A Cell Phone Is Everything It's Cracked up to Be




I stood at the hotel room door, shortly after 5:30 a.m., with a hot coffee in my left hand and my cell phone and a banana in my right hand. 

This obviously wasn’t my normal routine and it had been further thrown off by the lack of coffee.  There should be coffee makers in every hotel room, but this was Las Vegas and if you stay in one of the casinos, they do everything they can to force you down onto the casino floor.  Hence, no coffee makers.

I’d arrived in Vegas the morning before after attending Rock on the Range, a three-day rock festival in Columbus, Ohio.  I was now in Sin City for the annual ICSC real estate convention.

I’d gotten up the previous morning at 12:00 a.m. PST to make the trip from Ohio to Nevada.  Due to the time of my trip, I wore shorts, a hoodie, and tennis shoes to be comfortable.  At the airport, though, there were plenty of people already dressed for success.  I suddenly had a worry that I had missed an opportunity to arrive in Vegas ready for work.  I brushed it off, though.  When I landed, I quickly reasoned, I would get my room, change into appropriate clothing, and head to the show.

Unfortunately, I arrived at my hotel shortly after 7 a.m. and there were no rooms available.  Check out is at 11 so most folks hadn’t even begun to move towards the exit.  I had to wait for a room.  That’s cool, I thought.  I can adapt and overcome.

I contacted a friend who was staying in a nearby hotel and meet him for breakfast.

When that was done, I looked for a quiet place to work.  Do you know how hard it is to find a quiet place in a casino hotel?  It’s noisy wherever you go.  Music is pumping all the time, from morning until night.  People are talking, often loudly due to the music.  Sometimes they yell to celebrate their rare wins.  Gambling machines blare out a digitized “clang-clang-clang” non-stop.  It’s a cacophony of epic proportions.  The only moderately quiet spot I found was outside on a bench near the valet.  Music still played, but it was muted by traffic noise.  Muted noise is a huge-win in Vegas.

I called various clients and chatted about the status of our transactions.  Using my cell phone, I answered emails and pushed several deals down the field.  Just because I couldn’t change my clothes and get to the convention, didn’t mean I was out of the game.  It just meant I was playing it on a different field.  I’m good at that.  In this business, the commercial real estate business, you had better be good at working away from the office or you’ll go hungry.

When I finally got my room, it was almost 1 p.m.  I had to reschedule one meeting to the next morning, but I was able to do it without much hassle.  Flexibility is the name of the game, right?

After spending a few hours at the show, I went out with some of the company guys for dinner.  Going out for a meal in Vegas always seems to start late and go even later.  I eventually bagged out about 10 p.m., after having been up for twenty-two hours.  When I was younger, I would have powered through and partied until the wee hours.  I’m older now and have developed a disdain for this city as well as a fondness for a good night’s sleep.

For one reason or another, I’d been going to The Gambling Capital of the World every year since 2004 and I can safely say – I hate Vegas.

The Universe must have picked up on my feelings and decided to remind me why.  Everything seemed louder, smelled funkier, and looked dirtier.  Ugh.

There I stood at my hotel room door, a coffee in one hand, while the other held a cell phone and banana.  I carefully laid the cell phone across the top of the coffee lid and stacked the banana on top of it.  When I jammed my hand into my pocket to retrieve my room key, I felt the weight shift in my left hand.  It was subtle, but that’s all it took.  The cell phone and banana slid off the coffee lid.  I watched the cell phone – my new cell phone – fall to the floor in slow motion.

I had switched from T-Mobile to Verizon coverage (via Xfinity Mobile) three weeks prior.  I’d been a loyal customer of T-Mobile for fifteen years.  It was the longest relationship I’d ever had in my life.  However, T-Mobile had terrible coverage outside of metropolitan areas.  I couldn’t get coverage whenever I went to smaller, rural towns and I do a lot of work in those areas.  I’d been with T-Mobile for so long that I had been on a grandfathered plan that gave me unlimited everything for a great price.  It was an excellent plan and I hated to give it up.  However, it’s a little embarrassing to be out of town with a client and have him ask you to look something up.  When you look at your phone, you respond, “I have no service.”  He then shakes his head, grabs his phone, and looks up the information on his own.  That’s not a good look.

So I switched to Verizon coverage.  And since I was making the switch, I decided to upgrade my phone.  I went with the top of the line Samsung Note.  Did I need a Note?  Not at all, but I wanted a bigger screen than I had before to show clients marketing flyers and images from Google Earth.  Again, need versus want.  I did not need the fancy Note.  I’ve done a lot of business without a large screen cell phone.

But I bought it anyway.

When I brought it home, my girlfriend looked at the phone with a mix of curiosity and disapproval.  It was a nice phone, for sure, but it was clearly more than I needed.  I’m not much of a gadget guy and this is clearly top of the line for gadget geeks.  We talked about it for a few minutes and then she said, “Why didn’t you buy a cover for it?”

“I will,” I said, brushing off her concern.

As the phone continued its fall to the floor in front of my hotel room door, a single thought ran through my mind – “it doesn’t have a cover.” 

