BY Art Thiel 06:30AM 03/02/2015

Thiel: The astonishing return of my stolen laptop

A bad guy made off with my laptop. A good guy brought it back — a newcomer to town who risked a lot for a stranger. Stranger still, he has fondness for journalists. I still can’t believe it.

I don’t expect it back in my hands. Actually, I brought another laptop running windows with more impressive features as an upgraded replacement.

Returned safe and sound, the laptop speaks for itself.

Packing most of one’s business documents and some personal folklore into an easily portable machine is a risky fact of digital life most people have come to accept. Another fact of the times is that bathroom breaks are inevitable when work is done at a coffee shop.

Lugging a laptop to the pot is clumsy. So sometimes I take chances. As a typical guy who can get into and out of a bathroom in about one-minute-plus, I rationalize my vulnerability.

What are the odds that, in a room of apparently earnest people hunched over screens of their own, that one of them will instantly pounce upon my aging laptop and flee as I pee? Now I have to go online and browse through options on again when I shouldn’t have to.!

Probably about the same as throwing an interception on second-and-goal from the one with the fate of the football world at stake. It’s OK 99 times out of 100, but when it doesn’t work, the foolishness is so profound it tears a hole in the space/time continuum.

Often on Thursday afternoons, following a weekly one-hour segment on AM 1090 The Fan’s Steve Sandmeyer Show, I wait for rush hour to dissipate at the Uptown Espresso coffee shop downtown at Fourth and Wall. I get better-than-Starbucks coffee, write a story, catch up on emails, use the bathroom.

Sometimes I ask fellow denizens to please watch my stuff. As they sometimes ask of me. It’s cool. Civil. Reassuring. Sometimes, I assume too much, like Thursday. As previously  established, I’m foolish.

When I returned to my table in the corner, my MacBook Pro laptop was gone. Power cord too. I felt my face flush, and a buzz filled my ears. By the look on the faces of people nearby, they knew something had just happened, not sure what. Inexplicably, there was a tablet left in the place where my computer sat. A swap?

Finally someone said, “I think your computer was stolen.”

A quick glance out of the shop’s floor-to-ceiling windows revealed a young man in a gray knit hat racing south on Fourth Avenue, crossing Wall against the light. He seemed to run like a thief. I gave chase.

Immediately, I thought of Danny Westneat’s Seattle Times column about tracing, via its signal, an iPhone stolen from his daughter, discovering the device was still in  possession of the thieves, yet the cops were unwilling to do anything about minor property theft.

But I haven’t upgraded to iCloud’s Find My Mac. Nor have I packed a combination laptop lock. I couldn’t get mad at anyone but me and the thief.

As I searched the street for the knit hat, I was flooded at once by a jumble of thoughts about the imminent disaster.

Lost forever data, photos, stories, contacts, emails, weeks to catch up — last back-up when, a year?! . . . I’m an idiot; when I catch him I’ll . . . what? Pummel him; no, he’ll have a gun or knife, must disarm him, have to save the laptop first . . . talk nice to him?! 911 call a waste of time, kill myself so wife and friends won’t have to . . . WHERE IS HIS SORRY ASS!?  . . .

As I came to an intersection, I slowed, surveying in four directions, seeing little and hearing nothing but a pounding heart. This wasn’t a James Bond movie, where the trailing guy always guesses right about the next direction in the chase. My eyes swept people, cars, buses. I looked behind me. Nothing. My knees sagged.

Free-falling into the blackest despair, I looked straight ahead . . . the knit hat! That’s him! He’s . . .

Coming at me. Confidently. Laptop and cord in hand.

Guilt? Wants to fight? Smash it at my feet? What the . . .

Frozen by bewilderment, I managed a weak, “Hey . . .”

He was on me in a moment. I made a fist — until he handed me the computer.

“Dropped it in the alley, and I thought about chasing him, but getting the computer back seemed like the important thing,” he said nonchalantly. “Hope it still works.”

“I thought you were the –”

“Funny thing was, his pants were on a little low and they started sliding down his legs. He wasn’t running very well.”

