How Keylor Navas Cost me my iPhone

Where’s my wallet?

I pat myself down. Did I put it in a different pocket? But of course not. Those dudes in the Panama kits who were jumping and pushing and singing, “Olé Panama.” They weren’t celebrating. They were picking my pockets.

My passport. $300 in local currency. My iPhone.

All gone.


Carolyn and I are leaving the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier between Costa Rica and Panama at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose. Carolyn finds someone who speaks English—Juan, one of the stadium vendors. He guides us to the police substation. I explain in broken Spanish that I’ve been robbed, and Juan fills in the gaps. The police sympathize, but can’t do anything. I hadn’t expected they could. I only want to file a police report so I can take it with me to the American embassy in the morning to replace my passport.

Then Juan has a brainstorm. Holds up his iPhone. “Can we track your phone?”

Of course! I log into “Find my iPhone” on his device. My phone is still in the Parque Metropolitano, on the other side of the stadium.

The policeman’s eyes light up. “Vamonos!” he says, and points to a four-seat pickup truck. He and his partner jump in the front. Carolyn and I in squeeze into the back with Juan, who holds his iPhone over the front seat for the cop in the passenger’s seat to navigate.

My phone doesn’t move as we careen around the stadium. Can we get there in time?

We halt in front of a set of moveable, metal barriers with about two feet of space between them. The cop orders a security guard standing nearby to move them.

He refuses. I don’t understand what he says, except for a name.

“Keylor Navas.”

“They won’t let us through,” Juan says. “Keylor Navas is coming out soon.”

We can’t get through because the Costa Rican keeper dawdled in the shower?

The cop isn’t any more impressed with this obstruction than I am, but the guard won’t relent.

Donde esta su supervisor?” the cop demands.

The feckless guard calls over to a woman wearing a yellow security shirt. Then he looks at the cop, and drags one of the barriers to narrow that two-foot gap.


Supervisor saunters over. The cop explains the situation. She shakes her head.

“Keylor Navas,” she says.

The police officer shouts at her. The only words I understand are, “panameños,” “robaron,” and “gringo,” but I get the gist. Some Panamanians robbed this American. Let us through.

“No. Keylor Navas,” she repeats, and walks away.

We have to find another route.

The cop throws the shifter into reverse, whips the steering wheel to the right, and stomps on the gas.


Did we just… hit something? The cop doesn’t care. He shifts into first, starts to pull away. Supervisor and Señor Barricade run over, waving their hands and shouting.

We’d backed into Supervisor’s parked car.

We have to get out. “Another car is coming,” Juan tells us. It arrives, lights flashing. We pile into it. Away we go. My phone is moving. It’s leaving the park. Slowly. Are the thieves on foot?

Maybe, but traffic is horrendous, creeping along slower than a walk. We’ll never get there, I think. There’s no way the cops can get through.

Wrong. They hit the sirens and the horn, and drive as though a murder scene awaits. We straddle the center line between two rows of cars doing their best to pull over to either side. We pass cars with inches to spare. I white-knuckle the chicken handle above the door. Carolyn refuses to look up.

Juan is grinning ear to ear. He’s having the time of his life.

Aquí! Aquí!” he shouts. The driver pulls onto the curb. There’s a man walking by, talking on his phone. He’s wearing a Costa Rica jersey. Definitely not one of the dudes who mugged me.

I say, “That isn’t the dude!”

The cops jump out of the car, anyway. Stop the man on the phone. Demand he hand it over. Behind him by about ten feet are three other men, apparently not with him, also not the dudes, but the cops stop them, too.

What have you done with this gringo’s wallet and phone?

“That’s not my phone,” I shout. “Those aren’t the dudes! Esos no estan los hombres!

The cops say something to Juan. “Call his phone,” he tells Carolyn. She does. Nothing. Because that isn’t my phone, and those aren’t the dudes.

