My son needed a ride to a Boy Scout campout yesterday and neither Jen nor I were home to take him. I had the idea to call a Lyft driver for him. My son accidentally left his phone in the Lyft car and this is the timeline of what happened as we tried to get it back. I’ll call the driver “Joe”:

5:09PM: I book a ride through the Lyft app. Joe picks up my son.
5:21PM: Joe drops off my son at the destination.
5:25PM: Jen calls me to say that my son left his phone in Joe’s car. She is home now.
5:29PM: I use the “Lose something?” link in the Lyft app to report this to Joe. Joe never replies.

For the next 45 minutes, we watch my son’s iPhone on “Find My Friends” and see Joe’s car parked right across from where my son was dropped off (but my son had already left again so he couldn’t go get it). I don’t worry yet because I’ve already reported the loss and I assume Joe will be a decent person and return the phone. I try a couple of times to request another Lyft ride, hoping that Joe will come back to my house so we could get the phone. Other drivers accept the requests but I cancel them because I only wanted Joe, not another ride.

6:13PM: My wife calls the phone but it goes straight to voicemail.
6:23PM: Starting to get nervous, I take a screenshot of “Find My Friends” to have a record of its last known location. (This comes up later.) Shortly after this, the phone disappears from “Find My Friends”.
6:56PM: Worried now, after much frantic search I find that I can contact Lyft through Twitter. I do so. We have a slow, agonizing conversation because it takes the Twitter person many minutes to reply after each of my messages. They tell me I can’t call Lyft’s contact phone number because that’s only for emergencies.
7:56PM: I use Lyft’s website to file two missing item reports: one to the Lost & Found department, and another one to the “Lose something?” link. Lyft explains that they only get messages explicitly sent to the Lost & Found department, that the “Lose something?” link goes directly to the driver, and that Lyft’s customer service doesn’t have access to those messages.
7:58PM: Joe texts me. He miraculously got this message, just not the one I sent at 5:29PM. He tells me he looked for the phone but didn’t find it. I reply that I watched it drive around Alameda. He said he got another request from my home address for a Lyft. I reply that I was trying to get him to come back to my house so I could recover the phone. I also told him where I last saw my son’s phone on “Find My Friends”. Joe replies that this is where he lives.
8:06PM: Joe calls me and we talk. He says he looked but couldn’t find it. I ask him to look under the seats. He says it’s not there. I said I will have to call the police to make a report for insurance and ask if he will be willing to talk to them to help me. He gets very agitated and defensive. I assure him that I’m not blaming him but might need his help. Suddenly he changes his story to say he has taken two rides since my son. I say, “oh man, that’s too bad. Now I’ll definitely have to make a police report.” Then he changes the story again to say he’s taken “several” rides, including one to the airport, and that one of those people must have it.
8:13PM: I call the Alameda police department to report it stolen. An officer cames out a little later and I give her all this information. She’ll be contacting him if she hasn’t already.

I like to believe the best of people and I kept reassuring myself and my wife by saying, “oh, it’s wedged up under his seat or something”. But this paints a really, really bad picture for Joe:

  • Why didn’t he reply to the 5:29PM message I sent through Lyft? We’d already texted my son’s phone several times by then and Joe had to have heard it. By the time I first reported it as lost, Joe knew the phone was still in his car. There’s no way he didn’t.
  • The phone’s last known location was at Joe’s house, which was only a few blocks away from where he took my son. That’s by Joe’s own words. That’s where the phone was when it went offline - not off cruising through the city. I watched “Find My Friends” the whole time and it was only two places before it stopped responding: my son’s destination and Joe’s house. It certainly wasn’t at any airport.
  • Why did the phone go offline a couple of minutes after my wife called it while it was sitting at Joe’s house?

The police will draw their own conclusions and they may or may not get it back. I don’t know. All I know is that my son is out his Christmas present, it disappeared from Joe’s possession, Joe ignored my first attempts to recover it, and it was turned off while it was parked at Joe’s house right after Jen called it. The only plausible explanation I can come up with is that Lyft’s driver is a lying thief and I’m out $600 because I chose to use their service. I can’t conclusively prove what happened, but I’m 100% convinced I’m right. There’s just no other answer that fits the evidence.

The worst part is that I gave Joe a 5 star review and a 20% tip before I knew what happened. That’s just adding insult to injury.

