iPad’s Big Day Out

Earlier this week, I spent an entire day trying to find my daughter’s missing Mini iPad. If you have ever lost an iPhone or other mobile device, you know it has an internal GPS function that you can track online. So in theory, how hard could this recovery be?

Now, these days I’m a stay-at-home mom. Fifteen years prior, however, I was a producer at CNN. I’m also a smart ass. Thus, out of sheer boredom and a natural inclination, I reported my search for “iPad” to my friends on FaceBook. Naturally, it included quasi-witty commentary.

To my surprise, and apparently their delight, most of my FaceBook friends found this very intriguing. I daresay they were entertained. Perhaps I was simple Friday fodder? Maybe they liked my sense of humor? Maybe they were like me: Intrigued as hell watching the virtual pin drop known as “iPad” as it moved across my current home town, Atlanta.

By the end of the day however, “iPad’s Big Day Out” became a sort of sociological experiment. When last I posted, it was about 3:30p Friday afternoon. I was about to confront the iPad occupier in the parking lot of a Kroger grocery store, south of my neighborhood. I literally left my audience hanging.

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As promised, here is the conclusion. For those of you new to the adventure, I’ve added a summary.  Thanks for reading.

Thursday night: Peter and No. 2 are commiserating over my own iPad right as he is about to leave for a business trip. We all say goodbye, then I head into Child No. 2’s room.

“I don’t think I’ll be taking my iPad to school anymore,” she says cautiously. “Someone got their iPad stolen at school.”

I congratulate her on the revelation. I repeat oft-said mantra: Don’t take iPad to school. Don’t take it in the car.

Within seconds she cracks. “It’s my iPad that’s missing,” she says. When she pouts, she looks like Grumpy Cat.

She then shows me my own larger, traditional iPad. My husband has found her iPad by using the Find My Friends App. On the screen, a red pin drop indicates that an Apple device under my daughter’s Apple ID is hanging out in the warehouse/club district of Westside Atlanta. I went there. Once. Before children. Fifteen years ago.

I open the pinned location in Google Maps. I then use Google Earth to help me a full 360 street view of the building. Suddenly this otherwise intrusive Google Earth thing ain’t so bad.

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I’m ready for No. 2’s inevitable meltdown. Instead, we spend the next five minutes discussing the pros and cons of attending a diverse public school. We talk about the various motives one might have to actually want steal a device. She wonders why said kids would spend their money on “KDs” (costly branded sports shoes) and not on their own iPad. I don’t judge. I explain that often self-confidence is often all about the external packaging.

My daughter concludes, on her own, that someone would be compelled to take an iPad because they, themselves, don’t have such a nice thing. “Perhaps the kid who stole needs it more than I do,” my daughter says. At this point, I’m very proud of Daughter No. 2.

When I go to bed that night, I check iPad’s status. It remains inside a warehouse in Westside Atlanta. I can see a ramp leading up the outside of the building onto the roof.

In my mind, iPad is surrounded by empty bottles of Cristal amid a giant rave. She’s taking a LOT of selfies surrounded by numerous clubbing women. Perhaps her new host is some guy in the center of those pictures? Perhaps the face of one of those women is tattooed to his neck? Perhaps she is wearing a gold grill?

The next morning I wake up and check my email. My husband has left me with details about where iPad is this morning. She’s at a specific address in just northeast of Atlanta. It is a sleepy little suburb really. With that, the conversation begins.

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Pete has provided me with a non-emergency phone number to the DeKalb County police so that I can report iPad as being stolen. He also sends me a link to the exact address.

After I take Daughter No. 2 to school, I drive toward iPad’s flophouse. I want to see what I’m up against as I decide how to pursue this issue. First, I stop for a breakfast bagel and a mocha. If I’m going down over an iPad, I’m going to be well fueled and fed. I contemplate my lack of a shower, and the yoga pants. Not the best choice for a modern-day crimefighter.

iPad spent the night in a simple, somewhat dull cottage surrounded by the usual brick ranch houses. Except whomever was there is now clearly no longer home. iPad’s new owner has a job, I deduce. I begin to wonder if iPad was stolen by a student and already sold to some oblivious schmuck. My FaceBook friends tend to agree.

