New York City's metropolitan population of roughly 22 million people is the largest in the United States. But only about eight million people actually live in the city. Millions of others commute from outlying areas, riding trains into Manhattan each morning, riding them home again each night. In those journeys, some things get lost. Paige Kollock reports for VOA News.
Every day about 10,000 people ride on Metro North Railroads, a suburban and commuter railroad servicing New York City. And every day, about 100 items are lost.
"We get a lot of suitcases, tote bags, backpacks, laptops," says Mike Nolan. He is in charge of Metro North's Lost and Found department at Grand Central Station in New York -- a department some have called "the best in the world." "We get sporting goods, we get bikes, hockey sticks. I've seen skis, I've seen a full set of skis, and sometimes we get golf clubs."
Monday through Friday, he and his employees process thousands of items, collecting them from trains, tagging them and processing them through a computer, all with the hope that they will find their rightful owner.
"One of the ways we help identify owners is every item that comes in receives a property tag. On that tag we identify what train line, or where they were traveling, actually where we recovered it from."
Metro North has drop boxes in remote locations where both customers and employees can turn in items found on the train. The railway company also has an extensive computerized tracking system that helps connect one man's black umbrella with its rain-soaked owner. "If you lost a Nike backpack, we have four of them here."
Employees go to great lengths to track down a lost item's rightful owner: e-mailing, writing postcards and calling up to three times. "Hi Andy, this is Metro North Lost and Found calling, we have a wallet that you lost. We're in Grand Central Station on the lower level, office hours are Monday through Friday, just come in with a photo ID. Just write down this property tag number and bring your ID. Alright sir? Have a good day."
Will he come fetch his wallet? Chances are, he will, but a surprising number of people do not come to retrieve their property.
Nolan adds, "We have iPods, we have the Palm, the Treo phones, multiple iPods, we have wallets. People will actually hand in cash. After the holding period of 90 days, the person who found it can come get it. In a case like cash, we would then deposit it in a treasury account and it becomes the railroad's money."
No item is too valuable for busy New Yorkers to leave behind. One woman left a diamond ring worth $15,000; another customer left a basset hound. Several years ago, one disgruntled woman left her adulterous husband's ashes on the train seat.
Recalling a unique item, "One time we had two sets of false teeth recovered and three people looking for them" Nolan said.
On this day, customers came in looking for a bag, a sweatshirt, a gift box and a car key. "It's a black Audi key" the customer described.
Kyle Smith was one of them. But the highly sophisticated tracking system failed him. "I lost a gym bag on the way to my sister's. It was an overnight bag with some clothes in it, hair stuff, stupid crap like that."
Mike Nolan says he is often amazed at how many items are turned in to his lost and found department. "In a given year, we'll recover more than 20,000 items. So those are employees, customers, people that actually handed things in, if you can imagine -- there are 20,000 people in New York that are pretty honest, so it's a good thing."
And as long as New Yorkers continue to be honest, the dutiful servants of the left behind will continue their work.