Seattle In:Site Staff Reporter
Cell phones constantly interrupt King County Metro employee George Williams’ workday. As he sits at his desk, shrill tones echo through the room while he does his best to ignore them. It doesn’t help to answer them, he says.
The phones are an odd assortment of brands and sizes, collected by bus drivers and dropped off at the King County Metro Lost and Found in downtown Seattle. There, the cell phones sit with piles of other items—gloves, purses, and the occasional record player and cooler containing human tissue.
Last year, the department logged 39,139 items, according to department chief Terrie Kennedy.
She explained that while many items are ordinary and common, the sort one would expect to see on the bus, others border on the bizarre.
Like that cooler.
“Someone left transplant tissue items in a cooler. It was probably off a bus coming from Pill Hill,” said Williams, referring to the high-density hospital area of Capitol Hill. “We got it and we called the number on the cooler and somebody came and got it.”
There was also a cat in a cardboard box and a suitcase full of someone’s water collection. But human organs are by far the weirdest thing Williams has found left behind.
Williams wonders how such things could happen.
“You get cynical or biased. You can’t imagine how some items were simply left,” Williams said, standing in a large room, pointing to a wheelchair. “It’s a mystery of who got on the bus in a wheelchair, and then got off without it.”
The wheelchair is still sitting in the lost and found. Like the majority of belongings at 201 South Jackson Street, no one has claimed it.
Only 13 percent of items are ever claimed. Phones, gloves, and umbrellas are donated to King County Services after 30 days; items of serious value such as a wallet or credit card are kept for 60 days.
When people do come by to inquire about a lost item, Williams finds that many of them have no idea what it looks like or where they lost it.
“A black umbrella is a black umbrella. We get tons of them,” he said.
Every umbrella that comes in gets logged into a computer database and then stored on one of the shelves according to its date. People searching for their belongings must have a description of an item, an approximate date as to when it was lost and information about the bus they were on. Only then will an employee go wandering the rows of shelves for a lost phone or purse.
”I’ll search high and low for an item if I have some data,” Williams said. “But a blind search, I’m not too thrilled to do that. We’re not cold-hearted. If you lost your bus pass, we’ll give you a free [one-time ride] pass to get you through.
Williams figures most people forget something on the bus and think it’s lost forever.
“But it doesn’t hurt to check,” he said. “We’ll do what we can.”
With 113 million passenger trips in 2007, and increasing ridership, Williams doesn’t expect his workload to slow down anytime soon.
“People have a pension for losing things,” he said, laughing. “Maybe in the future there will be some sort of tagging things like cell phones.”
But for now, belongings will keep on pouring into the lost and found and Williams will continue working, categorizing lost items and ignoring the constant ringing of misplaced cell phones.