When the phone hit the ground, it didn’t seem that it hit that hard.  At the door, carpet runs up to the room where it is met by a stone transition strip.  Guess which material the phone hit?

I picked up the phone and gave it a cursory glance.  There was only a dust smudge on its edge.  Other than that, I couldn’t believe my good fortune.  I shoved the phone into my pocket, opened the door, and entered my room.  I sat at the desk and retrieved the phone to give it a closer look.

The edge was completely crushed near the power button.  game over, man.

The edge was completely crushed near the power button.  game over, man.

The dust smudge was in fact a complete crushing of the glass near the power button.  When I ran my finger over it, glass particles came loose.  I pushed the power button and the screen lit up.  Unfortunately, what I was greeted with was an ugly light show more suited for a low-priced rave.

The top half of the screen and the lower half flashed rapidly between each other.  I couldn’t swipe, push, or do anything to call the screen to life.  In that small moment at my hotel room door, I’d lost my new phone and my connection to the outside world – sort of.

I still had my computer and I figured I was a smart guy, so there had to be a way to work around this.

I quickly got ready for the convention and then hit the strip.  I hurried to Walgreens and bought a pay-as-you-go phone – in drug dealer terms, a burner.  I’d never bought one before so was I slightly unfamiliar with the process.  If you haven’t bought one either, here it is:

1.     Buy an inexpensive phone with no minutes attached to it.  I paid $19.99 for an old-school flip phone;

2.     Next, buy a calling card (think gift card) that has a prescribed amount of minutes on it.  I bought a card with 120 minutes on it for $29.99. 

3.     You can either jump online and tie the phone and calling card together (which is what I did) or you can activate it over the phone (which seemed like more hassle so I used the PC).

It was a very simple process, but far more expensive than I realized.  It was essentially $0.25/minute to talk on that burner phone (not including the cost of the original phone).  I’d been spoiled by years of unlimited talk time.

I called my girlfriend and explained what happened.  She was kind enough not to say, “I told you so,” about the phone.  I said it for her, though, which she gratefully jumped on the bandwagon with “Yeah, you really should have.”

I then called my office and told my assistant.  “Communicate via emails.  I’ll run back to my computer a couple times during the show to make sure I stay up to date.”

Now, pause with me for a moment, because this had not occurred to me until I was writing this article.  I never thought about using the hotel’s in-room phone to call either my girlfriend or my office.  I have no idea what that would have cost me to do, but my first inclination was to run out and buy a $50.00 temporary phone solution.  Perhaps calling from the hotel and having it billed to my room would have been cheaper.  Could I have even done that?  I don’t know.  I never even tried.  It’s funny that it never even entered my mind.  Probably since I haven’t had a landline in close to fifteen years now.

With my burner phone in hand, I set about my day, confident I could attend a conference the way people had done prior to smartphones.

Except when one meeting’s guest was running late, there was no way for him to notify him.  He kindly texted me that he was behind schedule, but that he would be headed my way soon.  However, I stood at our designated meeting spot, feeling stood up.  I waited fifteen minutes and left.  When we later talked via email I learned that we probably had just missed each other.  That’s easy to do to in a show of roughly 40,000 people.  Unfortunately, meetings are hard to come by at the conference so there wasn’t an opportunity to reschedule.

Another meeting had a similar situation happen, but I was able to get a morning meeting reset– via email.

The show was thrown off completely due the broken phone.  Wait, that’s not true.  I was the one thrown off which threw off my perception of how the show went.  I had some productive meetings, but I could have been far more productive.  My practicing of Stoic principles went right out the window when my phone broke.  I worried about not being able to contact my family, my clients, and my office when I should have been focused on building new business at the show.

I felt silly for how much the loss of the connectivity was affecting me.  I wasn’t a school kid.  I didn’t constantly play with my phone, checking social media apps.  I wasn’t even one of those worrywart types who is constantly checking email in hopes of having some work to do.  It was just the idea of not being able to contact someone when I wanted to contact them that had thrown me off.  The cell phone was my security blanket.

The morning after I returned to town, I immediately headed to the cell phone store.  I approached the service counter and explained my situation.  I had the insurance coverage so I was confident everything would get handled right away.

The receptionist was very polite and explained that I would need to go online to and file a claim.  Unfortunately, I got upset.  I’m not proud of how I handled myself.  I said, “If I knew this is how the insurance worked, I wouldn’t have bought the expensive phone and I wouldn’t have needed the insurance.”

Thankfully, I did not yell.  I’m glad I didn’t turn into that guy, but I was clearly irritated.  The person I should have been solely irritated at was me.  I’d put myself into this situation and it wasn’t getting any better.  However, the receptionist was a professional and she calmly talked me down and offered a temporary solution. 

“You could always buy another, cheaper phone and use it until your new phone comes in.  Then when you get reconnected, return it.”

She’d thrown me a lifeline and I grabbed it.  It took less than ten minutes and I was hooked up with a cheap phone and my phone number was alive again.  We didn’t go through the process of adding any contacts or other pertinent information as it would only be a few days before the new phone arrived.

