PART I. LOST
I live in Arizona, an hour from Phoenix in the East Valley. Without much effort, one can find trouble. With a little luck, one can find grace. I can take you to some isolated places where you quickly gain an understanding of both trouble and grace. Here, in the desert, seed beds of dissent and anarchist mindsets are fed and occasionally watered. These seed beds are protected by gates, locks and signs. When my partner lost her cell phone, we followed a signal from my “find phone” app that led us to such a seed bed. That’s where I first felt anxiety.
I stood at the gate and yelled hello, hello, but nobody came out to talk. I felt as though I was being observed, the hunter become the hunted. I recalled a warning from a resident, a few years ago, in the southern part of the island of Hawaii when we were talking about drug dealers living in their compounds far from roads and prying eyes. “Stay out” he said, “the cops won’t even go back there.”
Surrounded by putty colored stone and cement walls, three broken down trailers formed a small enclave behind the gate. Old boards were anchored onto the top of the wall and sticking up from these dirty boards, long rusty nails reached up to the blue sky. I stood outside the gate.
The message was clear and the signs were big:
NO TRESPASSING KEEP OUT PRIVATE PROPERTY
Three large chains wrapped around the gate poles were padlocked in the center. This foreboding wall protected a couple trucks, a Honda automobile, three old, ugly trailers, one with the windows busted, and one lost cell phone. I peered through the fence to see junkyard dogs, a tattered Confederate flag hanging limp, and tattooed men. I didn’t see guns.
The warm climate here leads to friendly outdoor exchanges (most of the time) except when it gets hot. Then people lose their patience and the universal finger-bird flies. Most of the time, snarkiness has something to do with cars, lines, or food. Sometimes the effects of hot weather exaggerate natural tendencies. Sometimes people are just mean as a way of responding.
Anarchy comes from the Greek prefix an, meaning without and archos for “leader” or “ruler.” The defining tenant of anarchy is a disdain of government combined with a belief in personal freedom. They want to be left alone and they will use violence to insure their rights for isolation.
I wanted to ask them about a cell phone.
PART II. LOCATED
Cell phones are like perfect friends: they talk to us; they listen to us, and in photos or videos deliver our best memories at the touch of a finger. The mementos of Evelyn, Debbie’s two year old granddaughter were on her lost phone, and that’s why she was willing to bridge the gates of hades to find it. I was there based in confidence that we would find grace and not trouble.
March 17 started well. I thought about my son celebrating his 28th birthday, and I made tentative plans to stop at an Irish pub in Chandler called Fibber Magees to hear Irish music. It was mid-morning when Debbie went to Planet Fitness. Somewhere in their parking lot, she thinks she lost her phone.
I thought St. Patrick’s Day would bring Irish music and fun, but “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley,” wrote Robert Burns.
We live in Apache Junction, Arizona, and while Apache Junction is known as a good place to retire for economic and weather-related reasons, there are many trailer parks. Some of these are well-kept and offer clean recreational halls, pools, workout facilities, and even golf-courses but other parks don’t.
The “find phone” app showed me that Debbie’s iPhone was in a trailer park – a park we had not seen – but living here I’ve learned life is like a box of trailer parks. We drove there and began knocking on doors rousting people from their square air-conditioned hives. They looked at us with furrowed brows. Nobody knew anything about a cell phone.
Using my phone to track hers, we saw the signal move as two pre-teen boys came toward us on bicycles. We stopped them and asked if they knew anything about a lost cell phone. They protested innocence and even opened their pockets as if to say, wasn’t me.
Before leaving the park, we placed notes in mailboxes and offered a small cash reward. We knew it might take time to recover her phone but the word was out. Unsuccessful, we went home.
On my computer, I checked on the accuracy of GPS-enabled Mobile Phones by reading online from the Journal of Navigation, which maintained that very large errors in position location are rare. GPS-enabled Mobile Phones can pinpoint a phone’s location to within 5 – 8.5 meters. I realized when we knocked on trailer doors earlier that morning we were close, but not close enough.
