When I travel and work abroad I have some criteria for where I stay. A hotel needs to:
- Be close to a main train station or an airport. Despite what I sometimes joke (and I’m sure some people believe) I don’t have a chauffeured limo at my disposal.
- Have easy access to where I’m working and cheap food close by. I don’t eat at all well when I’m alone. That’s one of the reasons I’ve put on weight.
- Be cheap. Or as cheap as cheap can be. As long as a hotel’s clean I don’t see a lot of point in spending excessive amounts on a bed to sleep in, especially when I travel alone.
- Reasonably priced internet access if possible. I prefer to pay for better-than-free connectivity, but I won’t be fleeced into paying double figures per day, especially when I’m in a hotel for only a few hours per day.
The hotel I’ve stayed in this week in Geneva meets three of those criteria, the fourth — twenty-five Swiss Francs per day wifi, made the Starbucks a few hundred metres away the perfect choice for a quick coffee and connection.
I’ve travelled to Geneva a lot over the last few years. I’ve stayed in a dozen hotels across the city centre and even around some of the more colourful areas of town, I’ve never felt unsafe. So I didn’t think twice about taking myself, my iPhone and my Macbook Air, grabbing a latte and sitting outside a Starbucks in Geneva city centre at 9:30pm.
I pulled out my laptop and started work on the slides for an upcoming workshop. I took out my phone and made a quip about watching drunk people trying to walk straight, and started a DM conversation with Anna. Instead of popping the phone back into my pocket as I would normally do, I kept it on the arm of the chair, occasionally glancing to see if Anna had replied.
At that point, out of nowhere, a man rushed into my space, snatched my iPhone, its HardGraft case (the third I’ve bought) and the sixty Swiss Francs tucked inside. In a split second, he, and they were gone.
It took a second to realise what’d happened. My instinctive reaction was to stand up and shout “Hey!” dropping (and denting) my laptop in the process. I picked up my computer and without thinking chased after him.
Geneva at that time of night is still busy with people and as I ran I shouted, asking people to stop the man. No one did, but two pointed me in the direction he’d run. I chased him across town, but the truth is I’m overweight, unfit and in no state to run someone down. I got within fifty feet of him but then he lost me in the back streets.
It did’t occur to me for a second what I would do if I’d caught him. It was foolish to even attempt to catch him. If my son had done the same thing I’d have told him he was a damn fool. That it was only a phone and that his safety was more important. Of course in the moment, reason goes out of the window and it’s only later that I wondered if he were carrying a knife?
Having lost him I headed back to Starbucks where the staff were unhelpful, but they did point me in the direction of a police station a few streets away. Then I remembered Find My iPhone.
There was no internet access at the police station, so before I filed a crime report I ran to my hotel and pleaded with the receptionist to let me use his computer long enough to log onto iCloud. Find My iPhone is amazing — although I’ve only ever played with it, sending myself messages and playing alert sounds — I knew that I’d left my 3G connection data roaming, so there was a good chance the phone could be located.
But I’d turned off Location Services to save my data allowance.
Without Location Services, Find My iPhone couldn’t locate the phone, only send it alerts and sounds (like the thief would respond to those,) remote lock or wipe the phone. I knew I wouldn’t ever see the phone again, so I wiped it. I’ll never, ever, make that mistake again.
Back at the police station I reported the crime to the same young officer with just enough English to match my French. Somehow we got by. I explained where I’d been and what had happened.
“What did ze man look like?” He asked.
“Average height, medium build, dark hair.”
“White skin, medium black, very black?”
“Medium black, I think.” I’d only glimpsed the man for a split second.
“Moroccan” the policeman said matter of factly and with a shrug.
“I’ve always felt safe here.” I said. “Does this happen a lot?”
“Geneva is safe” he replied, “but ze phone and bag snatching ’appens all ze time. Do you has the eye-mee number of ze phone?”
Well of course I don’t. I don’t think I’ve ever known it. I certainly don’t have it written down or stored in 1Password. Yet another example of me taking my safety and my property for granted I suppose. Not knowing that number likely means that if by some miracle the phone is recovered, it’s unlikely to be traced back to me. Still, I fully expect never to see it again. So with a crime number obtained and a report filed, and my heart still pounding in my chest, I went back to my hotel and phoned home on a landline.
It could’ve been so much worse I suppose. The thief could’ve snatched my wallet and with it my credit cards and passport. That wallet contains the key to my locker at work too, my favourite pen and an airport car park ticket. Thank heavens they were in my pocket. I could’ve been carrying my laptop bag and lost my car keys. I could’ve been beaten up, stabbed or worse. Fortunately all I lost was a phone, my innocence and some pride.
My phone will need replacing of course, but now’s a terrible time to buy a new iPhone so I’ll likely wait until a new version is launched later in the year. In the meantime I’ll try to make do with the old 3Gs I have in a drawer.
It’s a terrible time to replace my damaged laptop too. Although the damage is only cosmetic, I’m fastidious about my equipment and I can’t bear to use a damaged machine. The newly released Macbook Airs are certainly an option, but I promised myself a retina Mac next and the current Macbook Pro options are not for me.
I guess for now I’ll stick with what I have and my laptop’s dented corner and scuffed edges can serve to remind me not to treat my safety and my property so lightly in the future.