This is what I was doing. In fact, this is what I’m always doing when I’m riding buses or trains. But tonight, as I was riding the Blue Line home from a fantastic day riding bikes in Long Beach, someone plucked my iPhone right out of my hand and sprinted off into the night. Just like that.
My friend Molly and I had spent plenty of time choosing our seats for the ride home. Since we had our bikes, we picked seats at the center of the car, so we could stick our bikes in that funny accordion-like space, and sit right in front of them. Funnily enough, earlier in the day we had figured out we were both reading the same OMG SO GOOD book, The Marriage Plot, Molly in hardback, me on—what else?—my iPhone. We had agreed that because the book was OMG SO GOOD, and because the ride back to LA was so long, we were both going to read all the way home.
At the Grand station, just one stop away from where we were getting off, and just when I was getting to a really, really good part in my book, a single black knit glove plunged across the page and gently took the phone from my hand.
It took me a moment to figure out what happened. I remember reflecting on what a brief, graceful gesture it was.
And then I looked up to see a man swiftly exiting the train with my phone in hand.
I ran after him—and I was fully prepared to break into marathon-mode and chase his ass all the way to Santa Monica—but I paused at the door as it closed, realizing that my bike and my purse were still on the train. Would I have ran after him if I didn’t have my bike on the train? I think I might have, which may have been even stupider.
According to a San Francisco Chronicle article (via Daring Fireball), iPhones have become more lucrative than wallets, and more thieves are resorting to violence to get them: “It’s the modern day purse snatch—with better odds,” says one officer. So I thought it was a good time to review a few basics when it comes to your phone and riding transit. Maybe you know this stuff. But it’s always good to get a reminder, so here goes.
Hold your valuables responsibly. Duh, right? I thought I was good at being aware of my belongings. But look at how I was sitting tonight. I held my phone up in the air, at eye-level, in the aisle seat, a glowing, tantalizing treat. I didn’t even have my purse over my shoulder, which he very easily could have grabbed as well. I could have moved to the window seat and cradled my phone in my lap, which might have made my phone less appealing—or at least less visible.
Pay attention. Phone suck us in and force us to tune out the rest of the world, which makes us very easy targets. I was so enthralled with my book—because this book is awesome, you guys—that I was completely oblivious to anything around me. Headphones make the situation even worse; I actually never wear them in public for this reason. But maybe on those long, late train rides it’s better to put everything away and just focus on what’s happening around you.
Yell something like “That man in the black hat stole my iPhone.” As the guy took off down the platform, here’s what this eloquent, articulate professional writer screamed: “FUCK YOU!” To everyone around us, it probably looked like we were having some kind of relationship drama. I should have been more specific about why exactly I was chasing this guy, and then maybe someone on the platform would have at least seen what was happening and helped slow him down.
Ask everyone around you for details about what just happened. The reason why you have to ask them is because you probably won’t remember a thing. Luckily my fellow riders were supremely helpful in this department. The people behind us explained what they saw (unfortunately, not much). About five minutes late—but better late than never!—I suddenly something clicked in my head and I snapped into journalist mode, gathering information. I remembered to take note of the number of the car we were in and some basic details about what the guy was wearing.
File a police report. I wouldn’t have thought it would make any difference, but just before we got off the train, a guy encouraged me to find a Metro policeman and file a report. When I stepped off the train, I saw two LA County Sheriff officers and told them what happened. They were very helpful (and, thankfully, very funny). They said they actually have some luck finding iPhones with the Find My iPhone app, and they took me out to their truck where they had a computer I could use to trace it. And that reminds me…
If you have an iPhone, enable the Find My iPhone app. Find My iPhone is a GPS-enabled device that can not only locate your phone on a map, it can lock the phone and wipe your data remotely. But did you know that the Find My iPhone app now comes standard with your MobileMe/iCloud/whatever-Apple-is-calling-it-today account? Okay, I did. But what I did not know is that you actually have to register your device, so my phone couldn’t be found this way. It only takes a few minutes, and it’s totally worth it. Do it. In fact, do it right now. I’ll wait.
I’m still pretty pissed off about the whole thing, but on the way home I realized if I could pass at least one piece of advice along to someone out there who rides transit, then at least I could look at this situation as a learning experience. And I’m very lucky: I didn’t get hurt, I was never in danger and I’m glad I had Molly for support (thank you, Molly!). Honestly, mostly I’m just mad that I can’t read my book tonight. (I’m telling you, IT’S A REALLY GOOD BOOK.)
But on the bright side: Siri, tell me who’s getting a new iPhone tomorrow?
Update: One more tip! I purchased a new iPhone from AT&T and they now have phone insurance. For just $9/month you’re protected against physical damage or loss. This is a new feature that I didn’t know about, so if you purchased your phone more than four months ago, call AT&T and see if you can add it. With the way my phones have behaved this year (dude, I went through FOUR PHONES!) it seems worth it to me!
Another update: I was on All Things Considered today talking about this incident in light of a new service that will register stolen phones so they can’t be used anymore. You can listen to the interview here. Thanks to Jeff Brady for having me!