After watching two dozen movies in Toronto, life started to resemble a Hollywood production


I lost my phone at the Toronto International Film Festival.

What happened next is like something out of a movie.

It was Wednesday and I was seven days and 23 movies deep into TIFF, Toronto’s annual celebration of all things Hollywood. The finish line was within sight: I had just three screenings to go, and having subsided all week on a diet of Tim Horton’s and 5-Hour Energy Drinks, I was planning on treating myself to a decent meal that evening.

It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day at something like TIFF. You're darting to screenings, engaging in polite conversation ("what have you seen?"), and basically breaking your back to see movies that are going to be on an in-flight Delta touch screen in six months. It's exhilarating and exhausting and after a while, you begin to forget who you are.

When I arrived for a 5:45 p.m. screening of “Hustlers,” I was told it had been canceled and there would be a makeup screening later that night. So I hopped in a cab and headed to a steakhouse. When I got out, I was so eager that I left my phone in the backseat.

It wasn’t long before I realized my error, and I patted my pockets no less than 40 times to confirm I was, indeed, without phone. Existential dread set in — my life is on that phone! — but I remained outwardly calm. My fate was in the hands of Toronto.

And I was good with that. All week, I had been thinking about the power of positivity and putting good energy out into the universe. I helped out a young colleague who was attending his first TIFF, and convinced a friend to give away a ticket for a screening of "Joker" that he could have easily sold for upwards of $150. They were little things, but I was hoping they would add up. And now I was in need of some return on investment. 

I remembered I had gotten a receipt for my cab ride, and it had the cab number printed on it. The steakhouse called the dispatcher and asked them to call back if and when they found the phone. Meanwhile, I had a 9:30 screening of "Hustlers" I couldn't miss. 

After stopping at my hotel and making a second call to the cab company, asking them to call the front desk should my phone appear, I headed off to the theater.

En route I was stopped on the sidewalk by a bearded man in a turban who shook my hand, looked deep into my eyes and talked to me about my spirit. Normally I would have kept walking, but given the circumstances, this seemed cosmic.

Underneath the marquee of the Royal Alexandra Theatre, this stranger told me I had good karma. OK, he was trying to sell me a palm reading, but I was looking at the bright side. He handed me some sort of small yellow stone which he said represented my energy and walked away into the night.

Dazed, I arrived to the theater with time to kill in the lobby, feeling confident. After all, I had good karma, and I had a yellow stone to prove it. At that moment, Toronto-bred R&B superstar the Weeknd zoomed past me. We didn’t exchange a nod or a glance, but we didn’t need to. That was Toronto looking out for me, I reasoned, and there could have been no greater sign of the spirit of Toronto unless Drake walked by while singing “Oh Canada.” I'm good

Following “Hustlers,” I strolled confidently back to the steakhouse. I figured I'd walk in the door, they’d cheer “surprise!” and hand me my phone. A true Hollywood ending. But when I arrived, I was greeted with bad news. They didn’t have my phone. Not all movies have happy endings.   

As I slumped back to my hotel, I was struck with the realization I was going to have to cancel my bank accounts and shut down service to my phone. All the interviews I had done during the festival were recorded on it. And there’s the matter of replacing the device, which was just three weeks old.

I arrived at my hotel and asked the front desk if they had any messages for me. There were none. Sigh. But when I got to my room, I noticed a note stuffed underneath my door. My cab driver had called and said he’d found a phone in his backseat. Glory! But it was a Samsung, not an iPhone. My heart sank even further.

I called the cab driver. He repeated the phone was a Samsung. But as he described it to me, he was talking about my phone. It was white. There was a home button on the bottom. And yes, there was an Apple logo on the back. How or why he thought a phone with an Apple logo was a Samsung was inconsequential to me. I asked him if when he pressed the home button, a purple home screen came up. It did. He had my phone.

Was I living a movie, or had I spent too much time in darkened theaters all week? The cab driver, Malik, drove to my hotel, met me out front and handed me my phone. I handed him $20. He apologized for the Samsung confusion, and I told him it was the least of my worries. It only made for a better story in the end. 

Relief washed over me. As I sifted through everything that had transpired over the course of the night — the palm reader and his energy stone, the Weeknd, the Samsung that was really an iPhone — I was struck by the idea of karma and its instant payouts. 

And as dizzying an experience as a film festival can be, it's like life: if you're doing it right, it's about a lot more than just movies.


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