travel plans coincide, shall we ‘coincide’ our dinner plans, too?  Care to join me for dinner?”

With a laugh, she answered, “Nice to meet you, Matt. I’m Sabrina. As for dinner? Sure, why not? Beats eating alone.” Then she exclaimed, “Oh! No insult intended.”  

Matt laughed and said, “None taken.”

“So, what will your brother do in New York City without you?” Sabrina asked over dinner. “Whatever and as much as he can,” Matt replied. “He has friends there. I’m sure he’ll be fine. Probably have more fun without big brother tagging along. How about you?” he asked. “What partying did you have planned in the Big Apple?”

“Well, my friend Samuel was throwing a “Crazy Christmas Eve Party tonight,” Sabrina replied.

“A Crazy Christmas Eve Party? What’s that all about,” Matt asked.

“I have no idea. How do you define “crazy” and “Christmas Eve” in the same breath, anyway?” she mused.

“I wouldn’t know,” Matt replied. “How would you do it here in Baltimore?”

“Well, I was headed for the casino,” Sabrina said. “Maybe something there?”

“Like what?” Matt asked.

“How could we be crazy at a casino?” she thought out loud. “Sing? Run? Win big?” Then commented to herself, “Like we could control that!”

“What do you think.” she asked him.

“I don’t know, I’m not much of a gambler,” Matt replied. “I play blackjack with my friends sometimes, but nothing serious.”

“Well, I’m seriously feeling dangerous tonight,” Sabrina stated. “Since you know how to play blackjack, why don’t we tackle it a little dangerously tonight? Are you up for just a little tiny touch of dangerous cheating?”

“It’s Baltimore, after all,” Sabrina continued. “Small potatoes in the gambling world. How much trouble could we get into? We’ll do something short and sweet. Since it’s  Christmas Eve, only losers are playing tonight, anyway.”

“What do you want me to do?” Matt asked.

Sabrina thought for a minute and said, “You said you know how to play blackjack, but not too well. I’ve been playing it awhile and in Vegas. After all, Southwest does fly there.”

“Why don’t I give you little signals about some opposing players’ hands. I’ve watched people do it in the movies. How hard can it be?” Sabrina proposed. “You know, I’ll stand behind them and tell you when to draw, bet, fold, etc. Maybe three or four rounds. Win a little, but not get caught. Something “crazy” for Christmas Eve. What do you think?”

“Perhaps,” Matt replied with hesitation. “If you’re giving me clues. Maybe I can pull it off. But let’s keep it small and be careful. I’m up for crazy, but not trouble.”

A high-five and the Crazy Christmas plan was made.

After enjoying crab cakes that totally lived up to their reputation, Sabrina and Matt headed to the casino. They chose a fairly empty table with an open seat on one end. At the other end of the crescent sat a beautiful Black woman who looked like she was really into the game. Their Crazy Christmas Eve game began.

Matt lost the first hand and then won the second. “I’m beginning to understand Sabrina’s signals,” he thought.  He won the third hand and they were working on a big pot for the fourth and final when the woman in front of Sabrina, turned and yelled, “You’re standing too close to me. You two are cheating!” Then she threw her fruity, sticky cocktail right into Sabrina’s face!

Sabrina looked down at her new dress, inexpensive but kinda cool. Then she licked her lips and turned white. “Pineapple! Oh, my God. Not pineapple!” She rushed over to Matt and said, “Quick, can you take me back to my hotel. I need my allergy meds as soon as possible. Get me out of here and get a cab. I’ll find my room key.”

Sabrina was quiet, but still functioning during the cab ride. “I’ll be alright if I get to my meds soon,” she told Matt. “I’m one of that small 1% who are allergic to pineapple.”

I just needed your help in case things go bad,” she reassured Matt. “It’s trouble, but not life threatening if I manage it quickly,” she added right before falling against him.

After a short taxi ride and a dirty look from the front desk woman, Matt got Sabrina up to her room. “Where are your meds?” he asked. “Pink bag on the vanity,” Sabrina stammered.

Matt eased her onto the bed and rushed to the bathroom, grabbing a coffee cup on his way. With the cup of water and pink bag, he returned to Sabrina. She was slumped over her knees and her face was covered in red spots.

After watching her drunkenly dig around in the pink bag, Matt took it from her and dumped it on the bed.  “What do they look like?“ he asked. “Purple. Oblong” she whispered.

After pushing aside mascara, perfume, toothpaste, a contact case and cleansing gel, and finally finding a small vial of purple pills, Matt asked, “How many?” 

“One,” she answered. He handed her the pill along with the cup of water, helping  her steady the cup as she washed down salvation.

“I’ll be OK in a few minutes now,” she murmured. “Thank you for your help. I really should have put that bottle in my tote. I know better,” she confessed. “I’m always careful with what I order and I don’t order fruity drinks. I never expected one to be thrown in my face.”

“Actually, I’m quite lucky that my allergy isn’t more severe,” Sabrina added. “My Crazy Christmas Eve could have been much worse! I was stupid.”

“I’m sorry, Matt. I could have ended up in the hospital, but worse yet, we could have both ended up in jail for cheating. Dumb! Dumb! Dumb!” she swore.

“Well, you seem to be recovering quickly now and we are safely in a hotel not jail. So, breathe deep and relax,” Matt instructed. “We did just what you wanted, Sabrina. We had a really Crazy Christmas Eve.”

“Yeah,” Sabrina giggled. Then she quietly added, “Crazy, all right. Listen, I’m glad you suggested dinner together. It really did beat eating alone,” she said with a smile. “I’m sorry I nearly ruined the evening for both of us. I’ll be OK now. I’ll recover by morning and see you on the Vegas flight.” 