Information I gave the police

By the time the police officer visited, I had gathered up:

  • Joe’s picture from the Lyft receipt
  • A transcript of my text chat with Joe
  • A screenshot of “Find My Friends” showing the phone at Joe’s house
  • A transcript of my Twitter chat with Lyft
  • The phone’s serial number
  • This timeline

I have a stack of paperwork proving my side of the story. It’s not something I just made up.

Lyft through all this

For their part, Lyft’s support people have been very pleasant and as helpful as they could reasonably be. There are a few things I believe directly contributed to this outcome, though:

  • According to Lyft, the “Lost something?” link in the app and in email receipts goes directly to the driver. It does not go to Lyft. They had no record that I’d attempted to contact the driver.
  • They only offer phone support for emergency accident situations. The only other form of interactive help I found was via Twitter. In this situation, every minute counted and it took a long time to get the conversation started.
  • Once engaged with Twitter, the average response time between when I sent them a message and they replied to it was 7.5 minutes. Again, when time is of the essence those silent minutes stretched out long.
  • Lyft’s privacy policy reasonably and fairly prevents them from sharing information about Joe’s other rides without a court order. I stand behind that policy. It’s good. However, I wish they could confirm whether Joe actually drove to the airport last night. I don’t believe that would be a violation of Lyft’s riders’ privacy because it could only reveal that some person in this part of the city went to the airport. Statistically, that’s a certainty anyway. It would also not be a violation of Joe’s privacy because he volunteered the information; Lyft would only be confirming what he had already stated.

I think they could make changes that would help resolve such situations more quickly and satisfactorily:

  • Provide a non-emergency customer service phone number so that riders can engage Lyft support more quickly when necessary.
  • Log “Lost something?” messages to riders’ accounts so that support is more quickly aware of urgent situations.
  • Provide additional online communications channels like web chat. I love Twitter and use it often but that’s a poor primary support method. I can imagine how frustrating it would have been to have had to sign up for a Twitter account before I could start a conversation with Lyft.
  • Hire more support employees. The support staff I spoke with was very polite and helpful but I got the mental image of three well-meaning but overworked employees trying to help 40 people at once.
  • Mostly importantly, stop offering ride requests to drivers as soon as something is reported missing. When I first used the “Lost something?” link, Joe was still parked within a short distance of where he’d dropped my son off. If Lyft had a “take the driver offline until they respond” policy, this whole episode could have ended 8 minutes after it began. There would have been no question of what happened because no one else would have been in the car, and Joe would have had an incentive to reply because he would have stopped earning money.

These changes would go a long way toward making a highly stressful situation a little more bearable. I would have felt I was working with Lyft instead of in spite of them.


Day two

10:12AM: Lyft contacts me to explain their privacy policy. They also inform me that it’s against Lyft’s policies for unaccompanied minors to use the service. I didn’t know that. As a driver, though, I presume Joe knew Lyft’s rules. I guess he’s OK with breaking all sorts of rules when he can benefit.

I’ve seen things. Lots of us have: it was a long war. Terrible things, like Anzio ’44. Wonderful things, like summer in liberated Paris. I’ve seen these, and I’ve remembered them.

I wasn’t supposed to be home very long, just a while to relax a bit and then join my buddies on our way to Asia, maybe Africa. I’ve heard Brazil is lovely. Smitty changed his mind after Kimbal got lost to a land mine, though, and anyway I’d met her by then. She’d never been outside her Midwest town along the rail line to San Francisco, but I guess after a couple of beers we both found something to like. I needed her all-Americanness. She enjoyed my stories - at least, the ones I dared tell her. I never planned to stay. No matter. The days faded into months, and her idea for me to use my G.I. Bill to get a degree in accounting was solid. The boys wouldn’t have believed it. Me, in an office! But why not. We all settle down eventually, right?

My wife will never go with me. I’ve accepted that. We have a good life, even if this town gets a little small. We won’t dance the night away in Milan but there’s a warm bed and dinner on the table every night. That counts for a lot. I just wish… they understood. That I need a little escape sometimes. That I need to be outside this town every now and then, running with the bulls or racing to victory. I can read and I can imagine and that works for me. I’ve earned that, haven’t I? I know I can’t be a bush pilot now, so don’t remind me that it’s only my silly fantasy. I know this. I need a few minutes to pretend, that’s all.

