By Matthew E. Milliken
Aug. 29, 2015
The Great Phone Meltdown of 2015 happened at an inconvenient moment.
In mid-December 2012, my Parental Unit bought two Apple smartphones: A 16-gigabyte iPhone 5 for P.U.’s own self and, as a very generous gift, a 32-GB iPhone 5 for me. This was a very spiffy upgrade from my previous (and first) smartphone, an iPhone 3GS.
The phone served me well, from shortly before my second trip to the Rose Bowl (which happened to be my first in-person viewing of a Stanford Cardinal victory at the Rose Bowl) up until… well, up until Wednesday, Aug. 19, 2015.
A close friend, M—, whom I refer to as my godsister, had invited me to join her family at a cabin in the mountains around Harrisonburg, Va. The rental began on the fourth Saturday of August, but since I didn’t wish to join them for the entire week, I planned on heading up there on the 19th.
These were not, alas, the best-laid plans. I didn’t finish packing until after 12 noon on the 19th. I wasn’t able to go grab what I hoped would be a quick lunch until about 2 that afternoon. And at the pizza joint, I found myself behind an older woman and a frail, elderly man…who…took…forever…to order their lunch…and…to…pay…for…their…purchase…
It ended up being around 2:30 p.m. when I got in my car and began driving north on Duke Street. And then I began fiddling with my phone.
See, I’d noticed as I was leaving the restaurant that the phone wasn’t going to sleep. Belatedly — since I’d been fretting over the delayed start to my trip — I cottoned to the fact that the sleep/wake button wasn’t working.
Normally, the iPhone can be cured of any minor malfunctions with a reset. (Turning the phone off and then turning it back on can have the same beneficial effect.) So I tried to reset the device.
But this time, it didn’t work.
“It didn’t work” is an understatement — a vast understatement, in fact. The phone turned off, which is part of the reset process. But it didn’t come back on again — at least, not for more than a fraction of a second.
Now, I was a little bit frazzled even before this happened. I was about to travel to a place I’d never been. The route I’d chosen ran through places and on roads that were largely unfamiliar to me. Rain was forecast for the area ahead of me, which could easily make the trip hazardous. And I hadn’t written down the address or the directions that I needed. Nor did I have the phone numbers of my hosts handy.
This information was not entirely unavailable — it was on my laptop computer, which I’d taken with me. (I’d planned to do a non-trivial amount of writing while I was at the cabin.) But using a laptop is (obviously) not safe while driving, and due to the presence of the steering wheel, laptop use is rarely fun even when the car has come to a complete stop.
I decided to call off the entire trip. I couldn’t go away without a phone.
I hadn’t gotten very far when I made this decision. I was approaching Eno Valley Elementary School, a mile or two north of where Duke Street merges with Roxboro Road; I steered into the left lane when I saw the school and turned onto Milton Road, where I managed to make the right choice when confronted with the twin entrances to Durham County North Regional Library and Carrington Middle School.
I parked in the shade, rolled down my windows slightly and kept on trying to reactivate my phone. Every time, the Apple logo would flash for a moment and then the screen would go black.
I walked into the library with my backpack, picked out a table by one of the bay windows along the north wall and pulled out my laptop. After a few more unsuccessful tries at restarting the phone, I sent my godsister an apologetic email saying that I wouldn’t be coming to the house after all.
I was disappointed and embarrassed and even angry (at myself) that I hadn’t been able to conduct a simple road trip, but I attempted to make the best of things. Don’t think of this as a vacation gone wrong, I tried to tell myself*. Think of this as a staycation gone right.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple. A few twists lay ahead, as I would discover later that afternoon and then the following morning.
* Standard disclaimer: Since I wasn’t taking notes or making recordings at the time of these events, all dialogue and thought bubbles are guaranteed to be only kind of, sort of accurate. Fortunately for you, the valued reader, this free blog comes with a money-back guarantee!