Everyone makes mistakes.
Little ones. Big ones.
And sometimes, really, really stupid ones.
Today I have one of those moments that seem to change the course of things to come. A moment I’ll come to regret in the weeks after. A moment I am still embarrassed to talk about because it shouldn’t have happened to me. A moment I recall when people ask me about my trip and I feel strangely obliged to share my misfortune of this day.
Today doesn’t start off terribly though. It’s our first morning in San Diego, and Kristina escorts us to Cabrillo point, where we see a hazy distant view of San Diego, peek into some WWII bunkers, and go exploring around the coastal tidal pools. I listen bemused at the inquisitive questions a child asks her father about the creatures residing under the water. We also stop beside a war memorial cemetery with row upon row of arched tombstones, lined up perfectly like short trees in an eerie plantation that seem to go on forever.
Our outing moves into the city and we stop at a quirky and eclectically-decorated little place for a very delicious and satisfying lunch of burgers and double-thick chocolate milkshakes (the kind that leaves you feeling a little queasy afterwards …)
I still haven’t bought a US sim card for my brand new iPhone, so next stop is the T-Mobile store where I successfully procure and install said sim. Hooray, I can start using my phone now!
We head across the road to one of those ‘10 dollars or less’ clothing and accessories shops and the name displayed on the front promises ‘everything’s a deal!’. It’s no surprise that three women together are drawn to such an inviting concept and we split up to browse for our own tastes in style. Annoyingly, the shop does not come equipped with change rooms, so we are inevitably forced to try the items on over our current clothing in front of mirrors right there in the store. And so, off come my camera bag, sunglasses and little satchel handbag and I place it bundled on the floor discreetly under a rail of clothing, right by my feet. All three of us stand there, trying on the various clothes, and though the words ‘just watch my bag please’ (which we say so often here in SA) never gets muttered, I naively assume that Megan or Kristina are doing so. Blame the euphoria of retail therapy and the determination to find the better size in a particular item, I momentarily step away and when I see Megan standing by me – with her handbag – she asks me where mine is. I don’t exactly rush back, but when I bend down to get it, all I see are my sunglasses, camera bag and shirt.
You know those moments where you think your eyes are just tricking you and you’re going to see it any second now and you’ll get that wave of relief crashing over you?
Yeah well, that didn’t happen.
The reality hits me like a hard punch in the gut. No no no no no no.
My handbag is gone. Six day old iPhone. Wallet. Bank cards. $60 cash I had drawn thirty minutes ago. International and SA drivers licenses.
Passport with visas.
I look under and near the railing about a hundred times, not crying, not shouting, just quietly freaking out. By now Kristina has phoned the police and gotten a case number while simultaneously getting someone to log into my Apple ID to ‘find my iPhone’. I run upstairs and suspiciously check out everyone remaining in the store. But they must be long gone. The staff at the till are pathetically blasé about the whole ordeal and I have to demand to see security footage – which confirms a woman carrying an armful of clothes had bent down and scooped up my bag as my back was turned.
My panic turns to anger and then helplessness.
Why oh why was I carrying my passport with me?! Everything else is inconsequential – even the phone, but my passport … that is real cause for concern.
Kristina gets a response that the tracking on my phone is showing up in the direction of the Salvation Army down the road, so we follow in hot pursuit. Here’s the thing with the ‘Find My iPhone’ functionality though: It’s about 90% accurate. And we are tracking a small phone, not something that’s super large or visible. It’s telling us that it’s in the parking lot. On an empty parking space ..?
We make it ping, I search through disgusting bins, unashamedly look into cars, eye out customers in the shop, convince ourselves that it’s been thrown in a locked dumpster, and eventually give up as the darkness sets in. Kristina’s husband Chris has subsequently joined the search and we stop at his office to use the internet. I freeze or cancel my cards, file an online police report, and write a very difficult e-mail to my dad – somehow trying to explain my stupidity without getting more angry at myself. They insist I call home though, and the moment I hear the sound of my mom’s voice all the tension and stress of the afternoon pile themselves into a messy bundle of vulnerable sobs. I want to go back in time and not get my bag stolen. I want to be home. I want to be with my parents.
Right now, reality sucks.
But … at least no one got hurt. Everything else is replaceable.
Out of curiosity, we track the iPhone again. Chris recognises its new location as a dodgy San Diego neighbourhood – the kind of place you don’t go strolling around at night. Especially if your skin tone is of the whiter complexion. But at least it’s not in Mexico already!
We watch the pulsing green dot seem to move from door to door and in an odd playful manner, sending the culprit – or whoever was in possession of it now – a mixture of English and Spanish messages, stating we know their location and generally just messing with them. The game makes the whole ordeal for the briefest moment a bit adventurous, until I remember that it’s my precious possessions I’ll probably never see again …
By now it is past 9pm and we are all ravenous and exhausted. Kristina and Chris very kindly buy us dinner at the TGI Fridays. It’s remarkable how naked one feels without a handbag, but on the other hand I am surrounded by people who care and helped me get through this horrible disaster of a day.