Originally posted here.
It’s 10pm at the Jet Blue terminal, and New York City has just swallowed up my laptop. I’ve given up on the possibility of finding it. I imagine it’s already at the command of some nefarious character in a cold, lightless basement full of snake wires and beeping sounds. I’ve read William Gibson novels before; I know how these things can end. By now, I am no doubt at the mercy of an anonymous superhacker.
Someone lifted the 13-inch MacBook Pro out of my backpack about two hours earlier at a bar in the East Village. I was shooting a game of pool when it happened, never more than ten feet away from the bench my stuff was on. Yes, I should have been more cautious. That goes without saying. But in a few hours, I would be on my way to Los Angeles to recharge under sunny skies. My guard was down. I was supposed to be on vacation.
And just like that, it was gone. Lesson learned.
If you’ve ever lost a laptop before, you’re probably familiar with the feeling of utter helplessness that I’m experiencing on my way to JFK and later on in the terminal. My entire life is on that hard drive. I have everything backed up on an external, but right now that’s nothing more than an abstract detail. Someone, somewhere has access to my life— literally.
My head is spinning like a centrifuge as I make my way through airport security. I’m exhausting every possible outcome of this scenario. Am I logged into Amazon? Probably. What information can be extracted from my Google account? Too much. Why didn’t I set up some security measures to access my computer? I don’t know. Is it possible that I’m too dependent on my Apple products? Ummm, I’d say that’s a very fair assessment.
Each new realization is a brick to the face.
The last two hours have gone by in a flash of panic. It’s now time for me to cross the threshold and hand over my boarding pass to the attendant at the gate. I’m pale as a ghost as I walk the narrow connector tube and onto the airplane. Los Angeles is an afterthought at this point.
I arrive at seat 22D when I feel my phone vibrating in my pocket. It’s a blocked number.
My eyebrows furrow as I pick up and say, “Hello?”
There’s a brief pause before a low, sleepy voice responds on the other end.
“Is this Michael Raymond?”
“Uhh, yeah, who’s this?” I reply.
Another long pause. “Did you lose something tonight?” the voice says.
My stomach drops.
“What? My laptop was stolen. Who is this?”
I’ve now got the attention of a few other people on the plane. The man on the other end exhales deeply.
“I have your laptop,” he says.
“What? Are you serious? Who is this?”
I can’t stop saying, “What?”
“I bought your laptop,” the man responds hesitantly, “for $120.”
I’m speechless. I don’t know what this person wants, but I can feel his vulnerability, as I’m sure he can feel mine.
“Who is this?” I say again, this time calmly.
“My name is Angel. I bought your laptop for $120 tonight. I have your laptop,” he says.
“That laptop,” I begin, “means a lot to me. Where did you get it?” I ask.
“I was at a bar on 7th and A, and this guy came in trying to sell it. I don’t know. I bought it. Then I came home and started to check it out. You’ve got all this stuff on here. Like important stuff. I got your number off your resume. I can’t keep it,” he explains.
What? Is this for real?
“I just want to do the right thing,” he adds.
I explain to Angel that I’m about to take off for LA. I try to let him know exactly how grateful I am for the call. I try to let him know that he’s temporarily restored my faith in humanity, because for a minute there, I wasn’t so sure anymore. I try to let him know that he really is an Angel. Against all odds, it looks like I’m going to get back what was taken from me.
Two days later, I arrange for my father to meet Angel in a public parking lot on Fordham Road in the Bronx to recover my laptop. I’m on the beach taking a nap when he calls to tell me that the transaction was successful. Angel took the $120 we offered him, but refused anything extra. “He seemed like a good guy,” my dad tells me. “You got lucky.”
If Angel had waited another 15 minutes to call, I would have been in the air, and who knows how long he would have kept trying to reach me. If my laptop was password protected, he would have had no way of contacting me, and my computer would have been nothing more than a paperweight, gone forever.
I’d call this story a miracle, but I’d be wrong. It wasn’t a miracle at all. It was just Angel being Angel. That was enough to get my laptop back. Maybe, just maybe, this unlikely story should be the norm, not the exception.
One day I might be offered a stolen laptop. Because of Angel, I’m now 100% more likely to purchase that laptop, track down its owner, and return it. I’ll say my name is Angel and that I just want to do the right thing. You should do the same.