Just the Other Day: A Safe Return

We’ve all had one (or more) of those moments where something happens and just scares the daylights out of you. It’s not something as serious as someone getting hurt – it usually involves a material item, but boy can it make your heart stop! Just such a thing happened to me the other day. And I mean to say, it really scared me!


I make frequent stops at McDonald’s restaurants all over the country. There are several reasons for this. In order to make good time traveling, I need to make each stop count. If I am stopping for gas, I will often get something to drink and walk June, my dog who travels with me, at the same time. McDonald’s restaurants are usually close to gas stations.They serve a good cup of coffee and, I think, the best fresh brewed unsweetened iced tea, hands-down.  Their employees are always friendly and helpful and their Wi-Fi service is unmatched.


To use my iPad to look at anything online, I have to have wireless internet service (I do not carry a smartphone). No one has more consistently reliable, fast Wi-Fi service than McDonald’s. As they are remodeling their stores across the country, each restaurant is adding areas where people can relax and get online. Most of the stores now offer outlets to charge your device and some have USB ports available. Many of my stories are written in their restaurants.


The other day, Wednesday, about 9:30 a.m., I stopped in Findlay, Ohio.  I refueled the truck, then drove across the street to McDonald’s. It’s easier for me to use my iPad than to start my laptop, especially if I’m only going to be online for a few minutes. I thought I might be doing some writing that morning, so I carried my laptop bag in with me as well. I ordered a cup of coffee and an English muffin, then sat at a small, round table, setting the computer bag in the extra seat on the other side.


Using my iPad, I re-checked my routes on Google maps, looked at few other things online, then started to think about what I was going to write. I was drawing a complete blank – writer’s block, and I had it bad. It was another 565 miles to our destination in New Jersey and we didn’t have time to sit around; if I wasn’t going to be able to write, I needed to get going. “I’ll try again later.” I said. I closed my device, went back to my truck and June and I headed down the highway, eastbound.


We did our business in New Jersey, and stopped for the night. Early the next morning I fed June her breakfast, then we headed out – westbound, toward home. About 9:30 I needed gas and saw signs for a McDonald’s ahead and a Pilot truck stop, together at the exit for Clearfield, Pennsylvania.  Perfect! Two birds, one stone.


The weather was hot that morning, and there was no shade available.  I left the motor running with the air conditioner on to keep June cool, then parked the truck right outside the front picture windows of the restaurant where I could keep an eye on her. I locked the door with my spare key and went inside.


I only carried in my iPad as the writer’s block was still looming over me. I would grab a cup of coffee while checking Facebook, catching up on a little news and check weather along my route.  It was going to be a hot, humid day.


When I got in the truck it felt warmer than it should even on such a hot morning.  I checked the controls; the AC was on with the fan on high.  The temperature was set as cold as it would go and it still felt like hot air was blowing around.  Looking over my shoulder, I saw the rear window on the passenger side was wide open.  June must have stepped on the switch and lowered the window while I was inside. I rolled the window up, the truck cooled off quite nicely and we made our way down the interstate.


About ninety miles later, my mind became flooded with things to write about.  It’s funny how I can go from a complete blank to being overloaded with ideas. I had to start jotting down some notes before my thoughts slipped away.  I started making notes on a napkin.


Along with the ideas that were swarming my mind, I thought about other things too. For some reason I thought about feeding June that morning. I always put her food container right behind my seat, along with my laptop computer bag. I didn’t recall seeing the laptop bag this morning.  I reached for it, but it wasn’t there. I looked behind the passenger seat, and on the front floor. It wasn’t either place. I started to worry and pulled onto the shoulder, then halfway into the grass.


I got out of the truck, opening the back, driver’s-side door. I looked all over; under the pillows and behind my bag, around the cooler.  I ran around to the passenger side and opened the door. June wanted to jump out to play. “Not now June. Go sit up front.” I searched the whole truck. My laptop was gone!


I felt sick. How many photos and memories are on that machine?  All the stories I’ve written are on that computer. My chest felt tight with anxiety; levels as high as I’ve ever known them.  I felt lost and alone. How could I ever recover what I lost on the laptop?  I started to panic. “Think man, think. What are we going to do?”


