Yesterday, I left my iPhone at a suburban gas station near Minneapolis. I discovered the loss a few hours later outside the city, as my friends and I sat near Lake Minnetonka, preparing to brew Turkish coffee. The coffee thing is a ritual many Jewish-Israelis my age enact whenever they go out in nature, a custom adapted/stolen from the Beduin, a Middle Eastern nomadic people. Today, we would call it “cultural appropriation.” (People all over the region drink the beverage; it’s the squatting in nature while brewing over a small pot that is the Beduin thing).
I used my friend’s phone to call my partner back in town; she has a “Find my Phone” app that tracks me and close friends, and vice versa. Having survived the Iranian Revolution, she likes people to know where she is in an emergency. She was busy at a party but within seconds was able to locate my phone, wandering throughout the city.
By nightfall we were back in town and the phone had settled in northeast Minneapolis. One of my friends had to go, but the other was able to stay. My partner texted us the address, we drove to the house, knocked on the door, and asked if someone there had brought an iPhone home “by mistake.” A man and his daughter kindly replied they hadn’t, consulted the tracking map with us, and suggested other homes the phone might be in. We knocked on doors, but no luck.
I suddenly thought of my hearing aides. Although I often don’t wear them – they are uncomfortable and annoying – I do carry them with me. One of their most endearing/annoying features is their bluetooth link to my phone. When I’m wearing the aides and my phone rings, the sound explodes inside my brain.
I put the hearing aides in and my friend started calling my phone. It hung up after a few rings, but he kept redialing. Suddenly, I picked up The signal. Within moments, we had identified it as coming from one of two parked vehicles, a sedan and a van. We peered into each, but couldn’t see much. My friend called again and a device suddenly lit up in the van’s front seat. Bingo!
We called the police but they told us to sit tight; other, more important things were happening in the area, and we’d have to wait our turn. After all, the Minneapolis police have been busy over the last few months…..not in a good way. We sat on the curb while my friend told me about the plant-based diet he was pursuing and which had had remarkable results. Within an hour, I was convinced; plants and beans were the way to go. As he spoke, I brewed Turkish coffee on the curbside.
A man eventually walked out of a nearby building. “Can I join you guys?”, he asked. He was in a chatty mood and sat down on the sidewalk to talk; he seemed a bit drunk or high. His mother-in-law was in a nearby retirement facility and she’d asked him to bring a bottle of gin. After a while, he got up up to enter his car; lo and behold, it was the van in question. He cheerfully admitted picking up the phone, explaining he wanted to “save it” for the real owner. He surrendered it without question and we called the police to cancel the incident.
As we turned to go, my friend and I exchanged a few words in Hebrew. The man turned and yelled, “You’re Jewish! My cousin lives in Tel Aviv.” I laughed; we had to be the only three Hebrew-speakers for miles around. The neighborhood was heavily Asian, and the thought of meeting a Hebrew-speaking Russian Jew in that location seemed unlikely.
We exchanged a few more pleasantries, wished each other Happy New Year, and gently turned down his suggestion of a reward.
With the help of multiple technologies, I’d found my overpriced iPhone, saving me money and hassle. But as I drove away, I thought about all the nefarious ways in which that same technology is used worldwide; drones, missiles and all manner of eavesdropping devices are scattered across the globe, doing all kinds of nasty things.
If it had taken a handful of ordinary people only a few hours to find a missing iPhone in a metropolitan population of three million, how easy must it be for national security agencies or corporate entities to track whomever they want, whenever and wherever?
In the meantime, my partner has kidded me into getting a “utility vest” with retractable tethers for phone, keys, glasses, hearing aides and wallet. She’s seen me lose too many things too often, including a laptop that sparked a similar adventure months ago. I Had messed up her dinner party and bolstered my reputation as the guy who loses stuff. The least I can do is is try and fix things with the technology of yore; lanyards, clips, tethers, and string.