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Kevin Cullen

Calling on iPhone Curt

You would have thought the one guy who got really excited about Apple’s overhyped introduction of not one but two new iPhones the other day would have been Curt Ingram, a.k.a. iPhone Curt.

After all, Ingram makes his living fixing broken smartphones and, luckily for him, the geniuses in Cupertino haven’t figured out how to make an unbreakable, waterproof iPhone. But Ingram sat in his workshop the day of the launch, betraying no emotion. It takes a lot to ruffle him. He’s so laid back you would think he was from Berkeley, or maybe Cambridge.

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But he’s a Chicago guy, and how he came to be sitting in a second-floor walk up in Brighton, the guts of smartphones and computers splayed in front of him, is a pretty good story.

After college, he headed to Las Vegas, walked into El Cortez Hotel and Casino, stood outside the office of Jackie Gaughan, who owned half of Vegas back in the day, and shouted that Gaughan knew his stepfather.

Gaughan was impressed. He beckoned Ingram in and five minutes later Jackie Gaughan was on the phone, saying, “Listen, I got a kid here. A good kid. I want you to put him to work.”

Ingram, who knew nothing about the gambling business, was hired as a ticket writer at a big sports book. Ingram’s intuitive grasp of technology led his bosses to quickly promote him to the computer room to write software.

“I was in Vegas for 14 years,” he said, dissecting a Samsung Galaxy like it was a frog in a ninth-grade biology class. “It was time to go. Fourteen years in Vegas is like 50 years anywhere else.”

He jumped on a motorcycle and spent a summer crisscrossing the country. He went to nearly every state, including Alaska.

“I didn’t make Hawaii,” he said, a tinge of regret in his voice. “I ended up back in Chicago. I built a building.”

Meaning he built a building, from scratch, from the ground up, in Ukranian Village on the West Side. He spent two years on it, learning as he went along, hiring day laborers.

After he built a building, he came to Boston for what he thought was just a visit because his best friend from college, Josh Coval, was teaching at Harvard and had just had a kid. He and Josh were shooting the breeze one day, and Josh was complaining that his wife kept breaking her iPhone, and that he had already forked over a lot of money for two new ones.

“Give it to me,” Ingram told him. “I’ll fix it.”

It was a bold claim, given that Ingram had never heard of an iPhone. But he fixed it. Coval, who teaches at Harvard Business School, looked at his friend and said, “Curt, if you can fix that . . .”

Ingram put an ad on Craigslist and had three customers the first day. There have been thousands since.

In the five years he’s been fixing not just iPhones but all smartphones, the damage breakdown has remained constant: 65 percent broken screens, 35 percent water damage.

He’s also noticed a new phenomenon: baby spit.

“Babies love to chew on the bottom of iPhones,” he said. “They like the charge or whatever. It fries the whole phone. Baby spit’s a killer.”

Ingram’s had some great saves. A guy dropped his phone in a snow bank and didn’t find it until spring. Ingram fixed it. Same thing for a guy who dropped one in Lake Meade in Nevada then led a dive team to find it. A window washer dropped his phone 17 stories, and Ingram saved it.

He learns from customers.

“The kids are breaking the back covers of the iPhones on purpose,” said Janet Johnston, who drove in from Southborough to deliver a phone she dropped in a pool.

“They think it looks cool. My daughter is 14 and did it. She admitted it.”

Curt Ingram smiled at Janet Johnston and said the only thing that seemed appropriate.

“Well,” he said, “you have an honest kid.”

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.
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