Column: Lost iPhone calls for fear, trembling


I know what my son, Austin, is probably thinking: It’s time to revoke the old man’s iPhone privileges.

For the second time in two weeks, he witnessed me losing my iPhone, both times during Indianapolis-related trips.

The first occurrence was at a downtown restaurant. The booth was cramped so I put the phone on top of the napkin dispenser.

After paying the bill, we walked through rain toward our distant parking garage, and I reached into my coat for my phone. It was not there.

Suddenly the symptoms of nomophobia, or the fear of being out of mobile phone contact, sunk in: anxiety, respiratory alterations, trembling, perspiration, agitation, disorientation.

“We have to run.”


“The phone! I left it at the restaurant.”

I raced for the restaurant. I hoped it was where I had left it. On the napkin dispenser.

TIME reports that a restaurant is one of the top 10 places where people lose their phones. There is an 80 to 95 percent recovery rate.

How many people I bumped off the rain-soaked sidewalks, how many cars I dodged crossing the wet intersections, how many creepy little JonBenét Ramsey lookalikes I trampled (there was a weird convention involving them that day), I’m not certain.

I envisioned myself as that high-octane Liam Neeson character in those “Taken” thrillers — only I was way more intense. 

I entered the restaurant, panting, sweating.

The hostess asked, “How many are in your party?” but I was already past her, reaching the booth and seeing my iPhone still on the napkin dispenser. Feeling my iPhone again in my hands brought a great surge of relief, joy and sense of security. I nearly wept. Nomophobia no more.

“Oh good, you found it,” a vaguely familiar male voice said from behind me. I turned, not recognizing the person for several seconds.

“Oh, hi, Austin. What are you doing in Indianapolis?”

Roll the credits.

Less than two weeks later: Lost iPhone Redux. We were a few miles outside Martinsville  heading north, when I asked Austin, “Do you see my phone?”

I pulled over in a panic, practically ransacked the car.

No phone.

Hello, nomophobia, my old friend.

“I saw you put it in your back pocket when we left Starbucks,” he said.

I remembered doing that, then I remembered what I had done next: I had put the iPhone on the car roof before ducking into the backseat to check on something.

We U-turned to Starbucks. Austin went inside. I scanned the entire parking lot. The phone was clearly missing — aka stolen! Where are milk cartons when you need them? Everyone was a suspect. I stared at the phones they carried. Anyone. It could be anyone. A sense of vigilantism overtook me. I saw a woman talking on an iPhone in a parked minivan — the exact spot where my car had been parked earlier. It was my phone. It had to be. My inner Charles Bronson surfaced. iPhone Death Wish 2. I closed in, glancing sideways for a loose brick or lead pipe. She glanced at me nervously, guilty-like. Unfortunately, I realized her phone’s protective case was pink. My OtterBox was black.

Austin stepped from Starbucks, shrugging. I jogged to the busy highway, crossed the southbound lanes and searched the winter-browned grass in the littered median. It was below freezing. I was coatless. People drove by, likely thinking I was one of those crazy men you sometimes see mindlessly meandering medians.

TIME reports that people putting their phones on the roofs of cars is also one of the top 10 ways people lose their phones. The recovery rate is somewhere between 25 and 70 percent.

I dreaded contacting my employer. I didn’t want to admit to foolishly putting the company phone on the car roof before driving. I used Austin’s phone to report my lost phone. “Go ahead, release the satellite beams that destroy the contents of my phone before the Russians get to it,” I dejectedly told the IT person.

Calmly, I was advised to first try the Find iPhone app on my son’s phone. I entered my Apple ID and password. A radar screen appeared, noting our present location at Starbucks. Then another blip appeared, showing the location of my lost (no, make that found!) iPhone, only 3/10  of a mile away on, or along, U.S. 37.

It took about 20 minutes of searching by foot to finally find my phone on the roadside, unscathed. I whooped and hollered, did a little roadside victory jig. Ecstatic to be reunited with my iPhone, I returned to my car and drove north, singing happily to myself. A few miles later, I looked at the empty passenger seat. “Austin?”


(A note from Austin: Dad didn’t really forget me and leave me behind along the freezing roadside. He was just trying to be funny. Still, I do think it’s time we have an intervention and revoke his iPhone privileges.)

Scott Saalman’s latest column collection, “Mr. Serious,” is available at Finishing Touches and Mad Batter in Jasper. Or you can contact him through Facebook. The cost is $10.

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