Smiling, he started walking back to the coffee shop. The moment I comprehended what just happened — I was chasing the hero, not the villain — I felt like all of New England after the interception.

Spluttering, I thanked him, quizzed him and wanted to genuflect. He brushed off any cash reward. As we turned back into the shop, most everyone looked up.

I held up the computer, pointed to him and said, “Everyone, meet Allen, the Good Samaritan,” which was met with a robust round of applause.

We returned to the table where the caper began. I learned Allen had been at an outside table when he spotted the miscreant, then came inside to leave his tablet on my table chase with free hands. The tablet remained where he left it. Allen somehow was not proven foolish too.

What he was, was pissed.

“I was angry,” he said. “I saw him come in. He looked kinda nervous. I knew he was up to something.

“I saw you leave the table, and then he took off (with the laptop). I knew if it had happened to me, I’d want help.”

I sat down at the table, opened the laptop and pleaded to the Mother of All Motherboards. The MacBook fired up with no impact from its kidnapping, fall and grimy abandonment (I directed a golf clap to Steve Jobs).

In my semi-delirium, I realized after a few minutes that Allen was gone. I re-kicked myself. I wanted to talk to him about what just happened to us. We were strangers thrown together in a physical crime that was solved by him in less than five minutes, which almost never happens. I was trying to cope with the stupendous, alone.

But again he reappeared out of nowhere, coffee cup in hand. He had been sitting around a corner, out of my sight.

“Is it working?” he said, smiling. I said yes. I also asked if we could talk.

Over the next 45 minutes over coffee, we talked. He told me about himself, and I told him I was a sports journalist who had to tell this story. He surprised me again.

“This doubles my feelings,” he said. “I like journalists. I can get lost in the New York Times for hours.”

What is more unlikely: Finding someone to chase down a bad guy in an alley for the benefit of a stranger, or finding someone who likes journos?

And both the same guy? You thought the Super Bowl ending was preposterous.

A native of Texas, Allen Lambert came to Seattle a year ago via Missoula, where he was in training to become an emergency medical technician with a wild-land fire emphasis. Earlier he worked with AmeriCorps, the national service program, in Texas and California, helping victims with the aftermath of fires. The guy has developed a habit for thinking of others.

After a relationship ended, Lambert moved on to Seattle about the time the Seahawks were cresting. Despite his Texas roots, he didn’t care much about football. He tried out for the first time in his freshman year of high school, “which, in Texas, is about nine years too late,” he said.

But his tiny high school — graduation class of 18 — won the Texas six-man state football championship with a 15-0 record. So when he watched the Seahawks’ victory parade draw 700,000, “I could relate, a little,” he said, grinning.

After taking a full-time job in Sodo, he also related to the Seattle vibe — progressive politics, mountains, forests — and Pete Carroll.

“I love hearing Pete Carroll talk,” he said. “I can listen to him all day. He doesn’t talk like other coaches talk.”

It’s true that Carroll is a rare dude, as is Lambert, sharing a certain boldness of word and deed — although Lambert’s fumble recovery was a bit more heartwarming than Carroll’s recent experience with an interception.

As Carroll might describe it, Lambert is all in. I am grateful.


  • RadioGuy

    My heart sank when I read that headline, Art, envisioning what you must’ve felt thinking about all that data lost (computers can be replaced but the info you’ve entered can’t). Worse than a hard drive crash, which I’ve had happen. Anyway, glad you got both your laptop and normal heart rate back.

    That reminds me: It’s March 2, time for my monthly thumb-drive backup. Once bitten…

    • art thiel

      I’ve just taken the drainpipe out of my adrenal gland. I’m good.

      • John M

        All good stuff, Art, and thanks for writing about Allen. There’s these little things called sticks or flash drives that fit in one’s pocket . . .

        • Art Thiel

          I’m aware, John. Is there a similar device that stores the entire $2K computer.

