The Sketchy Resurrection Of My Beloved iPhone

I love my phone more than you do yours

Time To Read: 10 mins | March 28, 2017

Here’s a fact that’s not up for debate: I love my phone more than you love your phone.

Now, if you know me, that sounds counterintuitive for a lot of reasons. You probably can’t go anywhere without your phone; well, I leave mine behind constantly. Maybe you spent $59.99 on your cover; I simply stole my friend’s from 2013. You, after days of experimentation, probably have all your apps organized just so; I still can’t find Google Maps without thirty seconds of searching.

But here’s the thing: you, in a heartbeat, would trade your phone for an upgrade. Or even a new version of the same model, so long as you could import all your settings. Whereas I refuse give up Seward until he’s literally nonfunctional.

That’s right, his name is Seward and he’s a train wreck. Certain parts of his touchscreen don’t respond. Neither of his cameras, front facing or selfie, works anymore. As he constantly reminds me, he hasn’t been backed up in 73 weeks (and counting). And if I really wanted to make him feel worse, I’m sure I could come up with half a dozen other defects that no one else but I understand.

And that, right there, is love. I know the ins and outs of Seward like a human, because that’s what flaws make you: human. Only machines are perfect, and who could love a machine?

{

Knowing the imperfections, but accepting and appreciating them anyway – that’s what Hollywood taught me love was.

His list of flaws recently grew by one. After being dropped roughly fifty million times, I’d come to believe that Seward’s 5s screen was made of asteroid metal. But in the end, it was a gentle one-foot fall off a dirty couch that ended his myth of invincibility. And the screen didn’t just crack — it looked like a dog-eared page in a book, as the top right corner simply fell out.

Not to worry though, this is what scotch tape is for. I slapped the piece back in, sealed it with only the finest plastic adhesive a rundown hotel front desk could provide, and Seward kept on keeping on through Panama and Texas and New York.

Then Colombia happened. Or rather, a drunk middle aged man sleeping underneath me happened.

…that came out wrong. What happened was, not knowing anyone in Bogota, I’d opted to stay in a hostel for the first few days – still the best way to meet people south of holding a ‘Free Hugs!’ sign in a local park. And while I did randomly meet a girl who was currently attending my alma mater (no one’s ever felt older), I also met Dat. That was actually his name. Dat was from Argentina and, when Dat slept, Dat sounded like he had percussion grenades lodged inside a deviated septum hooked up to Metallica’s tour amplifiers.

At 3:00am, after deciding I’d likely get busted if I smothered him in his sleep, I instead grabbed Seward, plugged in my headphones, and played the xx on loop. Which worked admirably – I fell asleep just as Dat’s snoring synched with the bass line.

But I woke up to discover than my unconscious Neanderthal-sized head had crushed Seward’s fragile frame even further. That battle-tested screen was now popping out of the frame, the shabbily repaired corner peeling off like an old scab.

I tried more scotch tape to no avail. Seward would turn on and open apps, but only if said apps were on the bottom half of the screen. Anytime I needed to click something above the phone’s equator, it miraculously translated that finger press to mean something completely and utterly unintended.

{

Speaking of, I apologize to anyone in my contacts who received a screenshot of my Netflix account information – and before you get any ideas, yes, I’ve changed the password.

Considering the severity of my beloved phone’s condition, it was time to bring in a professional. Thing is though, you don’t usually associate Colombia with technological prowess. I’d been there for six days and had been apart of as many power outages. iPhones were common amongst the locals, sure, but there were also a disturbing about of Razrs in circulation. The majority of my taxis had side mirrors held on with duct tape – which I understand is not really technology, but it still doesn’t inspire confidence.

What’s more, the day after Dat’s nightlong nose concert was a holiday. As soon as I realized the severity of Seward’s condition, I asked the local behind the hostel’s front desk where I might find a phone repair shop – he thought this was hilarious. “Not today. Colombia holiday. We no work.”

When I asked what the holiday was, hand on my heart, this was his response: “I don’t know. It’s a holiday. We have lots of holidays. Colombians like holidays, not work.”

The timing of this arbitrary day off was unfortunate for another reason. I was slated to leave Bogota for Medellin that evening, a 10-hour overnight bus ride, and experience has taught me that, inevitably, someone within a 3-seat radius will have a sinus infection. Spotify on loop is the only thing that drowns out the snorers, and earlier experimentation with Seward revealed that he had no intention of playing music until his screen was replaced.

So I ignored the clerk and used the Google to look for iPhone repair shops. The number of options was startling, something like 30 different stores and kiosks and random strangers on the street with impressive internet presences. So, in the interest of getting a decent night’s rest on the bus, I decided to investigate on foot.

After an hour and a half of searching, the eleventh store I checked was open (I remember it was the eleventh because of a mental association with Stranger Things). But even this proved to be a trial; the two 18-year olds running the shop didn’t speak much in the way of English, and as much as my Spanish has improved, I’ve not had many opportunities to discuss the intricacies of mobile phones. I believe my exact translated words were, “Telephone broke. You look *point to screen*. Make phone happy, please.”

