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My bus stop is a block from my apartment. It’s not a major stop - few people get on or off there, but I do almost every day and this day was no different.
I had just gotten there and sat down to check when the next bus was coming. I pulled out my iPhone, safely nestled in its cute little fox case I had picked up from Nordstrom Rack a few months ago, and before I knew it, it was gone.
A teenage boy I hadn’t really seen come up to the left of me had grabbed it out of my hands with these freakish, vampire-like reflexes and started running down the block. I hopped up, yelled “Hey!” with fierce indignation and ran after him.
It wasn’t a movie chase or anything. I mean, I’m a big fat girl, and I don’t think I’ve run for anything since high school. And this kid was seriously flying down the block like a track and field star. He was going so fast that his baseball hat actually flew off his head. I thought shit like that only happened in the movies.
A bit stupidly on his part, he was flying right past a police station. So I ran up to a nice policeman who was getting in his patrol van and said (hysterically screamed) things along the lines of please go find my phone, that running dude stole it. The policeman sent me inside the station. And this is where we start.
Here the five things that I thought about while waiting the hour and 45 minutes for a police officer to take my report:
1. Holy shit. I am in a police station.
I have never been inside of a police station before. A girl walks up to the counter and snaps her gum. She says she’s here to get her stuff from the other night. The officer at the counter asks her when she was arrested and Gum Girl responds, “last Tuesday” so casually like the officer had just asked her the last time she ate pizza or something.
This world is a world that I am not familiar with, this casual response of arrest dates and I am immediately uncomfortable.
Here’s the thing: I’m pretty much a goody two-shoes. I’ve never been arrested. I’ve never fought anyone. I’ve never committed insider trading. I’ve never even smoked a cigarette. And I’ve never been the victim of a crime before except for this one time in college when someone broke into my car and stole my burnt orange corduroy Nine West hobo purse filled my journalism class notes and a digital tape recorder.
Then I remind myself that despite being a mostly goody two-shoes, I’ve done a few things that probably could have gotten me arrested had I been caught. I think everyone has at some point.
So I’m not hating on Gum Girl. She’s just here to get her shit and get home. Me too, Gum Girl. Me too.
2. Fuck. I am bored. How long has it been, like 4 hours?
No. It’s been like 20 minutes. I cannot believe how slowly time passes without something to do. I reach into my purse for my phone and …. oh yeah. Shit. I immediately get annoyed because I was in the middle of a book on the Kindle app and I probably could have finished it by now if it weren’t for these meddling kids.
I think about what emails I’m missing. I mean, nothing, I’m sure, but there’s got to at least be a Gap sale going on I could shop at. I wonder if this police station has open internet terminals? I see these two computers at the other end of the waiting room and go to inspect them but it turns out they’re just there to print Emergency No Parking signs.
I realize then that I am addicted to my smartphone. I feel phantom vibrations in my purse and I plunge my hand into its depths, hoping that I just lost my phone in my purse like I always do, forgetting that some kid plucked it right out of my hands. I think up pithy captions to the imaginary photos I’m taking with my imaginary phone so I can post it to my imaginary instagram account.
I am embarrassed about myself and my pathetic need for constant entertainment. If all of our phones and internet and computers just disappeared one day, how would we cope?
I entertain the idea that maybe I’ll go back to a non-smartphone way of life. Like maybe I’ll go buy a $20 flip phone and call it a day. It wasn’t so long ago that I was one of the flip-phone, my fingers determinedly pressing number buttons repeatedly to eke out texts. I think of all the times I’ve pulled my phone out of my purse at dinner with my boyfriend just to prove myself right about such-and-such fact, and I start to inwardly groan at this monster I’ve become. But this only is a brief thought as I soon realize my output of adorable cat photos would greatly diminish.
I start to become desperate for my original form of recreation. Books! Books! Why hast thou forsaken me? And then I remember that I stopped stashing paperbacks in my purse at some point in the past year because I started reading everything on my iPhone.
I hate myself.
3. I wonder if they can get DNA from that kid’s hat that fell off.
No, Ashley. You’ve been watching too much Law and Order. Nobody’s going to pull DNA off a baseball cap to try to find your iPhone. Nobody cares about your missing phone. Even Encyclopedia Brown himself doesn’t give a shit about your missing iPhone. If you went to ask Encyclopedia Brown to take your case, he would be like, “Nah, not worth my time. I’ve got some fishy baseball cards to inspect.”
I am perversely pleased that this kid’s hat fell off, though. It looked new, and I hope he spent a ridiculous amount of money on it. I consider going outside and grinding it into the dirt but decide against it because I’m a lady. Also because it’s cold.
4. I hope that kid doesn’t look through my photos folder.
But I’m going to say some more.
It’s not just the (unconfirmed) boob pics. I mostly feel dread that my entire life is on that phone. My name, my address, my banks, my e-mail. My 1,000+ photos of my friends, my family, my cats. My Facebook, my Twitter - everything. He could know quite a lot of things about me in 10 minutes. The names of my cats. How often I text my mom. What I ate for dinner last night. What I bought from Amazon earlier that morning. How much I weigh. The number of steps I’ve taken. How much money I have in my bank account. How many times I’ve been to Starbucks this month. My taste in music. What I’m reading. The things I still need to buy for Christmas.
I don’t know why it’s okay with me that so many details about my life are published on social media or on the internet, but the thought of this guy knowing information about me makes me want to cry. Is it because of choice? Because I choose what information to let out and what information to keep in?
I call my boyfriend and tell him to wipe my phone via the Find My iPhone app.
5. This is going to cost a lot of money to replace.
I start shifting around my finances in my head. If I paid off $400 on my no-interest card that I was putting all my Christmas presents on, then I can buy a new phone with that credit card. Or I can take a bit of savings? Maybe I can convince my mom to take back whatever present she bought me for Christmas and just give me cash instead?
I become irrationally angry that I have to pay $500+ to replace something that wasn’t my fault. If I had broken my phone or lost it and I had to replace it, then fine. I can deal with that.
But this, I didn’t even do anything. I was just sitting there, waiting for the bus. I feel annoyed and violated and angry all at the same time.
Later that evening, when my boyfriend drives me to Georgetown so I can go to the Apple store to buy a new phone, I become inexplicably sad as the clerk swipes my card, sad to the point that I am fragile and easily broken, and when my boyfriend asks a simple, unrelated question on the way home, I burst into tears.
The police officer comes to take my report. He smells nice and has blond hair. We sit in his car while he takes my statement. He apologizes for not knowing how to turn down the radio, saying that he normally drives a motorcycle. I am charmed and look for a wedding ring, thinking of at least 4 girls I know who would want to date this man but I can’t figure out a way to bring it up in our conversation about my stolen iPhone.
He is sympathetic, but I know that this happens all the time. Nearly half of the robberies in DC and other large cities are smartphone-related. I am not optimistic about getting my phone back, or the kid who stole it ever being arrested. As I leave the officer’s car, he apologizes again, gives me my case number and that’s that.
I start the walk back to my apartment. I notice the kid’s baseball hat is gone. I wonder if he snuck back to get it while I was waiting inside, or if somebody else found it and thought, “Hey, free hat!” I hope it’s the latter. I’m sure that kid doesn’t actually care about his baseball cap, but the thought of somebody stealing something that was his fills me with a vengeance-tinged glee.
While I’m waiting to cross the street, I see a familiar shape. My boyfriend came home on his lunch break to see if I was OK. He walks toward me, takes my hand in his, and we go home.