I knew I had acted like a jerk so I apologized to the receptionist twice before leaving the store.  She was great.  I’m sure she’d dealt with upset customers before.  I'm still embarrassed for getting wound up.

When I arrived back at the office, I jumped online and filed my claim.  It was easy, but they asked me to call in to talk with a live person to finalize the process.  The woman who assisted me helped me understand how things would work.  She also told me they were going to overnight a new phone.

Now, I really didn’t believe it would be overnighted.  This was Thursday before the Memorial Day weekend.   I knew it would be sent out for sure but figured it would get messed up due to the weekend and the federal holiday.  In the first big surprise, the replacement phone arrived the very next day, almost 24 hours from my filing the claim.

I grabbed the phone and raced back to the cell phone store to get my replacement Note set up.

The assigned technician listened carefully as I explained my situation.  He patiently went through the process of deactivating and returning the temporary phone I bought the day before.  Then he activated and got my new phone working.  Unfortunately, no matter how hard he tried, there was no way to recover the data from my previous Note.  I’d totaled the screen, so we were dead in the water.  I was going to lose pictures, apps, etc., but most off all I was going to lose years of contacts that I had plugged into my phone.  They weren’t crossed referenced into another app like Microsoft Outlook or Google.  Why hadn’t I don’t that?  Because sometimes I’m either technologically stupid or lazy – or maybe a combination of both.

We talked about me going to a cell phone fix location to see if they could get the screen to temporarily work so we could use the “Smart Switch” feature which allows two devices to transfer information wirelessly.  Then he chatted about backing up my information nightly.

I backed up my photos occasionally when I would log into Dropbox and force it to do so.  What he was suggesting was using either a Google or a Samsung account.  I guess I’m a little freaked out about so much information being collected by Big Brother (which seems is no longer the government), that I’ve resisted this idea.

I agreed to do it, though, and he showed me where the Samsung account was and I typed in an email and password.  Suddenly, the phone started a restore process.  The technician looked at it confused.  He examined the phone for a a minute, then checked his computer and smiled.  He explained I must have created this account when I bought the phone a month prior.  It took twenty minutes, but the phone backed up to where it had been previously.  I didn’t get my pictures from the concert back which is a bummer, but I did get all of my contacts back.  That was a huge win.

I had had a laptop stolen several years ago and I changed how I operated after that – adopting new processes to protect myself going forward.  I feel that this is another one of those moments and I should take some time to reflect on what I can do better go forward.

So what did I learn?


Buy a Case

I didn’t have a protective case around this phone.  I had had one over my previous phone and the one before that.  I have no good explanation for why I didn’t buy a case for this new, expensive phone.  I liked the sleek look, for sure, but it was an accident waiting to happen.  I had never broken a phone before.  Yes, I have dropped phones – a lot, actually.  I’d even scratched and chipped a couple of them, but I’ve never even cracked one.

Was it hubris that led me to believe I could carry around a $900 cell phone without a protective case and not damage it?  Probably.

We’re all going to drop our phones.  Everyone does.  We carry them more than any other item in our lives now.  Just that fact alone means there is a higher probability that we will drop and damage them.  Get a case.

Buy an Appropriate Phone

Speaking of the $900 phone, what a completely dumbass purchase that was.  Yes, I did it.  If you can safely say you’ve never made a mistake with a purchase, then you’re lying.  We all do it.  I just did it in grand fashion and am announcing it for the world to learn from.

There is no way I needed the Samsung Note.  No one needs this phone.  It’s like saying you need a Porsche.  Only D-bags need a Porsche.  You may want a Porsche and that’s okay.  It’s understanding needs and wants and then handling your response to those pulls.  A Samsung Note is a D-bag purchase and I bought one.

The Note is big and fancy.  It does a lot of super cool things that I will never use.  So I’m carrying around this big expensive phone now and knowing I could have gotten away with a lot less.

I should have purchased something for far less money.

Sometimes the Insurance IS Worth It

I have not bought protection insurance for years.  I always decline it.  A retailer once tried to sell me protection insurance for a lawn mower.  Um, no.  I’m good thanks.

However, this time I took a long pause and thought about the protection insurance when it was offered.  I thought about the cost of the phone and agreed to take it.

A month in and I’ve already used it.  Had I not had it, I would have been out $900 plus the cost of a new phone (which would not have been another Note, I will guarantee you that).

I’m not advocating buying protection insurance.  Far from it.  Most of the times it is a scam.  However, we do have car and home insurance.  I had just purchased an expensive phone so it made sense to me.  Had I purchased a more reasonable phone I would have passed on the insurance.

Back-Up Your Important Information

I’d learned this lesson regarding my laptop after it was stolen.  I’m religious about the info on my computer now.  However, I totally missed the lesson with my phone. 

In four days, my business felt like it turned upside down.  A good chunk of my business is run through my phone.  Losing it to either damage, theft, or loss puts me at a huge disadvantage.  If you use your phone for your business (and how many of us don’t?), you need to think ahead to avoid this happening again.

Have you ever broken your phone?
Did it negatively affect your life?
What did you learn from it?