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A zoomer gets lost: One brave reporter's incredible journey home with only her dog, her wits, and no cell service

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

"No SIM detected," read the message on the shattered screen of my iPhone 6S. My trusted device had picked the worst possible time to finally betray me. I had just taken a wrong turn off I-5 and now sat parked in my car in an unknown arterial in Tacoma.

The first thing that struck me about Tacoma was how desolate it was on a Monday afternoon. Not a single soul could be seen walking the streets or patronizing any of the few businesses around me. Not that another person would have been comforting. I couldn't remember the last time I had asked an actual human for directions, and the prospect felt more terrifying than being stuck there forever.

I looked over at my traveling companion, my small dog, Peter, the only creature with a worse sense of direction than me. I felt I should break the news to him.

"Well, I guess we live here now," I said as Peter looked back at me with the far-off gaze of someone who has smoked just a little too much pot.

This must be how someone comes to find themselves a resident of Tacoma. Lost, wrong turn off the freeway, and no lifeline to the outside world. I was about to accept my fate when the rain came.

A torrential downpour came out of nowhere. I watched longingly out the window, reminded of my Seattle home, many miles from where I now sat.
And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw her. A woman down the street, the first human I had seen in what felt like ages. As the figure came closer to me, however, I realized there was something odd about her, almost un-human.

My eyes darted to the object in her hand. I realized where my uncanny discomfort was coming from, for above her head, she held an umbrella.

Shocked at the sight, I turned to my dog. "Peter, I've the feeling we're not in Seattle anymore," I exclaimed.

There was nothing behind those eyes of his.

I was now determined to reboot my GPS by any means necessary. Digging into the deep recesses of my mind, I remembered a time before cell phones, a simpler day full of Angry Birds and Fruit Ninja on a yellow iPod Touch. How did I figure anything out back then? With Wi-Fi!

I bade Peter farewell and left the warmth of my car in search of any spot that might provide a gigabyte of free Wi-Fi. Alas, this street did not have a McDonald's or a Starbucks. It was as if I had wandered into some strange alternate dimension.

Finally, I found a restaurant with Wi-Fi. Huddled outside the doors, I shielded my precious phone from the sideways rain and prayed for a connection.

It worked! I had just enough to program my GPS for my destination. Once I left the Wi-Fi, my GPS would continue to work. I just had to be careful enough not to make any wrong turns because it could not reroute me without the internet.

Within a few minutes, the clouds had parted. Peter and I were back on the road toward our final stop in Tacoma, which turned out to be easy and took almost no time.

However, it was in the middle of a Wi-Fi desert. I walked up and down the street searching for even the weakest of signals to help program my GPS, to no avail.

I started to see mirages, a far-off image of someone swiping and clicking away. I knew my mind was playing tricks on me.

Eventually, I admitted defeat. The only way I would make it home now would be to follow the street signs to the highway. Like my nomadic forefathers, I followed the wind — and a blue Honda Civic — toward the roar of the highway.

Green signs informed me which way to take to Seattle, and I entered a straight path toward home.

With no Spotify to play me my favorite music, I was forced to tune into the radio while I drove. I was surprised to learn that Seattle's local radio loves Lil Nas X and Doja Cat even more than I do.

The radio provided a strange new experience. It was like listening to a podcast and a playlist all at once, but without Spotify Premium, of course. I was also surprised at what phrases were censored from Doja Cat's songs. The radio edit would not play the words "choke," "bite," or "slap," even though I clearly remember singing every word to Rihanna's "S&M" over the radio in 2010.

Perhaps it was my distraction due to the hot radio jams, but after a few minutes, I realized there were no more green signs reassuring me that we were still going toward Seattle. Sure, we hadn't taken any turns yet, but without my GPS telling me in an Australian accent every three minutes that I was on the fastest route to Seattle, I was not certain we were still going the right way.

One exit passed. Then two. Peter didn't seem to care, but I started to worry. My gas tank was sitting half empty (I am ever the pessimist in dire situations), and I had no clue how to find a gas station, let alone the cheapest one, without Google. Frantically, I pulled off at the next exit, hoping to readjust and maybe find some Wi-Fi.

The town I pulled into was called Fife, and it was straight out of the 1990s, which made sense, taking my situation into account. Telephone poles lined the streets even though nobody here had technology beyond a Walkman. I sucked in a deep breath and looked around for signs leading me back to the highway.

When we were back on the road, I was determined to pay attention. I turned off the sweet Lil Nas X beats and followed the green signs. I pushed through the uncertainty that rose once I had gone several miles without seeing any signs pointing toward Seattle and prayed I was going in the right direction.

Finally, as we crossed a bridge, I could see it: the Space Needle, a sign of hope summoning me back to my city. While my directional skills remained abysmal, I knew I could find my way home once safely back in Seattle's confines.

The rest of the drive went by smoothly. When we finally spotted our old brick apartment building, Peter and I sighed with relief. I don't know how any of the millennials survived in the days before Siri, Google Maps, and a good old Spotify playlist, but I have to say, after my trip back from Tacoma, I have a newfound appreciation for my pioneering predecessors.