Up to this point, all my posts on Rancho Land pivot between what was then and what is now and are replete with interior hyperlinks connecting to additional research. That is not the case with this story. It is not steeped in history. There are no links to additional research. However, it does tap into something that I think many people believe was more plentiful in the past and not as abundant in the present and that is kindness. I offer up this story of a weird Sunday to counter the narrative that kindness is locked away like a sepia photo in a dusty box in an attic of a bygone era. It is very much alive, in this case buried in an iPhone.
Two weeks ago, I had plans to meet my friend Scott at a park in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles. A month earlier I organized a clean-up day in my neighborhood. I had put together a box of supplies with dustpans, gloves, and plastic bags. On the day of the event, we ended up with a nice group of people, many who were friends of Scott, and we filled twelve bags of trash. It was so satisfying that I told Scott that if anyone else would like to produce something similar, I will loan my clean up box and brooms. A few weeks later, Scott told me his friend was doing a clean-up day at Pico-Robertson, I said, “I’ll bring my box.” So, there it was in my date book, August 29th 9am. All was good, except for one thing, I totally mismanaged my time in the morning and was running very late to the event.
Knowing everyone was waiting for me, I raced to get dressed and get to the car. Carrying the box of supplies was easy but navigating the brooms took a couple trips and here is where I made a big mistake. I put my phone on the roof of my car so I could use both hands to adjust the brooms.
As I was driving, I heard a noise, it was a thump which I thought was the brooms bumping each other. When I got to Airdrome, I turned right and realized I was not near a park. I pulled over to get my phone and confirm the location. It was then I realized my phone was not in my purse. It was not in the center console or the passenger seat. It all came back to me, I had left the phone on the roof of the car. I panicked but before I could do anything about the phone, I had to get the box and brooms to Scott and his friends who were waiting for me. I had no phone to check my location but as discussed in a previous post I do keep an old Thomas Guide in my car, just in case I needed to go analog. I dragged out the book, looked up the park and once I arrived, I gave everyone the supplies. I asked Scott to call me just in case it was somewhere in the car. He dialed and we heard no ring. My heart sank.
I back tracked my route; I went slowly down Robertson and Third looking for anything shiny and flat. My eyes landed on a lot of bags and other pieces of plastic, both hard and soft, but I did not see anything like a phone. My brain went back to the thump. I recalled vaguely where it happened and I drove like a snail on 1st with my eyes darting left and right. Nothing. When I got home, I checked the parking spot in case it had fallen there. Nope.
I was so angry with myself for doing two bone head moves: mismanaging time in the morning and then leaving the phone on the roof. My anger was now manifesting as anxiety. I ran into the house, and yelled to my son, who was still in bed, “Jack I lost my phone, check Friend Finder. Where am I?” No one likes to wake up to that greeting and Jack added to my anxiety, “Oh, my god, that’s terrible!” Then he followed, “You are on 1st and Poinsettia. Go get it!”
Running down 1st street, I hit an obstacle at La Brea. The light was an extra-long red light that on Sundays favors La Brea. My anxiety elevated. The light turned green, and I ran, it was then I realized bone head mistake number three, leaving my house without a bra. I can’t imagine what I looked like, but I am sure it was not pretty. Huffing and puffing I got to the corner. I scoured everywhere. No phone on the lawns, not in the street, not in the gutters, I looked around all four corners. No phone. A woman sitting in her car in the shade of a glorious Ficus tree asked me if I lost something. I told her my phone and she said, “Oh, no!” Panic of a lost phone is something we all can relate. She then asked if she should move her car. I thanked her but I told her she was good. She had a gentle face, something about her reminded me a nun. I appreciated her kindness.
As I walked back home, I continued checking the street, wondering if Friend Finder got the location wrong. I poked through gutter leaves. This is when my weird day got even stranger. About two blocks east of Poinsettia I found a phone. Not my phone, it was a newer, bigger iPhone 12. I thought, “What the hell?” I picked it up and told myself, “I’ve got to get this back to whoever lost it.” Once at home, I asked Jack to come with me, I felt we needed two sets of eyes and we would use his phone to vector in on my phone. I left the other phone on the counter.
When Jack and I got to 1st and Poinsettia we looked at the map and now it appeared that the phone might be in one of the houses. I asked Jack the time, it was ten thirty. Not too early but still kind of awkward to be knocking on doors. We looked at each other and then marched up to the first house. We knocked and there was no answer. Since the map is a bit general, we then knocked on the door to the south. No answer. We now crossed the street and knocked on that door. This time we heard a little noise. Jack said, “I think someone is here.” I got excited. We waited a minute, the peep window opened. A teenage girl greeted us, we explained the story and when I said I left the phone on the car roof she said, “Oh.” Through the peep window I saw her face sadden. She asked what time it happened. I answered around nine and she said, “None of us are awake at nine so no one could have seen it.” But she followed up, “Let me take your number and I will call you if we find it.” Jack gave her his number.
Feeling fatigued and disheartened but still unwilling to give up, I said, “Let’s hit this house.” We went to the next house. A woman opened the door and walked out on the stoop. She was dressed like she had already begun her day. We explained the story and she too responded with “Oh no!” A Lost phone is a universal pain. She then asked, “Have you called it?”
