Lost & Found

Friday, January 10, 2020

I opened the safe at work last week Monday to get ready for closing and there was a phone and wallet in there, with a small post-it note attached that said that these had been left at the front counter on Sunday. My first thought was why would someone put that in the safe but not tell anyone else it was there, what good does that do. After that not particularly positive thought had moved on, I noticed that the phone was not dead, which meant there was still a good chance I could get it back to its owner.

For anyone who might ever find themselves in this situation, I will offer this public service announcement.

The trick to getting a wayward phone reunited with its person is to keep it with you, and when it rings, answer it and tell the caller that the phone they are calling has ended up in your possession, and ask if they can get in touch with the owner to tell them where it is.

That’s it. That’s all you have to do.

I learned this strategy when I worked at the front desk at Duke Gardens, where many a lost phone ends up. It doesn’t work if the phone is dead, in that case you just have to wait to see if someone comes in after it, but it’s a pretty foolproof method for a still-working phone, and it’s as simple as can be, all you have to do is babysit the phone until it rings. And then talk to the random person on the other end like you are some kind of hostage-taker. I HAVE THE PHONE. But you are not! So it’s okay.

So anyway, I pulled the phone out of the safe and sure enough within an hour someone called, and I answered and had a lovely chat with the phone owner’s sister-in-law in Texas, who said she had been to The Scrap Exchange when she visited Durham when her mother had been in the hospital, the place with all the stuff, what a great time they had visiting, if she lived here she’d ben in all the time, of course she would let SIL know where the phone was, that would make her so happy.

Probably a longer conversation than the two people who were helping me close the store wanted to sit through, they were like can we just finish counting this all up and move on, enough with the chit-chat. But whatever, part of this strategy involves being up for whatever conversation you might have with whoever calls.

Shortly after that call — and thankfully for my coworkers, after we had finished closing the store — the husband of the phone owner called and I told him he could come pick it up Tuesday morning or I would be there for a few hours if he wanted to pick it up that night. I told him we had their wallet too, and he said he was just a few minutes away, he’d be right over.

When I brought out the phone and wallet for the handoff, he told me that they tried using Find My Phone but it had placed the phone about a mile from The Scrap Exchange in a small parcel of woods. He said they spent half the day on Sunday with a metal detector combing the lot looking for the phone. (One of my coworkers had noted that on Sunday, when the phone was still out on the counter, the Find My Phone noise was pinging so they expected the owner to be in to reclaim it, they didn’t understand why no one had shown up. Now we know why — Technology Fail.) He said it was his daughter’s last day in town, the whole time she’d been visiting they’d been talking about what they should do on her last day and then they ended up spending the day looking for a lost phone in the woods a mile from where the phone actually was.

There’s a lasting family memory for you. (Seriously, they’ll remember that one forever. Remember the time we spent the day looking for mom’s phone?)

He was very happy to get the phone and wallet back, and it was nice for me to have been able to solve this particular problem for someone. Losing either your phone or wallet is bad, losing them both is a nightmare.

I will note that this was not the first time I’ve reunited an item with its owner.

In October, we got a donation that included a lovely Kate Spade wallet, with everything in it, including cash and a check for $400 that the recipient had endorsed and was carrying around with her.

[SIDE NOTE: DO NOT DO THIS. Checks are negotiable instruments, endorsed checks (blank endorsement, just a signature) are like cash, they are bearer paper, they belong to whoever holds the paper. I learned this the hard way in college when my Auntie Fran sent me $50 and I endorsed the check and tried to deposit it in the ATM across from my mailbox in the student center but for some reason wasn’t able to make the deposit and then I lost the envelope with the endorsed check in it and someone found it and cashed the check. This was decades ago and I still feel a pain in my heart whenever I am reminded of it.

If you are depositing a check, use a restrictive endorsement — write “For Deposit Only” and the account number with your signature. If you are cashing a check, don’t endorse it until you get to the bank. Never ever endorse a check with just your signature and then carry it around with you.]

I looked up the person whose name was on the ID in the wallet and found her on LinkedIn and sent a message asking to connect (you can’t send a message on LinkedIn to someone you’re not connected to) and including the information that I was trying to connect because her wallet had just come in with a donation at The Scrap Exchange.

She picked up the wallet next day and couldn’t believe everything was still there. She had lost it in January, ten months earlier.

A slightly more complicated reunion happened a little over ten years ago when I was out for a bike ride and spotted a day planner on the side of the road near an entrance to one of the running trails in Duke Forest. It stood out from the usual roadside detritus, it was clean and fresh, like it had just fallen out of the sky and landed there. I rode past it at first, then stopped and turned around to pick it up and look at it.

I remember a bunch of years earlier when my brother and I were both living in DC, my brother had lost his day planner and it wreaked havoc on his life. He was in sales and this was the pre- computer/smartphone era, his day planner had everything in it, all his meetings and contacts and everything. Losing his day planner was like losing his brain. That’s what I thought of when I saw the day planner on the ground, what a nightmare that had been for my brother.

So I stopped and picked it up and I saw the name and phone number of one of my clients on a post-it note stuck to the inside front cover. Huh. I wondered if it belonged to a translator or someone connected to them.