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Because I am in my car, I don’t have wireless. Thus, I cannot track iPad on my own Mama iPad if you will. I have a pre-existing appointment to get my car detailed, so I hunker down at the car wash, and log on to their Wifi.

Mini iPad has already returned to the Westside. It is very close to the location it was the previous night.

Sometimes the locator moves on its own. Sometimes I have to refresh it. Either way, iPad seems to move around the building. It’s in the parking lot, then into the building. It stays long enough for me to track the building location on Google Earth.

iPad is at an auto shop on the Westside. Is iPad now property of an auto mechanic? Or is iPad just in the back of someone’s car that is getting repaired? Every time I take a few moments to think, iPad moves around again.

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During this down time, I contact the DeKalb County Police. I cannot file a police report because iPad was clearly stolen in the area served by the Atlanta Police Department. The 911 operator tells me that I’m going to have to drive in the vicinity of iPad, then call 911 so that an Atlanta police officer can meet me to retrieve iPad. Ohh…..Kay…..

I spend the next hour blogging about iPad’s actions. It leaves the auto shop. It grabs lunch to go at a nearby BBQ. It heads a few other places and then ends up at Arby’s.

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“iPad either works now as a carrier service, a drug dealer, or a binge eater,” I post. iPad’s audience is mounting.

“Doesn’t everyone agree that Pam’s iPad is the best thing to happen on FaceBook in like two or three years!?!” asks a Facebook friend I have not seen in long time. “iPad doesn’t get out much and is clearly  making up for lost time,” adds another.

While iPad is at Arby’s, I spot two police officers at the auto detailing place. I double check my instructions with them. Yes, I have to find it, and call 911. However, I’ll also need to file an incident report at my daughter’s middle school where we think it was stolen. This will give the situation a case number that will allow Atlanta police and DeKalb police the link they need to work together and retrieve it.

For some reason, my bullshit detector is not raging as highly as usual. I’m also unusually patient. When my own car is ready, I proceed to the middle school and ask to meet with the officer on campus to file an incident report.

Campus Cop is a five-year APD veteran. He was a beat cop in Southwest Atlanta before being assigned to the school earlier in the year. He’s literally gone from one extreme to the other. He doesn’t admit it, but he has to be bored. Clearly he’s frustrated. Someone stole an iPhone just yesterday, he says. He’s really limited as to what he can do about it. We sit off at a table in the hall way together to discuss.

Campus Cop is an Android user. He is wholly unimpressed with the fact that I cannot remotely order iPad to “Scream.” This would allow it to emit an actual siren. He also wonders why iPad can’t be ordered to take a photo of its captor remotely.

Though I am not one to suffer fools gladly, I call Apple Support to see if any of this is possible. Meanwhile, iPad gets BUSY. We watch it go to Arthur’s Dress Shop. It later moves up Northside Avenue toward Interstate 75. It seems to pull into the parking lot that I know to have retail and a Starbucks.

“That’s a Verizon store,” Campus Cop theorizes. We both start to panic. “Can he change the carrier and wireless service this easily?” I ask, adding that my carrier is not Verizon, but AT&T. Campus Cop begins to look up the number of the Verizon location on Northside Avenue.

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As if it knows what we are both thinking, iPad suddenly jumps onto I-75 heading south. Within minutes, it’s headed toward Interstate 20 east.

“If he heads out of Atlanta we’re screwed,” Campus Cop says. We watch iPad exit an off ramp onto a southeast Atlanta neighborhood. Campus Cop notes: if iPad heads into someone’s residence, no police officer can get it out without a warrant. This will come in handy later as it is the answer to a question from one of my FaceBook friends.

iPad stops at a residence in a neighborhood. I know this place. Or at least I think I do.

“iPad has now ventured into a neighborhood known as The Land Where Soccer Mom’s Need Not Venture Alone,” I tell my Facebook followers. Two of my ultra-conservative Facebook friends “Like” this. This is another post I will later delete.

After 25 minutes on hold with Apple support, I’m told what I already know. iPad cannot be ordered to take photos remotely. I thank Campus Cop for his service, take my newly assigned case number, and head on my way.

