Something That Happened In the Rain

I learned to love rain living in Ketchikan, Alaska. Actually that’s not quite accurate. I learned to hate rain there, too. Mostly, I learned to live with rain, to coexist with it on a daily basis. When you live in a place where it rains 13 feet a year, yes 13 feet, it rains a whole lot.

Thirteen feet of rain a year is twice as much as Seattle. If you’ve ever been to Washington State, you can begin to get some sense of the magnitude. There is always precipitation in Ketchikan, whether it’s a fine mist, a constant seeping drizzle, a downpour that drenches you in seconds, or a biting horizontal rain that pushes you across the street. The rare occasions when it was sunny for a whole day, kids were let out of school for a “sun day.”

I walked to work in Ketchikan. I walked from the wooden house I shared with Kathy Tibbles and her daughter Katrina, through the downtown, past the Arctic Bar and the trinket shops that sold miniature totem poles and mugs shaped like grizzly bears, past milling crowds of tourists getting on or off cruise ships, past real totem poles, past streets–complete with official street signs–that were nothing more than flights of sodden wooden steps, going up. In my rubber boots and wool socks, I slogged through the rain to my first professional job at KRBD-FM where I worked at a news reporter and later, as a talk show host.

Right outside the door of the radio station was a stream, nothing unusual in an island town where it never stops raining, but in this stream, we could watch female salmon, turning red as they moved toward egg-laying and death, flipping up a small waterfall right outside our front door.

Alaskans are cavalier about the weather. That doesn’t mean they don’t take it seriously; they do, because a mistake with the weather in Alaska can mean death. But the locals loved to show how tough they were. In Ketchikan, nothing stopped because of rain. Nothing. We trolled for salmon in the rain. We speared 50-pound halibut with gaff hooks in the rain. (Hundred pounders had to be shot in the head with a pistol. This was done leaning over the side of a boat, also in the rain). Softball games started at 11 PM on June nights—while it rained. Rain boots, rain pants and raincoats were required; sneakers and flip-flops, business shoes and heels were verboten. We wore rain boots. Period. Umbrellas were scorned as wimpy and useless; only tourists used them.

Winter, spring, summer and fall, our feet looked like poached fish, white and pale and peeling. Entryways were lined with dripping boots; living rooms full of steaming wool shirts set on radiators to dry.  Rain was our way of life, neither discussed nor avoided; it was ubiquitous. Real Alaskans dressed for the weather and went out.

So when I heard we were getting an early rainstorm the other day, I used my Alaskan bravado to let my morning walking buddies, the Butt Busters, know that I was going to walk regardless of the weather. A little rain wasn’t stopping me. As cold rain pelted my bedroom window, I dressed in waterproof pants, a gortex rain jacket, all weather boots, a pair of wool socks and a fleece shirt. I drove slowly to Rio Del Mar Beach, aware of how oil pools on the road after the first rain.

When I arrived at 7:00 AM, the beach parking lot was empty. I figured that my fellow Butt Busters had wimped out and were going to sit in the coffee shop drinking coffee and eating bagels instead. But that wasn’t going to stop me. I tossed my keys and cell phone in my jacket pocket and headed out 3/4 miles and back in one direction, the rain sheeting against my face, then one mile and back in the other direction. As I started on the second half of the walk, I spotted Colleen and Rita returning from the other side. They’d braved the rain after all. They went into the coffee shop and I continued walking.

A half hour later, I was back at the parking lot. I reached for my keys and noticed that the inside of my gortex pocket had a little puddle of water in it. Strange. I pulled out my cell phone to check my messages. Water poured out of the plug end. Shit. Wasn’t gortex supposed to be waterproof? I opened the car and set my iPhone upright in a cup holder to drain and headed for the coffee shop. I stood awkwardly on the mat, not wanting to drip all over the floor. I explained what had happened and said I had to go.

Back home, I went right to my computer and googled, “wet iphone.” Within a few seconds, a host of sites popped up. The first told me to turn my phone off immediately and to take out the battery, but my iPhone was showing a flashing white apple on the screen and pushing the on/off button had no effect whatsoever. I didn’t have a clue how to take out the battery. I clicked on the next website.

The posting at CNET began like this: “Whether the culprit is a sink, toilet or rainstorm, getting your iPhone soaked in water is bad news. If the unthinkable happens, and you don’t have insurance, your best bet is to make sure the iPhone is off, swab it down with a dry cloth, then do one of the following immediately:

·      Put your iPhone in a tub or bag of uncooked rice and let it sit for several hours (up to 2 days).

·      Place your iPhone in a plastic bag with a few silica packets.

·      Place your iPhone in a hearing aid dryer (say what?) for several hours.”

I went into the kitchen and grabbed the two bags of brown rice we happened to have in the cupboard, poured them into a plastic container with a snap-on lid and smooshed my soggy phone into the center. It continued to light up and glow intermittently through the short brown grains, mooning me disdainfully.