One boy takes after my wife. He’s a good kid. He’ll be a solid office man too one day. Perhaps a tradesman. Yeah, I could see that. I know he won’t leave the state - God willing, he won’t have to like I did. He’s home and that’s big enough for him. I’m not sure about the other son. I think I see a spark in him. I think he might take after me, for better or for worse. He wonders about things. He dreams. I can see it. This isn’t a great place for wonderers and dreamers, don’t I know, but maybe I can fan that spark into something wonderful. Something to get him out of here. Something to help him see things, terrible and wonderful things that he can remember. He can have his own silly fantasies, and if my Ralphie wants to be Red Ryder and have his own BB gun with a compass in the stock, then that’s what Santa is going to bring him.

We live outside San Francisco, and Comcast is our cable provider. We wanted to watch college football on TV so I visited Comcast’s website to add the “Sports Entertainment Package” for $10 per month. Immediately after turning on the big game, we found that the BTN channel was in old-style “standard definition” (SD), not HD. On top of that, Comcast’s channel feed was so terrible that it was almost unwatchable: we couldn’t always see the football.

I contact Comcast’s tech support to help find the HD version of the channel. This is the transcript of that conversation:

Problem: Can’t find BTN HD
CHAT ID: 9244E213-3F78-4690-87BA-6A69C55B7A90
Comcast tech: Hello Kirk, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is [TECH]. Please give me one moment to review your information.
Comcast tech: How’s your day going?
Me: My Issue: Can’t find BTN HD
Me: Hi [TECH]
Comcast tech: Hello Kirk.
Me: I added a sports package to my account so I could watch football on BTN.
Me: But I can only find the SD channel, not the HD version.
Comcast tech: I am glad that you have brought this concern to our attention.
Comcast tech: I am glad that you have brought this concern to our attention.
Comcast tech: Rest assured that I can definitely help you to ressolve your issue today and I’ll be more than happy to assist you.
Comcast tech: But before we start, may I ask you a few questions please?
Me: Sure!
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: For account verification, may I have your account number please?

Note: the web page I’d been looking at when I started the chat showed this information. Comcast’s own systems apparently don’t communicate with each other. I logged into the website in another browser tab so I could copy and paste my account number.

Me: Umm, let me look.
Comcast tech: Sure.
Me: [long number]
Comcast tech: Much appreciated, thank you so much.
Comcast tech: Kirk, may I place you on hold for 2-3 minutes while I am reviewing your account and checking the BTN HD channel for you please?
Me: Sure.
Comcast tech: Much appreciated, thank you so much.
Comcast tech: Thank you for patiently waiting.
Me: Certainly.
Comcast tech: Kirk, upon reviewing your account, I see that your current package is the Preferred Double Play and you added the Sports Entertainment Package for you to access this Big Ten Network. However, youcan’t access the BTN HD, Right?
Me: That is correct.
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: Would you mind my asking what channel is the BTN SD on your end please?
Me: 403


Comcast tech: Thank you for that information.
Comcast tech: One moment please?
Me: Sure.
Comcast tech: Much appreciated, thank you so much.
Comcast tech: Thank you for waiting.
Comcast tech: Kirk, I am seeing here that you added the Sports Entertainment Package just today. Right?
Me: Correct.
Comcast tech: You were able to access this BTN in SD channel and not in HD. Right?
Me: Correct.
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: May I have the serial number of your box please? It is located at the back/bottom of the cable box with HOST S/M or MCARD SN and it starts with M1, MA, PA, PK, SA or GI.
Me: This will take a moment as I tear my living room apart.

I was being a little sarcastic. Our cable box is installed in an entertainment center and I had to disconnect several cables to get at the box. I’ve worked tech support before, though, so I understand that the tech had a procedure to follow and I went along with it.

Comcast tech: Sure.
Comcast tech: o problem.
Comcast tech: No*
Comcast tech: I’ll wait for the serial.
Me: [another long number]
Comcast tech: Thanks for the serial.
Comcast tech: Just hold on please?
Comcast tech: Thank you for waiting.
Comcast tech: Kirk, I am still on the process of troubleshooting your box.
Comcast tech: I will also send a signal directly to your box.
Me: It just rebooted (or something very much like it).
Comcast tech: The signal I sent will turn off the cable box, you may need to turn the cable box manually using remote or by pressing Power on the box.
Comcast tech: Signal fully sent to your box.
Me: It’s showing a “ONE MOMENT PLEASE” message.
Comcast tech: No worries, that is normal. We just need to allow the box now to load all its data.
Comcast tech: Kirk, are you still getting the One Moment Please message?
Me: Now it says: INTERACTIVE SERVICE - XOD, To activate service, press OK
Comcast tech: Just follow the instructions please.

I’ve been following the instructions. Don’t get snippy.

