How my iPhone became a badass, and why I love humanity

The iPhone on the day of “the accident”

I’m just going to say it. My phone is kind of a badass.

Sometimes, when my phone is having a drink with other phones, the conversation gets personal and he takes off his shirt. The scars never fail to get a reaction.

“Oh wow!” “Is that Scotch tape?” “Ouch!” “Are you OK?”

OK? My phone grins. I’ve been tweeting and emailing and photo-taking every day since … the accident.

My phone gives me a look. My wallet peeks out of my purse to listen in. That’s when I know it’s time to tell the story of the event I consider a lucky break, a wake-up call and a miracle. A story that’s not so unique, and — considering the imminent arrival of the iPhone 5 — one you might take to heart.

We were going to go camping near Cle Elum, Washington. Me, Jason and our friend Sara in one car, our friends Sarah and Guillaume in the other. We stopped at a gas station in North Bend, picked up some snacks, and got back on I-90, headed East.

Twenty minutes later, Jason brought up scurvy, like you do. Neither Sara nor I knew what nutrient the body has to lack to contract the disease, so I opened the glove compartment to ask my phone. It wasn’t there.

Immediately, I knew why. I’d left my phone on top of the car at the gas station. Along with my wallet.

heartstop Ohgodno. /heartstop

Mónica Guzmán

I rolled down the window and patted the roof of the car at 65 miles an hour like an idiot (Jason’s idea). Then we turned around.

While Sara and I scoured the Mt. Si Chevron parking lot, Jason found my soft white case amid shattered glass alongside the roundabout near the ramp to I-90. But no phone, no wallet.

I thought about the roundabout. Fifty minutes earlier, while our car waited for the other to get through a light, we did about four laps around that thing. Sara and I even stuck our arms out the windows and said, “Whee.”

We. Said. “Whee.”

I was losing it.

“Maybe you can track it,” Sara said. A phone is not a mere object, after all. It is a magical, wonderful object, capable of knowing precisely where it is when you check in, snap a photo, or leave it on the effing roof of your effing car.

But no, Sara. No. Setting up a way to track my phone would have allowed us to know where it is in just minutes using Sarah’s WiFi enabled laptop, so we wouldn’t have to consider crazy things like making a public announcement at the next-door McDonald’s. Preparing for a situation like this would have been smart. Mónica, today, is feeling very, very stupid.

It was in the midst of this self-loathing that a low, dark, two-door sports car pulled up beside us, both windows  rolled down.

Whee! … Oh, crap. The area in question, including the Mt. Si Chevron and the fateful roundabout leading to I-90 E. Click for larger version.

“Did you lose a phone?” said a man in his twenties from under a sideways baseball cap. “‘Cause we found one out by the highway.”

heartstop What? /heartstop

In a cupholder between this guy and the driver was a phone, naked and wounded, but intact. The guy in the cap handed it to me. His name was Frank. The other guy, Paul.

I couldn’t give Frank a hug through the window. But I tried.

They’d seen the phone on the grass by the entrance ramp to I-90, pulled over, picked it up, and come back to town to see if anyone had lost it. They didn’t find a wallet. I didn’t care. Sara and I waved goodbye and squealed. What was more ludicrous, pieces of glass were falling off the phone’s back, but everything worked. Even the camera. I took Sara’s picture, just to prove it.

Jason, Sarah and Guillaume returned from a crawl up I-90, wallet-less and pragmatic. Did I get Frank and Paul’s full names? Did I get their license plate number? Sara and I had been talking about tracking my phone when they pulled up. Maybe they had both my phone and my wallet, but figured they’d give up the phone so we couldn’t find them. The phone and wallet should have fallen near the same place. Maybe Frank and Paul weren’t coming back to find the owner, but to shop at the outlets next door with any of my three credit cards. People aren’t always good, Mónica. People can be bad.

deflation I know. I know. I just … forgot.

I am so attached to my phone that my wallet seemed an afterthought. How messed up is that? My wallet had my license, my credit cards, my insurance card, a couple gift cards and about $120 in cash. Replacing the iPhone is $200 at an Apple store (or so I thought at the time. See update below). Replacing these?…

Then there’s security. Why don’t I ever think about security? Frank and Paul said they were about to look me up on my own logged-in Facebook account because — oh, right — I never locked my phone. Now someone somewhere has my address and my credit cards’ three-digit security codes.

Stupid. Very, very, very stupid.

I grabbed a napkin from the gas station to keep the broken bits of phone glass from cutting me. Jason canceled our AmEx. We considered getting back on the road. I thanked everyone for being so helpful. Then my phone rang.

On the phone with Jaremy, learning that the missing wallet had miraculously been found. (Photo: Sarah Schacht)

“Hey, Mónica. It’s Jaremy Rich. I’m calling about your wallet?”

/deflation collapse

Jaremy, a social media geek now at Seattle’s PopCap Games, had just gotten off the phone with a woman named Elle who was driving with her boyfriend when they found my wallet near the highway. They’d found his business card in the wallet and called him.

By the time Jaremy gave me Elle’s number, I was crumpled on the floor outside the gas station, holding my phone tighter than I should have, considering the prickly parts.

The next day, after a camping trip full of its own misadventures, I met Elle MacDonald and Zach Malanca back at the Mt. Si Chevron. They’d been running late to see Sound Garden at the Gorge when they saw a wallet fly off the roof of a car in front of them and scatter its contents onto the grass by the highway entrance ramp. They’d pulled over and picked up all the cash and cards they could find, which was pretty much everything. I offered them $40.

“No, keep it, Elle said. “We just did what had to be done.”

A couple weeks later I made an appointment at an Apple store to have my phone replaced. I didn’t go.

People are good. The scars are a welcome reminder.

How do you keep tabs on your phone?

I installed Apple’s own free Find my iPhone tracking app the day after “the accident.” Windows Phones have a similar native service available called Find my Phone. Android users have apps like Lookout and Plan B, which you can install after you’ve lost your phone.

When she heard the story, Seattle social media geek Keridwyn Deller recommended, a service that helps people who find your lost devices find you by making it easy for them to report the find online or via text. The cool thing about this is, it works for anything — even something without GPS.

What do you use?

Update: As Briana Saunders pointed out, while repairs on an iPhone can run in the $200 range, a new iPhone can cost $600-$700 if you’re still in contract — which I am. Thanks, Briana! And, for the umpteenth time, thank you, Frank and Paul!

Mónica Guzmán is a Seattle journalist and community strategist who consults for startups and media and can usually be found tweeting away at @moniguzman. Also see this archive of her weekly GeekWire columns.


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