MICHELE NORRIS, host:
The economy isn't the only thing in the toilet. Many of us have dropped our cell phones down there too. It turns out it's hard to confirm how many phones are lost beyond the occasional anecdote. Of course, more cell phones or BlackBerries might be lost except that untold numbers of people go plunging in to rescue them. NPR's Yuki Noguchi chased down some of them, the people that is, not the phones.
(Soundbite of flushing toilet)
YUKI NOGUCHI: I'm standing in a public bathroom stall at Union Station in Washington, D.C. This place gets plenty of foot traffic. In these narrow confines, you can imagine a commuter taking a call or a tourist juggling their bags, and you can see how this becomes a treacherous place for the average mobile phone.
Mr. FRANK BENNETT (Chief Operating Officer, Simplexity): You know, there are 268 million cell phones in the United States, and we do get an awful lot of stories of them going down the toilet.
NOGUCHI: Frank Bennett is chief operating officer of Simplexity, an online reseller of phones.
Mr. BENNETT: We had a lady we helped last month who was changing her little son in a porta-potty, and she lost her phone. And she could see it, but she wasn't willing to get it. And so it was in this interesting legal status of not being actually lost, but being unretrievable, and we helped her get a new smart phone.
NOGUCHI: Bennett also speaks from personal experience. He fished two of his cell phones out of the bowl. And there are people like David Toledo who recalls this episode with his old BlackBerry.
Mr. DAVID TOLEDO: At the time when I pulled up my pants, I just heard a klunk-klunk.
NOGUCHI: The setting? An airplane bathroom on the way to a client meeting in Denver.
Mr. TOLEDO: Obviously when you flush those toilets, you get a big draft coming in from the main cabin, and it went straight down the toilet.
NOGUCHI: Toledo did what any desperate businessman traveling without a laptop might do. He stuck his hand into the suction and into that swirl of dyed-blue water.
Mr. TOLEDO: It's kind of gross afterwards, but I didn't have a choice at that point.
NOGUCHI: A lot of rinsing and lots of towels later, the thing still worked.
Mr. TOLEDO: Back in the holster in the pants thinking everything was back to normal. You know, I didn't really think too much about it.
NOGUCHI: Toledo placed a call to his wife. This was before wireless headsets, and he was driving. So he did that shrug thing where you sandwich the phone between your shoulder, then press it to your face. Later he arrived at his meeting.
Mr. TOLEDO: I walk up to the customer location to greet the customer, and the customer says, hey, what's going on with your face? You have this blue streak going on across it.
NOGUCHI: In a weird way, you might consider Toledo lucky. Occasionally there's news of people going after their phones, then getting their arm stuck. In October, a man aboard a train in France lost a battle with the commode's suction system. Hours later, according to the BBC, emergency workers removed the entire toilet, still attached to his arm.
Frank Bennett, the executive at the phone reseller, says people often buy insurance coverage. But in many cases, losing a phone in the toilet is considered negligence and isn't covered. Maybe that's the industry's way of saying there's a limit to where you should go with your phone. Anyway, it was a limit Ernesto Londono ignored. And once his phone was in there, he absolutely had to get it back.
Mr. ERNESTO LONDONO (Baghdad Correspondent, The Washington Post): I just stuck my hand in there. And fortunately the water was clean, but I didn't stop to think about it.
NOGUCHI: If it had not been clean, do you think you would have still gone after it?
Mr. LONDONO: Probably.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LONDONO: I feel very strongly about my BlackBerry.
NOGUCHI: Londono is a Baghdad correspondent for The Washington Post. He needed the BlackBerry for work, and at the time also needed it to recover the only record of a love interest's phone number. He took out the battery, dried the phone with a hair dryer, then plunged it in a bed of rice for several days.
Mr. LONDONO: And then, very, very slowly, it sprang back to life. It lasted over six months, which unfortunately was more than the relationship.
NOGUCHI: So if you have a very close relationship with your phone, beware. You might take a little extra care when answering the call of nature. Yuki Noguchi, NPR News.
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