Comcast tech: Press ok.
Me: Now I’m in XFinity on demand.
Comcast tech: Okay.
Comcast tech: Hold on please?
Me: For the record, my house guests are about to revolt against me. We’ve missed two touchdowns.
Comcast tech: I certainly understand that, Kirk. I am sincerely sorry for the inconvenience.
Comcast tech: Just hold on please?
Me: Holding.
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: Kirk, upon double checking here, the Big Ten Network in HD channel is not available in your area.
Comcast tech: What available is the BTN SD only in your area.
Comcast tech: I am sorry for that, Kirk.
Comcast tech: I hope you understand.

What? First, that’s ridiculous. Who wants to watch football - on a premium channel, no less - when they can’t physically see the ball? Second, it would’ve been nice had the tech checked this before resetting my cable box.

Me: I do not wish to be rude to you, [TECH], because you have been very helpful.
Me: But no, I don’t understand. Is that a joke?
Me: I would pay $10 a month to watch football with horrible picture quality?
Me: That’s unacceptable.
Comcast tech: I perfectly understand you, Kirk. I understand the frustration that you have right know. However, as much I love to give you this BTN HD but Comcast doesn’t have an agreement yet for BTN HD in your location.
Comcast tech: I hope you understand.
Me: No, but whatever. My cable box is still rebooting. My guests are leaving to go to a local restaurant.
Comcast tech: I already exhausted all my resources to address your concern today. I found out that this BTN HD is not yet available in your area.
Me: You did that after rebooting my cable box, which still hasn’t started back up. I wish you had checked first.
Comcast tech: I am sorry to know that your guest went out to a local restaurant.
Me: Because you broke my TV.
Comcast tech: My sincere apologies for the inconvenience.
Me: How long is this expected to take to restart?
Comcast tech: We need to allow the box now to load all its data. This may take 45-60 minutes for the box to download all its settings. You may see an error on your On Demand, To Be Announced on your Guide and One Moment Please on your channels.

Our guests are not amused at this revelation.

Comcast tech: Nope. The regular channels will only take 10-15 minutes to restart.
Me: OK, I think we’re done here.
Comcast tech: Kirk, again, I do apologize for the inconvenience. I know how important for you to watch the football game.
Comcast tech: Thank you.
Comcast tech: Is there anything else that I can help you with?
Me: For the love of all that is holy, please don’t help with anything else. No.

It’s been well over an hour now and our cable box is still unusable.

Comcast, this is why people are cutting the cord. I expect to do so later this week.

In the process of moving to another state, we decided to sell my car to some friends. This turned out to be much harder than anticipated.

I admit that this is entirely my fault and I deserve to be made fun of for it, but we couldn’t find the title. It could be that the bank which financed the loan never sent it to us. It could be that it’s in our safe deposit box in our last city and that I’ll find it next month when I go back for the rest of our stuff. Or maybe I’m just a bad document caretaker and I lost it along the way. I don’t know. But the end result is that we don’t have the title and needed to have a duplicate issued before we can sell the car.

Late May

I called the county clerk’s office to ask how to apply for a duplicate title. The clerk was very helpful and friendly, and offered to look up the necessary information while I was on the phone. I gave her my car’s VIN and my personal information, and she came back with the unwelcome news that the bank still had a collateral lien on the car. I pointed out that I bought it used in 2000 and didn’t have a 12-year loan on a used Oldsmobile, and that I hadn’t been arrested for chronic non-payment of the loan. She laughingly agreed that I’d clearly paid it off, but needed a notarized lien release from the financing bank before she could issue a new title.

When I tried to find contact information for that bank, I discovered they had been acquired by another bank in 2004 and no longer existed.

OK. So.

Early June

I called the new bank, Regions, and explained the situation. They were more pleasant and easier to work with than I’d feared, but couldn’t find any information about my paid-off-9-years-ago loan from their subsidiary. They took all my information, though, and agreed to send a lien release if they couldn’t find proof that I still owed them money. That seemed perfectly fair and reasonable - from a bank! - and I sat back to wait for the letter to arrive.

It didn’t arrive.

Late June

I called Regions again. They were missing some information from the lien release application form (but weren’t sure exactly which information) and needed to re-file it. Given how nice they were and that I wasn’t even their customer any more, I didn’t protest or complain too much.


A couple of week later, the official, notarized lien release came in the mail. The VIN wasn’t quite identical to the one I gave them, but I hoped the county clerk would call it “good enough” and accept the note.