I turned to Jack, “Oh, for heaven sakes, we haven’t done that yet!” The woman looked at us with forgiving eyes. At this point I felt like a total idiot. We watched Jack dial the number and then we heard it. A faint ring. Like salmon charging up stream all three of us headed towards the calling. The woman and I went towards the hedge, Jack went for the tree near the curb. My phone is set to tower bells and the chimes got louder as we headed to the street. Jack yelled, “I found it! There in the bottom of the tree, propped up next to the huge roots was my phone. The woman laughed, Jack smiled, and I felt ninety minutes of anxiety evaporate out of my body.
In one nano second, I flashed on what had happened. I accelerated at a stop sign, the phone fell off the car and landed in the cross walk. My neighborhood has many orthodox temples and people walk back and forth all day. Someone found the phone, took it out of the street and nestled it into the tree roots to protect it. They probably guessed I would use Friend Finder.
All three of us were thrilled. I told the neighbor, “You get to do three victory laps today for being so practical and smart.” She laughed and wished us a good day. The lady in the car saw me and asked, “Did you find it?” I said, “Yes” “Oh, thank goodness” she yelled. It struck me how her kindness under a Ficus tree mirrored the kindness of someone else under a Ficus tree.
With my phone issue completed I now had a raging fire in the belly to find the owner of the other phone. Once it was charged, I saw the mystery phone had a password block. I could bypass the password only by making an emergency call. When I tried to make an emergency call, I got a prompt that the phone was not hooked up to WIFI and it was on airplane mode. Luckily it allowed me to hook up to WIFI and now the phone came alive. I saw updates from Twitter and IG and there was an email update. It did not show the whole email, but it was confirmation for a Covid test at USC for Monday. I was excited, I could drive down to USC on Monday and talk to the testing people and hopefully they could find the phone’s owner. I also thought about going to an apple store and looking up the serial number and of course I thought that maybe the phone would ring, and I could connect with the caller. Feeling like I was on my way to something, I took a moment to eat lunch.
Just as I was wrapping up my salad, I heard a strange ringing. It did not sound like any apple phone ringer I had ever heard. I raced to the phone, and I saw a phone number and a message, “I’m in front of your building, please bring me my phone.” I tried to pick up the call to tell them I would be right down, but the call could not be answered. I took my phone and dialed the number, but it would not go through. It felt like a ghost number. I raced to put on my shoes and hoped I could get down the stairs and out in time before the person would leave.
When I ran out the building I saw two young men on the opposite corner, I waved my hands, “Hey, I am over here! I have your phone!”
The guys walked across the street. I’m not sure who they expected to greet them, but I think I saw relief on their faces that it was a middle-aged woman. “Whose phone is this? I asked. “It’s mine”. The young man seemed shy. He said in a soft voice, “Thank you.” I introduced myself and asked their names.
Malik had lost the phone and Tomas was his friend. Malik said, “You have no idea how grateful I am you found it.” I said, “Oh, yes I know. Very well. I found your phone because I was looking for my lost phone.” They looked shocked. “What do you mean?” asked Malik. I told them the whole megillah and how it was found in a tree. Malik responded, “I’m so glad you lost your phone.” I said, “Me, too. I would not have found your phone without losing my phone.”
I learned they were both seniors at USC and Malik was going to go to law school and Tomas was going into cyber security ops. It was Tomas who used an APP to call the lost phone without exposing his own number. Very smart. When I asked Malik why his phone was on airplane mode, he said, “Honestly I don’t know.” I said, “Ah, that’s why you have cyber ops Tomas as a friend.” Tomas responded, “We were on our way to buy a new phone.” I said, “Who has $800 to buy a phone these days? God knows I didn’t want to spend money on one.” They both nodded, I continued, “Although your phone does have damage.” The three of us huddled around the phone, we looked like a MASH team around a wounded soldier.
Tomas said, “Let me see it.’ The late summer sun sparkled on the cracked screen. A dog being walked by a neighbor barked. I wondered if anyone could guess why the three of us were together. Did we look like family? Sweat on my forehead reminded me that I never took a morning shower. Maybe I looked like I was scoring a drug deal. Do people even do that anymore? I looked at their fresh faces, I was so glad I found the phone. I thought of the randomness of circumstances that brings a Baby Boom Gen with Gen Z. I thought how much I love when the Universe conspires in weird ways even if it means I am a bonehead. Tomas looked up, “This will only cost a couple hundred bucks to fix.” Malik and I both sighed. I asked if it was okay if I took their photo. It was such a weird story that I had to document it. They said yes. I took the photo, shook their hands, and said goodbye.
I often hear a longing in many people who feel that at other times, other eras, people were nicer. People were kinder. While I do think people may have been more polite, not as loud, perhaps not as many swear words and brusqueness in public. I don’t know if they were kinder. I see people doing so much for other people all the time. Especially in the last few years when people are more aware of the inequities in our city. I would also argue that kindness in other eras was truncated by racism and culture. People being nice often to the people in their same racial socio-economic cultural groups. In my little Sunday morning knucklehead journey, I crossed races and cultures. The kind Pilipino woman who offered to move her car. The Orthodox Jewish teenager and her neighbor who made the important and smart suggestion which helped me find the phone. Of course, there was the very kind person who picked up the phone and nestled it in the tree. Who was that person? Not one of these people knew me. We share no circles. Just people tapping their kindness. I was fortunate that I got to help Malik. Again, culture and socio circles dissolved when I gave Malik, who is African American his phone. How would I have had that opportunity in some random way fifty years ago? I don’t know. What I do know is that this is what kindness can look like in 2021, not muted in sepia shades, it is bright and iPhone bold in our present-day Rancho Land.