“This crazy escapade will be out secret, right?” she added with a plea as he walked toward the door.

“Right,” Matt answered. “See you in the morning. Bright and early.” Then he asked with concern, “Are you sure you’ll be OK?”

“Yep. Sure of it,” Sabrina replied. “Thank you sooooo much for the help – and for the fun!”

As Matt left, he saw a housekeeper walk by with supplies. Another needy guest he assumed as he turned to look again. It wasn’t so much what she was carrying that made him do a double-take. It was the fact that she could have been Sabrina’s twin sister.

Christmas Day

Early Morning

Sabrina Henderson strolled past the crew security camera around 4:45. She looked a little haggard and not quite her best.

Around 4:50, Keri’s hotel bus shuttle dropped her off.

Elaine and Gabrielle parked the car and walked into BWI around 5:00.

Matt had enjoyed a few of the alcoholic amenities in his room after the experience with Sabrina. He rolled into the airport about 5:15 grateful that the security lines were short.

Total strangers, the four passengers arrived at the Southwest gate for their flight to Vegas. Each of them had a very different reason for being on that flight.

At 5:50 am on Christmas Day, boarding of the 6:05 flight to Vegas should have already been halfway completed. The gate operations manager, Dan groaned, “This storm has been a major Christmas week hassle. And that’s an understatement. Where are Kaitlyn and Sabrina?” he adds with frustration. Double checking his records, he sees the problem. “Oh, good grief. Another great day has started,” he sighs and picks up the mic.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we are waiting for our flight attendants to arrive. They both worked later than originally scheduled last night, so they legally can’t arrive until our schedule flight departure time. The flight will be delayed until 6:45 for their arrival and our boarding time. Please bear with us. As you know, this storm Elliott has caused problems for everyone.”

At 6:40, Dan was back on the mic. “Ladies and gentlemen, one of our flight attendants is here but the other one has not arrived. Therefore, we’ve called in someone who was off duty and need to wait for her arrival. We will keep you informed of plans as they develop. We apologize for the delays.”

Off to the side, his co-worker told him, “Sabrina came through crew security a couple hours ago, but no one can find her.”

Dan continued to provide updates, but no good news.  At 10:00 he announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the flight from Pittsburgh is arriving in five minutes. When it lands, one of the flight attendants will report to our gate in order to get you out of Baltimore and on your way to Vegas.”  The crowd collectively and spontaneously cheered.

Keri and Elaine had taken seats next to each other, quiet strangers for the first two hours of the day. During the second hour, small conversations begin. The man in the seat opposite them started singing Christmas songs and trying to get people to sing along. Only Elaine and her friend Gabrielle joined in.

When you’re waiting hours and hours, people watching becomes more entertaining.  Candy cane leggings with a green sweater walked by. A Grinch outfit floated by on the rolling walkway. A full white beard and head of hair under a Santa hat was followed by a jiggly, jolly Santa belly in a red sweater and camouflage pants. There were kids in Christmas pajamas and a few adults who were also, but shouldn’t have been.

The man across from Keri continued singing Christmas songs. Maybe once upon a time he had a good voice. 

As the rest of the world began to awaken for Christmas morning, Gate B4 filled with the hubbub of electronic holiday greetings from family and friends. During their texting, Keri told her friend Rebecca about her challenging attempts this week to get to Spokane. Rebecca replied, “You could write a Hallmark movie.”

Keri shared that comment with Elaine and her seat neighbor replied, “Yeah, a Hallmark Christmas Murder.” By the third hour, the two of them decide the missing flight attendant should be the victim.

On the way from Pittsburgh to Baltimore, the flight attendants were informed that someone was needed to work another flight immediately upon landing. Trevor volunteered. “I don’t have Christmas plans anyway, so why not go to Vegas?” he thought. “And, the extra pay will be nice!”

Around 10:15 a.m., when Trevor arrived at Gate B4, the crowd cheered again. This time with a bit more glee. As far as they were concerned, a Christmas Angel had just flown in.

Five hours after originally planned, the full flight departed. Surprisingly fully booked and with no rowdy, mean or cantankerous passengers.  It must have been the Christmas spirit, because the storm certainly didn’t encourage extreme patience.

As they circled over the airport, climbing to cruising altitude, Matt thought, “Sabrina must be the missing flight attendant. She’s not here. Maybe I should tell someone about last night.”

“If something happened to her and I was the last one to see her, I could be in a lot of trouble. Lots more than I nearly got into last night,” he mused. “There’s nothing I can do about it. I think I’ll just keep quiet.”

Epilogue

Keri celebrated Christmas in a Las Vegas Residence Inn with a frozen pizza and an ice cream drumstick for dinner. She and her family “exchanged” gifts via Facetime with laughter and a few tears. When she arrived in San Francisco the next day, her luggage was in the United hold locker just as Saiad had assured.

Exhausted, or maybe just disgusted, after the long delay, Elaine and Gabrielle took hot showers, changed of clothes and headed down to the casino. Celebratory drinks and a round at the Blackjack table their immediate goal. The bad luck of the night before must have been tossed away with the Piña Colada. Elaine won $1,000 Christmas night!

Matt landed a great package deal at The Aria. He called his brother to laugh about the different ways they had spent Christmas. The Big Apple had been a bit disappointing for Mark. Sorry, not sorry, Matt extended his plans and spent a week in Vegas with some great meals, a fun helicopter ride over the Valley of Fire, and a trip out to the race track. As for Sabrina, this author never decided how her story ended. Southwest employees had such a horrid holiday in reality, no fictional story could compete.

by Karen Justice

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