Because I am now driving, I can no longer monitor iPad without wireless. I need a wing girl. An expert. I head home to recruit Daughter No. 1. She is a teenager. She’s been off school for the day. She likes intrigue. She digs crime. This should be fun.

How wrong I am.

The first five minutes, Daughter No. 1 is enthused. “This is kind of like a game,” she says.  She knows how to load the wireless hot spot off my iPhone. Mama iPad is not perfectly tracking Baby iPad. We. Are. On.

Mini iPad has now moved from the neighborhood residence to a nearby Kroger Grocery Store. I know this neighborhood as well. It has a Kroger’s, but it also has Dollar stores and struggling real estate developments amid older run down homes. The neighborhood appears to resist the urge to gentrify.

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I make a crack on Facebook that I’m am initially reluctant to do. Maybe it is sheer exasperation. I should have showered this morning. I look ridiculous in these yoga pants. Also, I’m clearly playing to my audience. “iPad is stopping at Kroger,” I post. “I wonder if it will choose fried or rotisserie?”

I am as amused as I am ashamed. I don’t know why, but I leave the comment anyway. Later I will delete this.

Daughter No. 1 and I approach the Kroger parking lot. Suddenly it occurs to her that she’d really rather be home, straightening her hair. She has a big dance at her school in three hours. She has other things she needs to do. She begins to throw a tantrum. More than anything she does NOT WANT ME POSTING UPDATES TO FACEBOOK!

My Facebook audience, however, is upping its demands. “What’s the plan?” asks a high school classmate I’ve known since 1976. “Do you think you can get it back?” asks a guy I’ve known since kindergarten who is writing from his home in Japan.

I explain to my friends that my objective is to just hang until the pin drop moves on the iPad. By then, I assure them, I’ll know the car, and get the license plate and will be able to notify authorities.

“Be careful Pamela Sellers!” posts a former friend/colleague/producer from my days at CNN. She’s the producer who has worked in war zones for years.

This is beginning to take too long. Maybe iPad’s new occupier actually works at Kroger? I DO have to return Daughter No. 1 to her hair session. Daughter No. 2 will need to be picked up at her bus stop within the hour. I establish a new strategy. I leave whining teenager in my car with radio and air conditioning running. I begin taking photos with my iPhone of the license plates of the 20-or-so cars in the lot.

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Deep down inside, I’m beginning to think that my behavior should no longer be encouraged.

After my photo session, I go back to the car. No. 1 is PISSED. I also notice she’s so self-obsessed she has not updated the Find a Friend Ap in a long time. iPad, it seems, has not just left the building. It has left the parking lot altogether and gone back to the nearby home.

We follow the route into the neighborhood. This is an older housing tract, filled with the similar brick ranch houses and front lawns of that North DeKalb suburb I visited earlier. Children are exiting their school buses. Older American-made sedans line the drive ways. It’s clean. It’s quiet.

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Older men are tending to their yards. Younger men are loitering on the occasional corner. All of them are making eye contact with me. They are not saying hello. They look rather surprised. They are working- and middle-class middle black folk and they are wondering what in the HELL am I doing doing in THEIR neighborhood?”

My daughter is taking all of this in. “Is this the hood?” she asks. “Well, it’s a black neighborhood,” I respond. I try to tell her the difference between what is clearly just a neighborhood and what is one when it is urban, and surrounded by blight. She then asks me questions like, “What’s a crack house?”

She starts to tell me that I am a stalker. This isn’t right she says. She insists that we leave. I nearly do what she says. Then I realize that I am so close to iPad’s final pin drop, I would be a fool to give up now.

I drive down the long street toward iPad’s final stop. It’s ten houses on the left according to Google Maps. I begin to drive slowly down the street, counting…one…two….three….

It’s in that red car,” my oldest insists, pointing to a vehicle in the driveway. “It’s in that car, right there!”

“How do you know that?” I ask.

“Because that’s Dad’s rental car!” she says.

With absolute mortification, I see that she’s probably right. In the driveway of a lovely little ranch house is a bright red Ford Focus. It’s the exact car my husband had rented the weekend before when we had to be three places all at the same time. I snap a photo of the car’s license place and get out of the neighborhood immediately.

Daughter No. 1 is now calm and rather righteous. I return her home for well-deserved primping. I then head to the bus stop to pick up child No. 2.

