Kept Afloat In Amsterdam

Published 15 years, 4 weeks past

It’s taken me slightly more than a month to write this post.  It’s about people at their best.

Last month, just after speaking at a conference in Amsterdam, my laptop was stolen.

Actually, to be more painfully accurate, my laptop case was stolen—and inside it at the time was the laptop, my mobile phone, and my wallet.  Plus the usual assortment of stuff that goes into a laptop case.

Because I still remember to this day advice Tantek gave me just before we boarded a bus to Narita airport, I had my passport on me.  I happened to have picked up my camera to take some pictures of the conference hall.  My clothes were still in my hotel room.  Everything else was gone.

I can’t really describe the feeling.  Maybe you’ve felt it.  Shaking and stunned and self-blaming and nakedly vulnerable.  All that magnified by the complete loss of funds and communication with my family.

And the data.  The lost data.  I have backups, but they’re never as current as one would want.  (Which reminds me: if you aren’t backing up, and you aren’t doing so regularly, learn from my loss and start.)  Besides, at that moment, as the full realization of what had happened slid coldly into my gut and started its slow, merciless expansion throughout my entire body, I didn’t think “Oh, I have backups until that date, and all my work mail is on the mail server, and I’ve been uploading the best pictures to online services.”  Those things didn’t occur to me.  They were completely blocked by the continual, sickening, endlessly looping thought: IT’S ALL GONE.

And that’s when people started pitching in to help me out.

In addition to helping me look for the case in hopes that it had just been moved somewhere non-obvious, Khris Loux of JS-Kit let me call home from his iPhone without a second thought, so I could tell Kat what had happened and get her immediately started on contacting banks and credit card companies.  And the honest concern in his eyes helped snap me back from near-paralysis, touched by the regard coming from someone I’d only met an hour before.

Then Gabe Mac, having heard what was going on, came up to me with a fully charged mobile phone I could borrow so that I could remain in contact with my family until I went home.  He didn’t ask me how I would get it back to him, because I don’t think it had occurred to him.  He just said, “Eric, I have a spare phone.  You need it.  Take it.”

So I did.  And much, much later that same night, it was nearly a lifeline.

Throughout all this, Boris and Patrick, the conference founders, were working to find out if one of the tech crew had accidentally picked it up, or it had been turned in to venue staff.  And when it became inescapably clear that the case was well and truly gone, they sent one of their staff to get a SIMM card for the phone Gabe had loaned me and 200 euros in cash so I could get home.  Just did it, because they could see that I would need those things even when I couldn’t.  They also arranged a ride for me to get to my evening’s social appointment.

That appointment was with Steven Pemberton and his lovely family, who fed me a great dinner in their fabulous top-floor flat and were more than gracious about my disordered mental state.  After dinner, Steven took me to the nearby police station and acted as translator as I filled out a report.  And then he loaned me use of his home phone to call a couple of credit card companies that I had to speak with personally in order to make sure my business credit cards were cancelled.

It wasn’t the relaxed evening of dinner and shop talk I’d been hoping to have, but I did several things that needed to be done and Steven made it possible.  And we did get in a tiny smidgen of (very interesting) shop talk near the end.

At every step of that evening, someone was there to help push me forward, help me lower the unexpected barriers just a little bit, help ease the situation however they could.  So many people coming together to help out someone they’d known for years or never before met.  Thanks to them all, I was able to get home without further incident.  Thanks to them all, I had a major yang to the theft’s yin, a powerful reminder of just how good people can be.

Thank you, all.

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