Searching for meaning in the saga of a lost cellphone


AUSTIN, Texas — My life recently was burdened by what passes as calamity for those of us blessed with advantaged lives. I lost my cellphone.

The heartbreaking saga began as I was leaving a local middle school and I did the pocket smack to make sure I had my phone. I did not. Those of you who’ve lost a phone know the feeling. It’s not like losing a relative, but it’s close (depending on how much you liked that relative).

It was clear to me that I was a victim of my own carelessness, not a victim of crime. The phone was in a less-than-secure pocket and slipped out. I retraced my steps but didn’t find the phone.

After determining that life somehow still was worth living, I reported my personal tragedy to the school office, expecting, I don’t know, something like a campus lockdown/search until my phone was found. Inexplicably, the school had other priorities. So I went home and activated the“Find my iPhone” app on my iPad, which allowed me to lock the missing phone and have it display a message to call me at my home number.

And, though it allows for tracking of a lost phone, it told me nothing about where mine was. So, figuring I’d probably never see it again, I moved to the next stage of grieving by going to the Apple store and, $215 later, walked out with a newer phone. Through the miracle of the cloud, it had all the stuff (photos, contacts, apps, etc.) that was on my lost phone. I know the CIA uses this technology to track my every move. It’s worth it.

Back up your stuff, people.

As I left the store, an email popped into my new phone: “Kenneth’s iPhone has been found.” (Apple calls me Kenneth, like my late mom did when I screwed up, as in, “Kenneth, we need to be more careful with our cellphones, don’t we?”)

At that point, the tracking kicked in and the phone still was at the school. Good, I thought. Then it started moving. Bad, I thought. It came to a rest at a residence a mile and a half from the school.

What does one do with such information? A close adviser advised against pursuing the phone, counseling that I should just enjoy my new phone and move on. Good advice, I thought. Then I allowed myself to be lured by the siren song of a trouble-making colleague here at the paper. We got in his truck and headed out in search of my lost phone.

(The colleague shall remain anonymous because a portion of the tale does not reflect well on the parenting skills in his family.)

We headed to where the Apple app map said my beloved phone had come to rest. I knocked on the duplex door and, as friendly as can be, I told the lady I’d lost my phone and tracked it to this location. No phone, she said. And no kid who goes to the school where I lost it. Yeah sure, I said to myself while apologizing for bothering her.

My colleague knows cops. He wants to be one when he grows up. He called a cop he knows. And he approached a cop who happened to be near where we thought my phone was. Somehow, and shockingly, that on-scene cop had something more pressing to pursue than my lost cellphone. (Memo to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo: Can we please get our priorities straight?)

About then, my colleague’s wife called him to say she had forgotten to pick up their son at his high school about two hours earlier. So now, like the school and the cops, my colleague somehow had something more important to deal with than my lost phone. Unfathomable. We picked up the stranded son, whose grumpiness dissolved into delight when he realized the potential fun of being involved in two old guys’ pathetic search for a lost phone.

I was ready to give up on the phone, but my colleague, though due at some fast-approaching dinner event, was not. As time went by, he sounded more and more like a cop. We were just this side of saying things like “perpetrator” and “person of interest” and “10-4.” His son seemed intrigued by the possibility of gunplay.

At that moment, in that truck, all three of us were keenly aware that nothing in the world — not global hunger, not the MoPac Boulevard construction mess, not the possibility the authorities would seize the child that had been left at school — was more important than my phone.

As we plotted our next move, our persistence and intelligence paid off. Actually, what happened was my new phone rang, bringing the news that a woman had called my home number to report that her son had found my old phone.

I called the woman. Reward negotiations ensued. Is there a reward, she asked? Fine, I said, 25 bucks. And without leaving an opportunity for further negotiation, I got the address and we headed to it.

Turns out it was one duplex over from the door on which I had knocked, making it a good thing that my colleague did not talk his cop friends into calling in the SWAT team on what turned out to be the wrong address.

I knocked on the door, met the mom and kid, paid the $25 reward and got my phone. As I headed out, the mom said her son had one more question. He wanted to know if he could have $50. The deal having been done, I said no. In addition to learning that honesty can have its rewards, I hope the kid learned that negotiations should be completed before the deal is done.

Later, I headed back to the Apple store, returned the new phone, got my $215 back and had the old phone reactivated.

Some bottom lines, and I’d be interested in your thoughts:

The kid probably should’ve turned the phone in at school instead of taking it home. Fine, either way, I got my phone back. And I was OK with paying the reward, but would not have allowed my kid to ask for a reward. Accept a reward? Probably. Request one? No.

Ken Herman is a columnist for the Austin American-Statesman.

© 2014 Cox Newspapers

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