The TriMet headquarters just off SE Powell is a supremely bland building—a concrete structure rising from a sea of parking lots. Inside the front door is a small lobby with one desk, one bank of elevators, and one locked door that leads back to the staff-only lounge and lost and found. People come into the lobby all day long looking for their lost things, but they are not allowed into the private backroom. Instead, they pick up a phone in the corner of the lobby, describe their item to the man on the other end of the line and, with a little luck, the clerk emerges with their possession minutes later.
I've always wondered what is back through that locked door, what a room full of items left on Portland public transit must look like. Well, all it took was asking the right TriMet staffer (spokeswoman Bekki White) and all of a sudden, the door swung open to me.
"This is the bullpen," explained White. "It's where drivers wait for their shifts." Twenty or so uniformed bus drivers hung out in a large room lined with snack machines (and a Mercury distro box), shooting pool at two tables and just generally shooting the shit. We walked quickly through another door and then into a small office, where the the affable, long-time lost and found host Mark greeted us with a grin.
The small lost and found was stuffed with plastic boxes, each of them labeled with a bus route. Thomas the Tank Engine peered out from one, a jar of spaghetti sauce and ramen sat in another. No matter what the item is that's left behind (unless it's drugs or a gun), it comes to rest here for at least two weeks. After that, food is donated to the food bank and everything else goes to Goodwill.
In the corner are a surprisingly large stash of walkers, canes, and crutches.
"We call those the 'miracles on TriMet buses," says Mark, wondering how someone could need crutches to get on the bus, but then not need them to get off. Dentures are also a common find. Umbrellas used to be the most frequent item to turn up but, says Mark, cell phones have recently taken the lead.
"What's the weirdest thing that's ever come in?" I asked.
"Grandma's ashes—twice!" replied Mark immediately. Another time a driver found an entire box of human bones marked "OHSU." A few years ago, Mark did some digging to track down the owners of a forgotten set of detailed architectural plans for a Washington federal penitentiary.
Of course I had to ask, "So what happens if a driver finds drugs on the bus?"
"They throw them away," said Mark, to my surprise. "Except for the time we found a backpack with only a laptop and a large quantity of pot. We called the police on that one."
After calling in to TriMet, Portlanders have to head down to the headquarters to claim their items. On one bottom shelf lay what seemed to be a homeless man's entire worldly goods—a sleeping bag, a grocery bag full of possessions and one wooden chair, all left behind at the end on the end of the MAX line.
"He called in very upset right after he lost them," said Mark. "But they hadn't come in yet. I don't know if there's any way to find him now."