I was trying to decide if I should bring it home with me, and how would I even do that since I was out for a ride with no bag or anything. While I was standing on the side of the road next to my bike trying to figure out what to do, a driver pulled up and asked if I was okay, did I need help? (This is one of the things I love about Durham — or loved, I should say, things have changed a lot around here so I’m not sure if this still holds true — if you ever look like you need help, someone will stop and ask if you need help. Back in the day, you couldn’t even walk in the rain around here without someone stopping to ask if you needed a ride.)

I said I was fine but I was trying to figure out what to do with this day planner I’d just found, I wasn’t sure if I should pick it up, and if I did, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to take it with me while riding.

Helpful driver person and I discussed the options and she offered to take it to my house for me and drop it off. I asked where she was going, which turned out to be not near my house, she was picking up her husband on campus, so I told her to drop it off at the Lost and Found at the information desk in the student center which was right near where she was picking up her husband. Then I could pick it up from there later.

Once I had the day planner back in my possession, I called my client to see if we could figure out who it belonged to, but we couldn’t.

So then I had this person’s day planner and I regretted having picked it up. I worried that they had come back to look for it but hadn’t been able to find it because I had taken it away. Like I had kidnapped it or something. I started to feel bad.

I needed to find the owner.

So, channeling my inner Sherlock Holmes, I sat down with the day planner to see what I could figure out about the person it belonged to.

It seemed like they were from Wilmington and they were training for a triathlon.

Interesting, but not necessarily helpful in getting the notebook back to them.

There were regular appointments with a professor at NC State.

Grad student?

I looked up the professor’s name online and landed on a web page with their office phone number. I figured what the heck, I might as well try it. I called the number and to my surprise, someone answered.

I said I had found a day planner that I thought might belong to one of their students. Before I even got to the part about Wilmington and the triathlon, the professor said, “Oh! I know whose it is! She was in this morning and she’s been going crazy without it.”

The professor gave me her student’s number. I called and told her I had her day planner. She was extremely happy and relieved to hear from me. She asked when and where I’d found it and I told her. She said she had put it on top of the car and then forgot about it and drove off. She didn’t realize until she got home what she’d done, and at that point she had no idea where it might have fallen off the car. She did retrace her route but hadn’t seen it anywhere. (Happily, her search had been conducted before I’d picked up the day planner, so that was a weight off my mind. I hadn’t inadvertently caused her to not be able to find it.)

I told her I had brought it home because I thought it had some connection to my client. She said she’d written the number down because she was going to take a class with them, but then she never did. So really no connection at all.

I gave her my address and told her I’d leave it on the porch for her to pick up whenever she wanted, which she did. And everyone lived happily ever after.

My own life is filled with less happy endings — so many things have disappeared, never to be seen again. Where did you go, my red jacket that my mom made for me, my watch, my beloved iPod?

Where did you go?


I think that is why I try so hard when I find lost things to get them back where they belong. If I can’t get my own stuff back, at least I can get something back to someone else.

Small victories. Sometimes that is all you can hope for in life.

6 Responses to “Lost & Found”

  1. judilyn Says:

    No matter how seldom they appear, your posts are always enjoyable to read! I’ve been following you ever since the “dollar a day” days! ;->

    Virtual hugs,


  2. lessisenough Says:

    I am hopeful that someday I will be able to post more than twice a year, but for now, the very (*very*) intermittent schedule is what we’ve got. Thanks for the comment, and for sticking around!

  3. tommfranklin Says:

    Determinedly tracking down owners of lost items is something very you, in my mind.

    NOTE: When getting into your car, place items on the hood, not the roof. It might be slightly less convenient, but you’ll see it when you drive away.

  4. lessisenough Says:

    Well thank you. It does seem to have turned into kind of a special talent of mine.

    Good tip on the hood-of-car alternative. I don’t think I’m ever tempted to put things on the roof of my car, I’m too short for that to seem convenient. Though with the Miata I suppose it is technically feasible, since the roof of that car is below eye level even for me.

    Most of the things I lose seem to get sucked into some mysterious black hole in my house. I somehow manage to lose things in my house without ever leaving the house. And you’d think that at some point, those things would turn up again. But they never seem to. Mystery!

  5. Mary Campbell Says:

    Someone left her phone at the retreat last weekend. As the registrar I was the last one out of the building, so I took the phone home with me and used your technique for finding the owner. Alas, I drove it home to DC and the phone lived in Baltimore. But she drove down and got it.

  6. lessisenough Says:

    Well that counts as success!

    I left my phone at an AirBnB in Cincinatti in 2018. I was driving back from a conference with a group of people from work and the owner texted someone in the group to say that his housekeeper had found a phone. We were somewhere in the middle of West Virginia at that point, we’d been driving for a couple of hours. At first I was like nope not me, and then I realized that everyone else had their phone out and had been using it the whole time we were driving. So then I was like uh-oh, let me check my bag. Then when it wasn’t there, I remembered that I wanted to charge it before leaving but instead of going back into the house after putting my bags in the car I decided I should just reduce the chaos inside and stay in the car, completely forgetting that I had just plugged my phone in to charge.

    The AirBnB guy mailed it back to me the next day. I was going to send him a prepaid envelope or something but he just went ahead and mailed it and said I could Venmo him the money. Which in theory was great except I don’t have Venmo. But I have a friend who is a total Venmo fanboy and has been for years, so I emailed him and said, “Hey can you Venmo this guy $15 and I’ll buy you lunch the next time we meet?” And he was like sure. So that took care of that. All’s well that ends well.

    So that was how I got my phone back after leaving it in an AirBnB in Cincinnati.

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