All is not lost for forgetful transit riders

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NEW YORK -- For the handful of New York transit officials who dutifully collect and catalog more than 50,000 items a year lost on commuter trains, subways and buses, the monotonous flood of wallets, handbags, eyeglasses and smart phones is occasionally broken by tales of some of the crazier things left behind.

There was a pet bunny rabbit, a prosthetic leg, a car bumper, a tuba, a diamond engagement ring and a briefcase that was opened to reveal a dizzying array of adult toys.

"We get false teeth almost every week," said William Bonner, supervisor of the New York City Transit lost-and-found office below the 34th Street subway, which has amassed 26,000 items this year. "How do you lose your teeth?"

A few blocks north at the Metropolitan Transit Authority's Metro-North Railroad lost and found deep under Grand Central Station, five clerks oversee the 100 to 150 items that come in every day from Metro-North trains, which run between the city and its northern suburbs and Connecticut. For every item, the clerks document the train, car and seat number where it was found. Beyond the boxes and bins of the most common items -- wallets, keys, reading glasses, umbrellas and electronics -- there is a dry cleaner-style coat rack to handle hundreds of forgotten coats. There's also an area designated for at least a half-dozen bicycles in the office at any given time. "I don't know how, but they leave them on the trains," marveled clerk Raymond Rosario, 41.

Melissa Gissentanner, the unit's manager, said the MTA takes pride in getting items back to their owners, boasting a 60 percent return rate. "We are the most successful lost and found in the country and possibly the world," she said.

People looking for their property can submit a report online. Unclaimed items are often donated or sold. Unclaimed cell phones and other items are sold to companies or put on the MTA website for an auction.

For Mr. Rosario, the job ultimately is rewarding for giving people hope after losing items of sentimental value. "We all know how it feels to lose an item," he said, recalling the time someone claimed a scarf that had been hand-knitted by a since-deceased grandmother. "I've seen people cry when they get their stuff back, and they're really, really elated."

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