Now we were ready to apply for the replacement title. The state’s form required that Jen and I both have our signatures notarized, so on a sunny Saturday, we drove to a nearby UPS Store and paid up. We stuffed the lien release letter, the application, and a check for $14 in an envelope and mailed it to the county clerk’s office.


Not a peep from the county clerk. I didn’t rush things because, well, government office… But after a few weeks of silence, I called to check on the application.

The county clerk never received it.

The notarized application? The check? The necessary, certified original copy of the lien release? Lost forever to the mail system.

I asked the clerk if I could just take the car out back and burn it, as that might be the easiest way to dispose of it. She asked me to please not to.

I sheepishly called Regions again to explain the situation, apologize profusely, and to ask them to please send me yet another copy of the lien release. They cheerfully agreed to and collected all my information to fill out the request form.

I called US Bank to cancel my lost check and they told me there was a $30 change to stop payment on a $14 note. I told them not to bother and that I’d take my chances.


And that’s where it stands. All I wanted to do is sell my car, and it’s involved the county clerk, three banks (one of them out of business), a UPS Store, and the post office. As of today, I’m no closer to the goal than I was two months ago.

As a side note: yeah, it was my fault for losing the original title (if I ever even had it). But I wouldn’t have been able to transfer the title to the new owners without the lien release anyway, so this was destined to be a pain in the butt in any case.

While I almost never buy extended warranties, conventional wisdom is that you should always buy AppleCare for an Apple laptop. You have up to a year after buying your laptop to purchase the extended coverage. At a high level, you’re basically buying an insurance policy for a piece of hardware with a specific serial number. Why does Apple make this so difficult?

I bought my MacBook Pro directly from Apple’s website. Here’s how AppleCare purchase should work:

  1. I log in to their store website.
  2. I view my order history and find my laptop.
  3. Apple has my MacBook Pro’s serial number on file with this order, and they also have a list of equipment covered by AppleCare. Since my laptop isn’t already covered, the site displays a “Buy AppleCare” button next to it.
  4. I click the “Buy AppleCare” button, choose to use my billing information that Apple already has on file, and click “Buy it now”.
  5. I get a confirmation email and move on to other things.

A lot of people bought their laptops through other sources, like local dealers, chain retail stores, and so on. Since Apple might not have any record of their purchase, here’s how that process should work:

  1. A customer visits Apple’s store website.
  2. Under “Mac Accessories”, they click “AppleCare”.
  3. They see a new form titled “What’s your Mac’s serial number?” and a link to how to find that information.
  4. When the user enters their serial number, the website looks up that part information and selects the appropriate AppleCare plan for their hardware.
  5. They add the plan to their cart and check out normally.
  6. The user gets a confirmation email and moves on to other things.

In reality, the process is far less polished and, well, un-Apple-like:

  1. I logged into their store website and looked for a process like the one I described above.
  2. When that failed to materialize, I browsed around until I found the AppleCare plans in the store.
  3. After some rooting around, I found the correct plan and added it to my cart.
  4. I was given the option of picking my plan up in an Apple Store or having it mailed to me. Wait, what? Pickup? Mail? For a warranty? Fine - mail it.
  5. After a couple of days, my AppleCare plan arrived in the mail. It came in a large cardboard box with a tiny cardboard box inside it. The tiny box contained some printed material and a registration number, but no Apple stickers or anything else I’d actually want.
  6. Per instructions, I went to a separate section of the Apple website and entered my laptop’s serial number (which they already have on file from when I bought it last year!) and the AppleCare registration number (which they already have on file from when I bought it a few days earlier!).
  7. I agreed to the Terms of Service, which were identical to the now-completely-unnecessary printed copy that came in the box.
  8. After submitting those numbers, Apple asked if I wanted my coverage certificate sent by email or by postal service. “Telegraph” and “carrier pigeon” were not available options, so I chose email.
  9. Apple informed me that I’d successfully completed my application, that my registration was now in progress, and that I would receive my certificate when they had finished verifying my registration.
  10. That was over 12 hours ago. I didn’t get any kind of confirmation email, but my browser history helped me find the status page so I could check in on it today. It’s still stuck at “Registration in progress”, presumably while Gertrude from Accounts finds my punchcard in the filing cabinet.

I’d probably shrug the ordeal off if I were dealing with Best Buy, Microsoft, or some other company not known for their customer service. But Apple? This was the opposite of the kind of experience they usually provide and I’m disappointed that the process was so clumsy.