  • Tian Biao

    excellent – i really really like this story. in every way: a fun read, and it reminds me to update to Find my Mac, and back up my files, and keep a closer eye on my laptop, but mostly, it revives my faith in other people, which was pretty strong anyway. and it comes right on the heels of the Christian Welp obituary, which was a sad surprise. thanks Allen! I’ll think of him every time someone complains about too many newcomers in Seattle . . .

    • art thiel

      Jeez, the goodness is spreading. Can Oprah be far behind?

      • RadioGuy

        How about Judge Judy instead? Not having Tian’s faith in humanity (look at who and what we elect), I’d like to see the perp spend 15 minutes in Judy’s torture chamber.

  • ReebHerb

    Art, Art. This is MFST City. You should have mention that you have bunches of irreplaceable Office files on your MacBook Pro and that you run Windows 7 in VMWare or Boot Camp. Couldn’t you mention the many pictures of EMP you keep on hand to send first time visiting sports writers as examples of Seattle’s architecture?

    • Da Kid

      HAHA!!! It just so happens I have a big old Mac Pro desktop, running Windows 7 in VM Ware and Boot Camp! So, like Art, it’s nice to know I’m not alone. LMAO!

      • art thiel

        Proof that you crossed wires long ago. No need for further speculation.

    • art thiel

      Right, right. Meant to say that.

      Then again, Paul Allen has yet to deny me access to the Clink for my disloyalty. Or was it MSFT’s Satan program that launched the thief?

  • Elaine Aliment

    Yanno, there are more good people than bad (drops in gratuitous comment that journos often focus too heavily on the bad), but it’s still rare-ish for a good person go so far out of their way to demonstrate it. Kudos to Allen for being a guy we can root for, and to you, Art, for telling the story. Now, go back up your laptop. In four places.

    • art thiel

      Backin’ it up, boss. Backin’ it up.

  • Da Kid

    The Franchise leads a charmed life. We’ve known it for years. And he’s big, too. I would not have wanted to be the perp if Tan Grande had caught up with him.

    • art thiel

      Well, I could show you evidence where my charm has run dry, but I’m not thinking those thoughts these days. I’m happy not having to type with swollen knuckles after purpling the perp.

      • Da Kid

        Talk about being in the laptop of luxury. I remember the days when you ran on a Tandy 101! You could still probably text your columns on a flip phone, swollen knuckles or all thumbs. .

        • Art Thiel

          I wore a black armband after hearing Radio Shack bankrupted. Those Trash-80 portables with four-line screens were like the first telescope to Galileo. The universe was ours!

          • Da Kid

            And Dave Aust’s. ;)

  • jafabian

    Glad you got your laptop back Art.

  • maoling

    I know there’s a lot more evil in the world than one garden-variety thief, but it sucks to think you can’t even take a leak at a coffee shop without some malevolent clown trying to rip you off. Glad you got your machine back and I hope the Karma Train always stops at Allen’s house for his selfless act of decency. The perp will get his payback soon enough.

    • art thiel

      I recommend to all that in support of Allen, we all go out of our way to help someone in immediate need.

  • RunningRoy

    So the moral of the story is that Art, unlike Doug Baldwin in the end zone, at least had the good fortune of having someone watch his back while he relieved himself.

    • art thiel

      Didn’t too many of us watch Doug’s back?

  • Its onlySports(DavidWakefield)

    Assuming you got his address I would say getting Carroll to sign a copy of his win forever book or your Russell Wilson signed by Art and Steve

    • art thiel

      Many more like Allen out there, but we in the media tend to write about the other newsmakers.

  • Kirsten Franklin-Temple

    There are over 3,000 AmeriCorps Alums all over Seattle… just waiting to strike again for the good! I should know – I work for them. :)

    • Art Thiel

      Good on you, Kirsten. Do you have an online community in case Allen wants to be in touch?

      • Kirsten Franklin-Temple

        Absolutely! Have him email We can connect him with the AmeriCorps Alums group.

  • Dave Johnson

    Some people will always surprise
    With qualities you cannot disguise.

    When there is a need
    They show up, indeed;

    Allen Lambert is one of those guys.

    Art, thanks for sharing an amazing story with a happy ending.People like Allen are truly inspiring.