I was told this would cost 150,000 pesos – roughly $50 USD, much cheaper than the same job would cost at home – and that I could pick it up tomorrow. Using more embarrassing Spanish, I explained that was impossible, since I was leaving that very night. The boy behind the counter handed me the phone with a shake of his head; I handed it right back to him and said “200,000 pesos, do today.”

That perked his ears up. He immediately got on the phone and chattered for fifteen minutes. From what I understand he called his father, the shop’s owner, and told him to roll his ass out of bed for a free 50,000 pesos. The boy hung up, took my phone back and, for the first time smiling, told me to come back at 5pm.

I farted around for a few hours – literally, I’d had a bad arepa for breakfast — and returned at 5:10pm. The store was already shuttered, but by the grace of baby Jesus I only just saw the two teenagers turn down the next block. I had to run them down. When they stopped, they handed me my phone back in the exact same condition it’d been this morning, explaining that their father never came. Which in their minds meant they should leave exactly at closing time and take my phone home with them. If my phone were capable of leaving Yelp reviews, theres would have read, “Despite bribery attempts, didn’t fix anything and tried to steal phone afterwards. 2/5, would not recommend.”

Fast-forward 24 hours, and I’ve made it to Medellin but am on about twenty minutes sleep – there were 5 Dats in the surrounding bus seats, and I had no music to drown them out. I was roughly as cranky as Zazu trying to manage young Simba in The Lion King.

But I desperately needed a working phone, so I looked up repair shops close to my new hotel. That’s right, no more hostals — if I couldn’t get Seward fixed, I was not listening to strangers making walrus impressions in their sleep again. I was a man on the edge.

There were several stores within walking distance – again, surprising – so I chose the one with the best name: ‘Fix Phone’. Subtlety is overrated.

I was ushered into a high tech sweatshop. White walls, clear worktables, and rows of men in matching uniforms hunched over telephones in various states of dismantlation (totally a word). I didn’t have to say much; one of the men came over, took the phone out of my hand, and pointed to the chipped screen. I nodded, then he said, “20 minutes.” I wasn’t given a ticket, not quoted a price – the solemn, slightly stinky technician just sat down and went to work.

After everything that’s happened, my confidence wasn’t high. The last shop had at least given me a receipt for the phone, and those two had still tried to escape into the night with it in their pocket. Here, a quiet young man just started poking and prodding at Seward without any express permission from me.

{

And remember, I love Seward.

We’ve been through a lot together. If your dog was sick, how comfortable would you feel taking it to a vet in a foreign country? A vet who doesn’t give you a quote, and calls his office ‘Fix Pet’?

I watched the entire operation. Not that I had any idea what was happening, nor could I have corrected or made suggestions or comforted Seward in any way during this process, but it felt wrong to leave.

Only fifteen minutes later – much faster than this same process takes anywhere in the States; this wasn’t Seward’s first screen replacement– the mute phone doctor stood up, handed Seward back to me, and pointed at a cash register. I paid a little more than it would have cost in Colombia, then walked out the door.

I did a series of quick tests to confirm my boy was still alive. The screen looked right, and yes, it was actually responding like it was supposed to. I could once again select apps on the top of my screen. Spotify, hallelujah, was once again an option.

Pessimistically though, I suspected that the fix wouldn’t last. Like a shady gang doctor who pulls a bullet out of a hitman in a run-down storage unit, this was bound to end badly. Infection, screen blurring, something would go wrong. But a week later, everything is still performing admirably – and there’s even been a little bonus:

That night I was in bed, watching TV, and found The Rock on Colombian television. This excited me – I can quote half that movie, and am actively working on the bits I don’t know yet – so I decided to take a photo and send it to a friend group that shares my slightly unhealthy obsession with Nicolas Cage movies.

Now, it was nearly 1:00am, and all night I’d been doing this magic trick where I make vodka disappear, so my brain didn’t realize the significance of what happened at first. I’d already snapped the picture and sent it by the time I realized what I’d just witnessed: Seward’s camera was working. I haven’t been able to take a photo for over 6 months, but out of nowhere it was fully operational and crystal clear once again.

After the initial wave of WTF, I chalked this up to an industrial accident. Like when an average Joe falls into a vat of toxic waste and emerges with super powers. The same thing must have happened to Seward in Fix Phone.

But on second thought, I think I was wrong to doubt a small country repair shop. When something goes faulty with most of my friend’s phones, the bankers and lawyers and junior VP crowd, they simply toss it in the garbage — or give it to me. Here, they have to keep these devices going as long as possible. Colombian iPhone technicians, licensed or Apple approved or otherwise, have more practice at keeping beat-up electronics alive longer than any American mall kiosk.

I owe Seward’s life to men I didn’t trust. Hopefully they accept my Yelp review as recompense for my doubts: “Suspiciously fast turnaround, but they work miracles here. 6/5 — bonus point for the extremely accurate shop name.”

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photo: sloths only come out of their tree once every several days, only too poop and change trees. this little guy apparently just pinched one off, and was crossing a road to stake out a new home. red frog beach, panama

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Malcolm Freberg
Malcolm Freberg
American writer living permanently on the road. Believes rye whiskey is superior to bourbon, Belle is the best Disney princess, and that selfie sticks should be snapped in half on sight. Hosted a travel documentary for AOL & played Survivor a few times.
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