Kindness and creativity in Kroger's parking lot.
From the February, 2019 issue
I don't know how many times I've felt the momentary terror and angst of misplacing my cell phone and the euphoria of finding it wedged under a couch cushion or car seat, stashed inside my desk or a pocket, or beneath my bed. But it was nothing like the Monday in November, when the loss of my contacts, photos, voice mail, and text messages--my identity--became real.
I had just arrived at the Observer to proofread and edit. When I reached into my pocket to get my phone, it was missing. I left the office and retraced my route from the Maple Rd. Kroger, where I'd parked my car. The helpful Find My iPhone app was unhelpful, due to my uninformed changes to it, coupled with my failure to write down my most recent Apple password.
Yes, I told well-meaning friends and family, I'd tried my driving and walking routes. I'd looked in the usual and unusual spots in my car and home where the wily device had been previously found and creatively sought possible new ones. I even checked the freezer where I'd once retrieved my glasses. At my friend Linda's seventy-sixth birthday party at Haab's, I endured the litany of well-meant, but irritating, suggestions that I'd already tried.
Of course no one could call me, but at 11 p.m., as I prepared to go to bed, I saw an email on my computer from Sabine, the Observer's deputy editor:
I just got a call from a guy with a heavy accent who has found your phone! I couldn't quite understand what he was saying, but I told him I'd let you know and hopefully you could call your own # and get in touch with him. He must have called me because I was a recent call!
I don't have a phone to call him from. Please call him, and see if he can bring the phone to the Observer.
Sabine didn't reply (she'd gone to bed),
but then an email from my sister Laura popped up:
I know where your cell is! A guy has it!
I gave a heavy sigh, then wrote back:
How about giving a sister a break? Who has it, and where is it?
She didn't reply--she, too, had hit the road to dreamland. But then I got yet another email--this one from Linda, the birthday girl.
She, too, had gotten a call from the man who'd found my phone. She, too, had difficulty understanding him--but her roommate, Amalia, overhead the conversation and recognized his accent: Nepalese.
Amalia recognized the accent because she had a friend who spoke Nepalese. She called her friend on her phone. Then she and Linda put their phones on speaker and held them together, so Amalia's friend could translate for them.
And that's how they learned that the Good Samaritan trying so hard to find me was an older man from the mountains of Nepal. He gave the translator his address but suggested it might be easier to retrieve the phone at his place of work.
It took a while for the translator to understand what he was saying.
"Cardamom, like the seed?" she asked.
The man responded, "Yes, yes!"
I wanted to go straight to the address and pick up my phone that night. When I emailed my plan to Linda, however, she suggested that going to a stranger's apartment at midnight might not be the best idea.
I agreed to wait until morning and go instead to Cardamom, the Indian restaurant in the Courtyard Shops on Plymouth.
I was still elated when I went there the next day. I asked for the man who'd found my phone, but he wasn't at work yet.
However, his roommate and coworker was. He reached under the counter, pulled out my phone, and presented it to me.
I asked how it had been found. In broken English, he explained that his roommate had been walking across the parking lot on his way to Kroger when he found it on the grass. He took it to the store's customer service desk but was told no one had asked about a missing phone.
He waited for a while, hoping someone would call so he could explain what happened and have them contact me. No calls came, but the phone was unlocked, so he tried the first three phone numbers from its history: Sabine, my sister, and Linda. I asked him to pass on a cash reward and when he tried to decline, I insisted.
Later, I came back to meet my benefactor, with another Cardamom employee serving as translator.
I had to ask: had it not occurred to him to keep or sell the phone?
"It was the right thing to do to return a belonging to a person," he replied. Compared to a phone, he said, "honesty is more priceless."
A few weeks later, leaving a movie theater with my friend Debra, I saw a cell phone next to a car in the parking lot. We took it to the ticket counter, where I left it with a note asking the owner to call me with his or her own lost phone story.
To my disappointment, I didn't get a response. But Debra pointed out at least it had been a great opportunity to keep good phone karma going.
[Originally published in February, 2019.]
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