What is it with liquids and me? Just a few months ago I’d poured hot chai into my laptop, damaging it irreparably. I hoped I’d be luckier this time.

I learned that the second drying agent the article suggested, desiccated silica, is the stuff in the little white packets put in unopened pill bottles and stuffed into new shoes. I had no idea how to get my hands on any until I read about a man who’d been pushed into a swimming pool with his iPhone in his shirt pocket, who’d gone out and bought kitty litter made with silica. I headed out to my local pet store.

I returned 45 minutes later with an $8.99 bag of silicon kitty litter, a bizarre substance consisting of tens of thousands of identical, tiny hard white balls. I took the electronic corpse of my phone out of the brown rice (too organic to save an high tech electronic device, I figured), stuck in it a Ziploc bag and buried it with several cups of the super-absorbent little white balls. I cinched the zip-lock strip and put it next to my bed. Tiny white balls that had escaped rolled across the kitchen floor.

I went back to the CNET website and clicked “Comments” to see what some of the other unfortunate losers had said. And there I found 73 personal accounts, many of them reporting success.

I learned that many people go into the Apple Store and try fool the guys at the Genius Bar into replacing their water-damaged phones, but I guess there’s a sensor around the earphone jack that changes color when the phone gets wet. It’s a telltale giveaway. One guy bragged about painting it with white-out and walking out of the store with a free, brand-new phone.

One writer had dropped his iPhone in a puddle next to his car; another man’s young son had came up to him and asked, “Daddy, why’s your phone in the toilet?” One guy said his girlfriend, in an attempt to be helpful, washed his jeans, not once but twice, with the iPhone in his pocket. Each story told the same tale of woe. Each victim had tried the rice and/or the silicon desiccant and magically, in a matter or hours or days, their phones had dried out and come back to life. One woman counseled patience and included a diary of how her phone looked on day 1, day 2, day 3, day, 4 and so on, all the way until day 9 when it magically turned on and started functioning again. Here’s an edited version of her report:

1st day – Dropped in toilet. Grabbed out within a few seconds and ripped off case and plastic screen shield and shook out and dried every bit of outside. Took sim card and tray out. The phone was on and would not turn off on its on – it just constantly restarted itself for at least two hours until it finally shut down on its own…put in a sealed tupperware bowl of rice.

2nd Day – Left in rice. Water streaks looked like diagonal scratches.

3rd and 4th Day – Threw in a few packets of silica gel and damp rid with the rice.

5th Day – Took out of rice and propped standing up in front of heater vent. I’m frustrated and have resorted to rocking in the corner crying.

6th Day – Desperation. Turned on, but touchscreen would not respond. Powered up fine and screen was bright – but remaining water underneath prevented touchscreen from responding. Put vacuum to both ends of phone. Applied hairdryer to both ends. Shot compressed air through as well. I just did everything that I read not to do! I don’t care. 6 days feels like an eternity without my beloved iPhone.

7th Day – Started giving up [since] water just would not evaporate on it’s own. I needed a constant steady heat source to help evaporate the water. The rice and silica packs did all they could do. At my husband’s suggestion, I wrapped it in a heating pad and propped it back up against the heater vent. He advised not to do the oven thing as solder joints can easily heat up and become loose or fall off altogether. Heating pad was only used in evening when I was home. During the day and at night when I went to bed I just left it in front of the heater vent.

8th Day – Still water marks – almost looked more spread out. Turned on and could slide the bar after a few tries but could not enter my passcode. Back in heating pad and in front of heater vent.

9th Day – Turned back on and touchscreen still would not respond to all areas. Water looked very light and dried up incredibly fast with the use of the heating pad. Phone was quite warm and I got the temperature warning. I still couldn’t get past the passcode screen…not all the numbers would press down and respond. I felt defeated and gave up and laid it on the table. After an hour, I reached across the table and hit the home button and was able to easily slide the bar across and enter my passcode. [It was as if the phone] was brand new and never had had any issues…[My] phone is working like the day I got it – everything is perfect. There are still some visible water streaks when the phone is tilted. I hope those will evaporate in the next few weeks. But in the meantime – I’m so f-in happy to have my phone back to life!

This story and the others gave me hope. But I am only on Day #2.

The amazing thing about my story, aside from the fact that both you and I will have to wait for the ending, is that I have not yet freaked out. I’ve been methodical. I’ve been calm. (It helps that I backed up my phone the day before this happened).

I’m going to see what life is like without my phone, without my calendar, my class notes, my list of writing prompts, my birthday reminders, Trism, Scrabble, my record keeping systems, my metronome, and all my other apps. Maybe it will be a relaxing week. Maybe I will miss a few appointments here and there. Maybe in a few days, I’ll reach into the kitty litter and magic will have occurred. I can only wait and see.

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