HOW I LOST MY LAPTOP IN CHICAGO, AND HOW WHAT I LEARNED TAUGHT ME ABOUT PEOPLE AND MARKETING
My story started with a visit to Chicago on business to attend the International Freelancers Conference. It was the second biggest investment I’d made in my business at the time—the first being my shiny new MacBook Pro. Initially I had planned to catch a ride with another attendee on her small puddle-jumper, but when the clouds threatened rain that morning, I booked a trip by train, keeping my options open for the way home.
The conference was great—I learned so much about running and marketing a design business. On the last day, I opened my laptop in the hotel lobby and proceeded to book my train trip home to Minneapolis. But the trains were all full.
Slightly inconvenienced, I hailed a cab and headed over to the bus station. Not my first choice, but it’d do. When I got there, the place was packed. The buses were all full. I was checked out of my hotel with no place to go. Stuck in the Chicago bus station.
“What gives? I didn’t think it would be difficult to catch a bus home to Minneapolis,” I moaned to no one in particular.
“It’s Columbus Day weekend,” said a woman who glanced up at me from her newspaper. “People headed home to see their families, I guess.” I wondered when Columbus Day became such a big stinking holiday.
Disgruntled, I dialed the number for the local car rental agency. Booked.
I dialed another: booked again.
I dialed a third. This time, before letting them off the line, I insisted they tell me if any of their other locations showed a car in stock. Finally, success. They transferred my call and I booked a car. They dispatched a car to come pick me up.
Tired and flustered, I waited outside the Chicago bus station for my ride to appear. Buses moved in, people shuffled out and others packed in. An aggressive security agent tapped on the hoods of cars that approached the curb to drop off passengers or pick up loved ones.
“Keep it moving! No parking!” he snapped. I felt my heartbeat rise, knowing soon he’d scold me too, when my ride came.
Sure enough, when the rental car agent pulled up, I noticed that we were in the sights of the security agent. I scrambled to get in the car quickly before he made a scene.
We crawled through Chicago, which was now in the early stages of rush hour, back to the parking ramp that housed the rental car agency. I sat in the narrow office and watched the agent clicking my information into the computer, relieved to be nearly done with this process. My eyes wandered around the room. The luggage I’d packed just this morning while sipping coffee and looking out over the skyscrapers from my hotel room looked out of place sitting next to the door of the tiny office. My luggage. My computer case!…where was it?
I bolted out to where the driver was preparing to pick up another customer. “Wait!” I belted, “I think I left my computer in there.”
He shook his head: no, I checked it already. Then seeing my face, waved his arms for me to have a look.
I tore through the car, stupidly opening the glove compartment, as if my computer might have shrunken suddenly and slipped away hidden. The car was empty.
I ran back to the office. The agent was standing now, shaking his head. No computer. The keys to my rental were in his hand. I was hesitant to leave, thinking it might be my last chance to save my computer. I asked if we could call the bus station first, just to see if anyone had turned it in. The phone buzzed, unanswered. We called again. Busy.
So finally I folded into the rental car and pulled away with the two agents shaking their heads. I’m sure they were thinking, “What idiot loses track of her computer in a bus station?”
I resolved to return to the bus station, if anything just so I could tell myself I did everything I could to get my new computer back. My mind went over all the files that were on it—what would put me at risk? What would I lose forever? I dreaded facing the cranky security guard upon my arrival.
And then I had a peculiar thought: if it were me, and I found a laptop computer at a bus station, I’d turn it in. I wouldn’t take it. I wouldn’t dream of taking it. I thought of everyone I know: my family, my friends. None of them would take it, I was sure of it. I was willing to bet there were a lot of people who were the same way. It might be a big city, and it might be a busy bus station, but it was filled with people—people with friends and family who were probably a lot like mine. People like me. I began to feel hope.
When I pulled up to the bus station, the activity level had dropped. The security guard was nowhere in sight. Cautiously, I parked my rental car at the curb and got out. I took two steps and was greeted by a man who said, “I know what you’re looking for.” He told me to follow him. Could it be?
“You left it on the curb,” explained the man as we walked. He was a bit taller than me, dressed simply and carrying a single small bag. His dark skin was spotted with age and his eyes creased with smile lines. He led me to the back of the station toward the security room. “I tried to catch you before you took off, but you didn’t see me. So I brought to security.” He knocked on the door. “Here’s the woman who left the laptop,” he announced.
“Is this yours?” the guard asked.
“A MacBook Pro laptop computer?” I nodded at the black case.
“Yep,” he confirmed. “You got lucky.”
I knew it. I smiled sheepishly, reclaiming my laptop case and started back to my illegally-parked rental car. The kind man followed me.
“Thank you,” I said. “I’d really like to reward you for what you did…you really saved me! My whole work is in there!” I reached into my purse to offer him a reward, but he shook his hand No. He didn’t want a reward. His reward was seeing it returned to its rightful owner, he told me.
I teared up suddenly, moved at the thought of one stranger helping another. Without thinking I gave him a hug before heading back to my car. And just like that, two lives intersected for a brief moment like so many others have throughout time. We connected as human beings; two members of the human race.
So why post this story on a blog about marketing and design? The experience of connecting with this man reminded me that at the heart of what we do as business owners, as marketers, as designers is exactly that: reaching out to our fellow human. I realized then that marketing works best when we do more than just tell people what we offer, what we can do, what it can do for them. Successful marketing finds a way to tap into that thing that connects us; that powerful thing that makes us more similar than different. When you find that connection, big things can happen: a video goes viral, an idea becomes Facebook, or a song becomes a number one hit.
How do you find that connection? Shift your thinking. Remember this story and start by assuming we’re more alike than different.