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  • James Wheeling

The Pain of Theft

We spend a lot of time thinking about it in our busy, 21st century lives - security or the lack of it. We have to watch and arm our personal devices, our bank accounts, our vehicles, and our homes against someone hacking or sneaking in to take something from us. Everything has a password that has to be remembered, a tall order for most of us. But, after a recent experience, I’ve become a believer.

I have nurtured my 12-year-old story on the laptop my daughter purchased for me with her university student discount. I have always been nervous around technology. Thirty years ago, hitting the wrong key that would make the college term paper disappear is still a nightmare. Maybe that is why I still own my college typewriter. When storing documents to the cloud became a necessary thing, I agreed but really wondered how that worked exactly.

In December 2021, we went to Denver for car repairs and errands before a big trip. We decided to stay in a well-known, national chain hotel a block away from the dealership since we weren’t able to secure a loaner car. Part of our chore list was to have my husband’s iPad battery updated, so a trip to the Apple store came before the car appointment. With about an hour to wait before the technicians could look at the iPad, we decided to check into the hotel and come back to the computer store before going to dinner.

I will confess that when we arrived at the hotel parking lot, we were distracted. One of us on the phone while the other tried to juggle as much of our stuff to the room as possible in one trip. Oh, and then we needed our masks. Back to the car for the mask. Chaos at its best/worst. At the check-in desk, I realized I didn’t have my laptop in my collection of stuff. Figuring I left it in our locked car, I got the keys and went back for it. It wasn’t there. Anywhere. Not in the car, not on the roof, not on the hood, not anywhere. Now positive my husband had it, I waited until I got to the room before I rifled through his document bag. Not there.

Then I saw it. A one inch by two inch piece of yellow paper setting next to the TV remote on the table. A notice by the hotel saying that the local police have warned the hotel’s guests that a local group was targeting the hotel’s parking lot and stealing… laptops and GPS devices. I raced down to the front desk and asked if they had seen my purple-cased laptop as I checked in. Nope. I asked if they had surveillance cameras in the parking lot to help me learn what happened. Their response? “Our cameras are inoperable at this time.”

Back in the room, phone call over, my husband and I figured out how to lock my laptop, use the “find my device” setting and start the pinging sound. We heard no pinging anywhere.

Most of us have lost things, or even had things stolen from us, in our lives. But to have been predated upon, when someone knowingly doesn’t take steps to disclose the immediate danger, brings an overwhelming sense of betrayal. Their lame little sign in our room covered them from responsibility. That was it. Nothing more. No security presence in the parking lot, no operable camera system, nothing.

Enter in my personal need to find the blessing from this situation. I am grateful we are in a financial position to return to the Apple store and actually buy a new iPad for me, on the spot. Passwords are so hard for me but I’m grateful to say I actually remembered those required to access my account, link to the cloud and, deep sigh, find all of my life’s literary work.

Physical theft is one thing. Intellectual theft is another. While my old laptop was gone to some crime ring for its parts (I hope it was too old for them to gain any good from it), I worried my story was vulnerable. I’m grateful to the techs at the Apple store who assured me not once or twice but about five times that my data was protected and no one could get to it.

And now, as I write this, I’m grateful to say that while having my laptop stolen was traumatic, this iPad is pretty nifty. Still learning how to go from computer programs to apps but I’m getting more comfortable every day. My take-away from the experience? Material stuff is just that, stuff, until you spend so much time and energy with it that it feels like a body part. Oh, try to keep track of your passwords, trust the cloud and when a parking lot says they aren’t responsible for thefts, they mean it. And finally, thanks to my husband for having been a strong, non-judgmental support through the trauma of it all.

You’re all caught up on my ancillary writing topics. In my next blog, I’m going to share what I’ve learned over the years about what it was like to sail around Cape Horn in 1849. Harrowing to say the least!

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