Within two seconds of getting into the car from the bus, No.2 asks me in her sweet little voice: “Did you find it?” Of course I should know exactly what ‘it’ is.

“Did you, by chance, take your iPad in the car that Daddy rented last weekend?” I ask.

“Well….” she ponders. No. 2 is a thoughtful child. A little too thoughtful sometimes. We often call her “3G.” About twenty seconds late it hits her.


Ten more seconds later she’s starting to it all together.

“I guess you didn’t need to contact the police, did you Mommy?”

Without prodding she suddenly says: “Mommy, I’m sorry.”

Upon contacting Enterprise Rental Car, they confirm that the Ford Focus was the same vehicle we rented. It’s now in the possession of a “Ms. Sams.” After notifying her, they tell me that Ms. Sams will gladly meet up to return the device.

I am as mortified as my youngest was contrite. I spent the day chasing down a ghost in my imagination. An opportunistic, yet jealous middle schooler. A raver/drug dealer who must have been on a booty call to wind up sleeping in THAT part of DeKalb County. A professional criminal clearly peddling stolen wares for cash.

Using the cell number given to me by the Enterprise service rep, I dial Ms. Sams. I’ve lived in Atlanta for 20 years. I know its natives. I’ve driven around this particular neighborhood and the westside of Atlanta enough to know there is a whole other kind of demographic who dwells here.

I explain to Ms. Sams how I was able to find her. I apologize for intruding. I then admit that I know exactly where she lives.

“Oh it’s not my home,” she says kindly. The imaginary sword I’ve impaled myself with goes down deeper. It twists to the right. “It’s my mother’s house.”

I have spent the day stalking a woman who was most likely to be my daughter’s elementary school teacher. My victim spent the tending to her elderly mother. I think I need to cry.

In addition to all the societal wrongs I know I have committed, I am equally terrified about how I’m going to update my Facebook friends. I am so embarrassed I offer this simple update to my hungry Facebook crowd:

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Not knowing about Ms. Sams, the Facebook crowd immediately begins to theorize and empathize. ‘Your daughters realizes she never really lost iPad, one friend suggests. “Once my brother faked his own kidnapping…” confesses another.

Eventually, they will wait for nearly two days for my update while I process what I have done. I realize that no matter how long it has been since I have seen them, my Facebook friends would still be the greatest group of people to have a beer with.

Our penance is for Child No. 2 and I to sit at the intersection of Flat Shoals Highway and Bouldercrest for 30 minutes while we wait for Ms. Sams to arrive. It’s Friday afternoon traffic. As I sit in this gas station parking lot, there are no other soccer moms waiting around in their electric cars. There are men wondering around talking to one another. There are women waiting for the bus. People are lining up at the gas station window.

It’s Friday. It is pay day. They are cashing their checks.

I want to be concerned about the neighborhood I am parked in. My daughter does too. But I don’t and I won’t let her. “These are just folks and this is their neighborhood,” I explain. “They are folks like you and me. They’re just hanging with their friends. They’re just taking the bus. They’re filling up their gas tanks.”

I think silently in my head: And one of them spent the day running errands in a rental car.

When Ms. Sams pulls up in the now recognizable rental car, she is exactly who I thought she would be. She is a pleasant African-American woman in her early 60s. Her gold hoop earrings and lipstick complement her smoothed-back hair. She’s wearing embellished black track suit.

I have my daughter greet her, and express her thanks. Ms. Sams has a southern drawl. She asks my daughter how old she is. She notes how tall and beautiful my child is. She calls my daughter “Sugar.”

I touch Ms. Sams’ shoulder in gratitude. I tell her how sweet and wonderful she is. We thank her again and get on our way.

My daughter immediately hops onto her device like nothing has happened. I think I’m going to be sick. Fortunately, the Gods ARE crazy because within minutes we pull up in traffic behind THIS.


When my husband returns from his business trip and we talk the next day, he tells me how he tracked iPad most of his day as well. His work colleagues were equally curious. They want updates too.

After I tell my husband the whole story, he, too sympathizes. He, too, is a smart ass. It’s why I married him.

“My wife wanted to catch a street thug,” he writes to his work friends, “instead, she got a sweet little old lady.”

Yes. I. Did.