Juan zooms in on the Find my iPhone map. My phone is on the other side of the street, maybe half a block up.

The cops jump back into the truck. We can’t get across the street, because a low, concrete wall separates two directions of gridlocked traffic. Sirens wailing, off we go again. I’m certain we’re going to ram someone. We find a gap, make a turn. Make another. At one point, I think we were going the wrong way on a one-way street. But we reach the spot on the map. We park on the sidewalk, and everyone gets out.

Traffic creeps by, but the locator for my phone doesn’t move. Carolyn calls and it goes right to voice mail. The thieves have turned the phone off. But maybe it’s still here. Maybe they saw the police coming, and threw it away. We start looking around.

We’re in the parking lot of some other Costa Rican law enforcement agency, and the agent on duty is not happy to see a gringo crawling around, looking under the cars. He and the driver cop exchange a terse conversation. From the tone, I gather that cooperation between the two agencies is not exactly strong.

We have to leave.

I’m not getting my stuff back. The cops feel almost as bad about it as I do. They really wanted to catch those Panamanian thieves for me. The least they can do, they say, is take us back to our hotel.

Back into the police car we go. In this traffic, it will be at least an hour.

But the cops aren’t waiting for traffic. Lights. Siren. Make way, make way. We have to get these gringos back to their hotel. Once we get out of the traffic jam, we race down side streets as if lives hang in the balance.

At the hotel, everyone gets out. The driver cop shakes my hand.

Lo siento mucho, señor.”

Juan translates the rest: “We feel bad. We tried everything we could. If we could have gotten around the stadium, but…” The cop sighs.

“Keylor Navas,” he says, and shrugs. “Keylor Navas.”

Ten Years After Murder in the Grove

Ten years ago today, I arrived in Boise, Idaho, to attend my first writer’s conference: Murder in the Grove. I had come because Robert Crais was the keynote speaker. I was a huge fan, and I had some vague idea that I would ask him what I needed to do to become a best-selling author. He would give me a checklist. I would follow it. I would become famous.

Or something like that.

It didn’t quite work out that way, of course. I did meet Robert Crais, and I couldn’t have been prepared for how gracious he was. Somehow, I ended up at his table for dinner on Friday night (where he refused to let anyone pay for drinks). He was happy to give all the advice I could absorb about the craft of writing. But there is no defined process to becoming a best-selling author, and he couldn’t give me a checklist. All he could tell me was that I should write about what spoke to me, study and improve my craft, and don’t quit.

Ten years later, I still haven’t given up, even though there have been times I wanted to. I’ve improved my skill. I’ve honed my craft. I’m getting there. Maybe best-seller status will happen, maybe it won’t—there are so many variables beyond my control. What’s important is that I continue to enjoy what I’m doing. My current work-in-progress is the best I’ve ever written, and the next novel will be even better. I’ll keep writing what speaks to me. I’ll keep learning. And I’m not going to quit.


When I was twenty, I threw out my junior high and high school yearbooks.

My friends at the time told me I would regret not being able to look back. But I never have. Nostalgia anchors you to the past. I’ve spent the last thirty years doing my best to keep moving forward.

More to see than a sunrise

My morning commute takes me eastbound across the Howard Frankland Bridge into Tampa. I am rewarded with spectacular sunrises most days. I try always to appreciate their beauty.

In today’ spectacle, a thin ribbon of cloud bisected the disc of the sun. I was surprised to realize that the sun was not uniform in color. Above the cloud, its orange was brighter, with a more yellow flavor than the bottom, which was darker, with a reddish tone.

I had never noticed this about the sun. I had never looked for it, to be honest, and might not have noticed it today if not for that fortunate cloud. I “knew” that the rising sun was orange. I assumed that what I saw each morning was all there was to notice.

How many things do we look at without really seeing them? How many times do we assume that our perception of the world tells us all we need to know? Just as there is more to the rising sun than a single color, there are more opportunities in life than we recognize at first glance.

