(A true story in the words of our engineer with full names redacted for privacy. Take it away, Kyle!)
Last night I was doing some coding at a Starbucks. It’s the one behind Target on Colorado Boulevard. A lot of homeless folk hang out at this location. Like many people, they enjoy charging their phones while using the WiFi.
A homeless man and his girlfriend sat at the table next to mine. The man pointed at my Macbook Pro and asked his girlfriend: “How much you think that machine costs? Three hundred?”
Oh man, a lot more than that, I thought. I felt their curious gaze on my screen as I scrolled through code on my terminal. Eventually the man tapped me on the shoulder.
“Hey, what’s that machine called?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s a laptop,” I replied.
“How much was it? Three hundred?”
“Oh man, I don’t remember. It’s been a while!”
The next question surprised me.
“Can it help me find someone?”
I’m a software engineer at a tech company called Spokeo. Spokeo’s mission is to help people search for and connect with others. As an employee, I have a company search account. So, I found it intriguing that out of all the people he could have asked, he asked me.
“Who’re you looking for?”
“Can you find Deborah B? She’s from Gardena.”
I pulled up Deborah B. from Gardena, California. Spokeo lists possible relatives to help customers narrow down their search.
“Is she related to Frederick or Benjamin?”
“That’s me! I’m Benjamin!”
I opened Deborah’s report, wrote down all six of the phone numbers associated with her name on a Starbucks napkin, and gave them to Benjamin.
“How am I supposed to contact her?” he asked. “I don’t have no phone or money to call each of these numbers. Can I borrow your phone?”
My heart melted and I gave him my phone. Unfortunately, he had no idea how a smart phone worked. So, I dialed the first number in myself. No answer. I called the second number, but still no answer. Each time I dialed in a new number, Benjamin’s face looked a little less hopeful. I dialed the last number and someone picked up.
“Hey, is this Deborah?”
“Yes. Who’s calling?”
I passed the phone to Benjamin. During the conversation, his happiness had been irrepressible. He explained that he was still alive, that he had “a girl,” and that he was recently robbed of all his things. He didn’t even have a post office box to have mail sent to him.
“They wanted me to pay thirty-five dollars to look up your name, and this white boy helped me find ya’ll for free! He has our whole family.” He shot a look at me. “What’s your name, son?”
“Kyle helped me find you guys. Here, talk to him.”
After Deborah and I chatted a moment, she gave me the phone numbers of Benjamin’s brothers and friends, most of whom were in Colorado.
Benjamin thanked me. Then, with a tremor in his voice, he made one more request.
“Can we call some more people?”
We called two more relatives. Benjamin explained to both that he didn’t wish to see them in person because he didn’t want them to see him “like this.” He did, however, want to keep communicating. He mentioned several times how he felt like his “time is coming,” but he wanted his family to know he was drug-free, having only a drink now and then.
He also alluded to being ill several times, which added some urgency to the conversations.
I chatted with John, one of Benjamin’s brothers, and he told me it had been a while since he’d seen Benjamin. Whenever he or someone from the family had come to Los Angeles to look for him in the past, they’d never known where to begin. I told John where I found Benjamin and gave him my phone number, offering to meet up when he returns to Los Angeles.
Search Angels Among Us
Closing time crept up on us. Good timing, too — my phone battery charge was almost 0%. I wrote all the phone numbers, including mine, on two pieces of paper so that Benjamin had copies in case he ever lost one of them.
It had only been a couple of hours, but I felt connected to Benjamin and his family. Witnessing pure joy is not something I see enough. We said goodbye, and Benjamin gave me a big hug.
“I needed this,” he told his girlfriend as I walked away.
Later that night, I received a text from John:
“Thank you Kyle for helping My brother Ben get in touch with family. We have never understood Benjamins’ choices. He has always been a beautiful person inside…he is lovable and we love him.”