The first thing I needed to do was calm down. Panicking has never helped in any situation – ever. Talking out loud to myself, I began to retrace my steps.  “Did I take it in with me for coffee this morning? I don’t think I did.”  Then I remembered the open window. “Oh my gosh. June opened the window and someone must have reached inside and stole my computer!”  Although I wasn’t panicking, I wouldn’t say I was thinking very rational thoughts yet either.


I reached in my pocket for the McDonald’s ticket. The phone number for the restaurant was on there.  I called and asked for a manager.  I explained that I had been there about two hours earlier and asked if anyone had found a computer bag. He told me they had not.


I told him about leaving the truck running for my dog and the window being opened when I returned, then asked if they had outdoor security cameras on the front of their store.  I was hoping they would have video of someone stealing my bag. “The only outdoor cameras we have are on the drive-up,” he said. “I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”  I asked if the truck stop had cameras, He said he didn’t know, I would have to call them, then gave me the number for Pilot.


Again, I explained everything to the manager at the convenience store and asked if they had outdoor cameras.  “We do.” He said, “But all our cameras out front are pointed to the fuel pumps. We don’t have any that would show the McDonald’s parking lot.  I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”  I thanked him for his time and hung up.


Resigned to the fact that I would never see the laptop again, I still felt obligated to go through the futile efforts of trying to find it. I pulled out my envelope of receipts. I had stopped somewhere for an ice tea last night, but I couldn’t remember what town and couldn’t find the ticket. “That’s probably where it is.” I told June.  The next register tape was from the previous morning, when I stopped in Findlay, Ohio. I called the number listed.


“Thank you for calling McDonald’s. This is Brooke, may I help you?”  She sounded like a nice lady. I explained the situation and asked if by any stretch of the imagination, had anyone turned in a computer bag. “Can you describe the item,” she asked.


Just the fact that she asked for a description gave me hope. “It’s a black bag, nylon I suppose, it has a strap with a sliding pad to rest on your shoulder.  It has three compartments that are orange inside and a thin orange stripe on the strap.  There will be a silver HP laptop computer in the main section, the middle section has charging cords. And the third compartment is empty.”


I was excited and hopeful and don’t believe I took any breaths or pauses between sentences. When I finished, Brooke said, “Yes, we have your computer here.” I think my heart stopped again; I couldn’t believe it.


“You do?” I asked, astonished.


“Yes. We have a computer here that matches that description.” She said. Instantly the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. I was liberated from the cloud of gloom that surely would burden me the rest of my life had I not found my laptop.


“I’m 89 miles away.” I told her, “My GPS says I will be there at 1:30 p.m.”


Brooke laughed a little. “Take your time and don’t get a ticket. The computer is safe in the office. I’ll be gone by then, but I will let the next manager on duty know you’re coming for it.”


I arrived promptly at 1:30. There was a manager walking back from the dining room toward the kitchen. Her name tag read, Amber. I told her who I was and what I needed; she smiled knowing exactly what I was looking for. “Let me go get it for you.” When she came out with the black bag, I felt like I was reunited with a long lost friend. I thanked her repeatedly and offered her a tip, or reward. “No,” she politely refused, “we’re just glad to help you get it back.”


I went to the counter and ordered a large ice tea to go. On my way to the front door I noticed a lady sitting at a table with a sandwich in one hand and a paperback book in the other. I watched for a moment as she held the book, managing to turn the page one handed with her thumb and kept reading.  What talent, I thought to myself. Watching the way she held the book, I also thought society is way to dependent on devices – myself included.


I stopped at her table. “You’ve really got your hands full there, ma’am.” I said, then suggested, “I can handle that sandwich for you, if you’d like to use both hands for your book.”


She looked at me, paused, and said, “I’d rather you sit and read to me.” Then continued looking at me over the top of her glasses as if waiting for an answer while she took a bite from her sandwich.  I smiled. It turned out to be a darn good day after all.