The boiling sun

On my commute over the Howard Frankland Bridge this morning, the sun put a Tampa skyscraper in silhouette as it rose, and lit a wispy cloud above it so that the cloud looked like steam rising as the sun boiled away.

Maybe mediocre is good enough

Recently, I did a bit of home handyman work. My wife had asked me to fix the door to a built-in cabinet. The door really wasn’t the problem; the frame it was hung from had rotted away. Somewhere in our house’s checkered past, water must have gotten in, or something. I rebuilt the frame and re-installed the door. I did, by any objective measure, a crappy job. But it was good enough. The cabinet is usable. I could move on.

Compare that attitude with my perspective on writing. I agonize over every sentence. I am certain that every page is terrible. It pains me to show my work to my critique group. I grind away at stories until I’m sick of them, hate them, hate what I’m doing, and make myself depressed.

Why do I find it difficult to write something that’s “good enough?” Why can I not be satisfied with that standard? 

Recently, one of my coworkers said, “You’re kind of a perfectionist, aren’t you?” I admitted that it was true. But clearly, as the cabinet example shows, not in everything. Pretty much every home repair or woodworking job I’ve ever done has been mediocre at best (there is one notable exception). Why am I willing to accept that, while I beat myself up for falling short of perfection in writing?

I think it’s because I’m supposed to be good at writing, but I’ve never had any expectation that I was good at handyman stuff. When I set out to do any kind of home repair, I expect that mediocre is the best I can do. With writing, I know that I have talent and skill, so I demand too much of myself.

Maybe it’s time I scaled back my expectations for my writing.

Sustainable Development: Meditation on an Agile Principle

Agile processes promote sustainable development. The sponsors, developers, and users should be able to maintain a constant pace indefinitely.

  • Anyone who has ever worked in a non-Agile software development environment can tell at least one horror story about late-night-and-weekend death marches to get product shipped. I’ve known developers who worked eighty hour weeks—except when they took vacation. Then they only had to work about forty. (Go ahead and enjoy the theme park with your grandparents, kids! I’ll be here working in the hotel room until you get back!) I’ve worked places where I couldn’t make evening or weekend plans because schedules were so unpredictable. No wonder this principle appealed to me the first time I saw it. It means that Agile environments understand the importance of so-called “work/life balance”—vacations, weekends, and reasonable working hours.
  • On the other hand, it says “promote sustainable development,” not require it. I can see how the principle might be defenestrated if it becomes inconvenient—say near the end of a project, when there is incredible pressure to get the product shipped and revenue on the books. After all, if “Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through the early and continuous delivery of valuable software,” it means that all other principles take a back seat to it.
  • I suppose that if sustainable development is more of an aspiration than a fact, then the process isn’t really “promoting” sustainable development, is it? Promoting sustainable development in that environment would bring another principle into play: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.” figure out why things broke down. Identify a way to keep that from happening in the future.
  • What does it mean for sponsors to maintain a constant pace? In my experience, sponsors are usually the ones trying to drive a crazy pace, by refusing to compromise on either scope or target dates.
  • It’s easier to understand what it means for users to maintain a constant pace. Ever work in an environment where IT routinely dropped hotfixes without adequately testing—or warning anyone that the change was coming? I have, and it frequently resulted in increased workloads for those of us using the system. If Agile is all about delivering valuable software rapidly, it can’t mean that we deliver more problems than solutions.
  • “Indefinitely.” As long as the project lasts, right? That means making sure that the team has enough people. Not just “all the skills necessary” but “all the skills necessary even if someone comes down with the flu and can’t work for a week.”

Agile is the most humane philosophy of work I’ve ever encountered. This principle is one reason why: Agility recognizes that people have limitations, and needs beyond work. When we value “Individuals and Interactions” highly, we create safe, enjoyable working environments that allow everyone to thrive.

These are a few of my thoughts on the topic. I’d like to hear what you have to say.