During the next three hours, I watched the signal from Debbie’s cell phone showing it had moved from where we searched. If we were close on our first trip, I thought that perhaps her phone was not in the trailer park, but on the other side of the cement wall, in an area that looked like a compound.
A couple hours later, we went back hoping to speak with someone in lock-down territory. I yelled out hello, hello. Nobody answered. As a last resort, we left a note for them in a stuffed mailbox at the end of a long, dusty driveway. She wrote, “The pictures and videos of my granddaughter are on my phone. I’d really appreciate a call.” We left my telephone number, and went home unsuccessful a second tim
PART III. RECOVERED
Recently, I watched two young hikers that had run out of water step into a parking lot from the desert. Their eyes stared into the distance while they marched straight to their car where they found the only thing they wanted, water. Later that afternoon, I saw that look in Debbie’s eyes when she left for work after two failed attempts to find the phone. There was only one thing she wanted. We knew where it was.
I thought we might have a chance to recover her phone, so I took a third trip and vowed I would not return without it. But this time it was different. I drove my Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Turning the corner and heading down the long driveway toward the compound, I caught a glimpse of someone closing the gates. My cycle is loud, and it caught his attention. I motored up to the gate, but before I could dismount, a young man removed the chains from the front gate and came out.
He was about five feet six, wearing jeans but no shirt. I noticed a couple of ear rings, very short hair, and too many tattoos to count. Mostly, I noticed bulging muscles and a thick neck. Had he been green, I’d have sworn it was the son of The Incredible Hulk.
He said nothing but came directly at me. I braced for the worst. Then he said, “Big respect on the bike man. That’s bad ass.”
Yea, I said, how do you like these Maltese cross mirrors?
“I noticed them right away,” he said.
I realized a connection had been made by my Harley-Davidson motorcycle. I hoped to open it further and adopted language I thought would speak to him.
Yea, man. I’m just lookin’ around for my ol lady’s phone. She lost the damn thing. Has all the grandaughter’s pictures on it.
The son of Hulk looked at me. “I’ll ask around,” he said. “I’m just trying to clean things up around here. I don’t want all the drama.”
Anything you can do man would really help. Losing the phone sucks. She really would like to find it. Thanks for askin’round.
I leaned forward to turn the key in my bike’s ignition, but before I did, he said.
“Oh, you’re the people that left a note in the mailbox this morning. I remember that about the grandchild.”
Uh hu. That’s really the only reason she wants it.
I sat still, gazing away. He looked at me for a second then said, “Wait, what’s that over there? Looks like it could be a phone.”
Twenty feet to my right, I saw the tip of a lavender-shaded phone cover sticking out from under a bush next to the wall. I walked over, picked it up and realized it was Debbie’s phone. The display glass had been smashed, and it was covered with a dirty imprint resembling a boot’s sole.
“I just saw it,” he said. Turning toward the gate, he walked away and threw up his arms. “I don’t know anything about it.”
He locked the gate and said, “It’s nice when things turn out good for a change.”
The symbols of Harley Davidson and grandchildren opened the barriers for talk, and they worked on the heart of one man, one time, in one small town in one state. I experienced the power of symbol to budge the most hardened of hearts.
In 1979, when the Egyptian, Israeli, and United States leaders were gathered at Camp David in an attempt to secure the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, talks between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadad had completely broken down. The barriers seemed insurmountable.
Then President Carter took a photo of his grandchild from his billfold and showed it to one of the leaders. Each of them took turns showing photos of grandchildren. A connection was made. They went back to the table; hope was born anew. It took a long time, but out of this small connection, the Camp David Accords, securing peace between Israel and Egypt, were struck in 1979.
The son of Hulk was right, it’s nice when things turn out good for a change.
Zandbergen, P., & Barbeau, S. (2011). Positional Accuracy of Assisted GPS Data from High- Sensitivity GPS-enabled Mobile Phones. <i>Journal of Navigation, </i> <i>64</i> (3), 381-399. Doi: 10.1017/S0373463311000051