Lazy Days at the Lost and Found
[New York Times,
26 February 2006]
By RICHARD MORGAN
It’s nearly impossible to live long in New York without becoming a loser. When people think so many thoughts while running so many errands and dashing to so many places, the occasional lost item is par for the course. At times, it can seem as though the lost-and-found ecosystem comprises the entire population of New York's gloves, scarves, umbrellas and pens.
For some reason, however, New Yorkers became less loserly last year, at least as far as subways and buses are concerned. After a steady decade-long growth in items lost in mass transit, the number plummeted. In 2004, 12,386 items made their way into the lost-property office at New York City Transit, a modest white and gray room in Penn Station; in 2005, the office collected only 8,309 items, a drop of 33 percent from the previous year and the lowest number since 1998.
According to James Anyansi, a transit spokesman, the drop has been prompted by the city's efforts to improve public awareness -- for example, with subway notices warning riders about cellphone and iPod thieves and with the ubiquitous ''If You See Something, Say Something'' reminders.
''Even though a lot of those campaigns started in 2004,'' he said, ''it looks like they're kicking in and people are paying attention.''
Gene Russianoff, a lawyer and spokesman for the Straphangers Campaign, agreed but added that keeping the campaigns effective might require variety.
''People feel helpless on the subway, so they do pay attention, but you need to keep the messages fresh,'' he said. ''Some of them I can say from memory -- and that's a good thing as well as a bad thing. You get numb to it.''
There are other explanations for the decline. ''Maybe people are just keeping more stuff for themselves and not turning it in,'' Mr. Anyansi said with a laugh.
And practically speaking, Mr. Russianoff added, ''There's really no chance of getting back anything that doesn't have any identification on it.'' He was suggesting that if people knew that an item was unlikely to find its way back to its owner, they might feel less inclined to hand it in.
Asked if she had ever been party to the lost-and-found underworld, Alexis Schapiro, a 31-year-old waitress from Park Slope who was recently riding the N train, laughed. ''How do you think I got this scarf?'' she said, running her hands along the colorful fringe of what appeared to be a boa of Muppet pelts.
And J. D. Webster, a 24-year-old law clerk from TriBeCa who was awaiting the No. 6 train near Union Square, added, ''Everyone does it.'' He was justifying the way he had acquired a black umbrella found on a C train.
''I lose stuff,'' he said. ''I find stuff. It all works out.''
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