Found in Philly

    The handwritten note was carefully taped to the side of a Big Belly trash can on Germantown Avenue.

     

    It was intriguingly addressed. “To Refuse Collector. From Elfant Wissahickon (behind you!).”

    The rest of the letter from someone at the nearby real estate agency was even better: “Hello. We by accident threw keys into your bin. Is it possible to look through it? You can leave them at the desk with anybody. (The letter writer punctuated that point with a big happy face.) Please help! Thank you very much.”

    A lot of ink is dedicated around these parts to the best places to people watch. Makes sense – the city is full of great spots to take it all in. I’m a people-watching junkie too.

    But nothing stops me in my tracks faster than an unexpected sign or an interesting piece of discarded paper. I’m hardly the only one. There are books and magazines about “Found” items – finds that offer glimpses into a life, a person, a moment.

    The discovery is always cool. But even better than finding half a love note or a crumpled report card or even a bunch of discarded lottery tickets are the potential stories behind them, the ones you can figure out and the ones you never will.

    The mystery is all part of the fun, a chance to fill in the blanks, to imagine the who, what, where, when and why.

    (Note to whoever dumped those lottery tickets on Willow Grove Avenue. You left a $5 winner behind.)

    In the case of my Refuse Collector author, I wondered: What were they doing before they realized they fed their to a Big Belly? Were they rushing to show a picky client a house? Or maybe they were on their way to a hard-won closing?

    How many expletives did they let rip when they realized they’d done it?

    Can keys even survive a Big Belly compactor?

    I wanted to know if the colorful note with the playful happy face and desperate plea worked. So I called the real estate agency to find out.

    The woman who answered said she wasn’t sure if the agent got her keys back, but she’d leave a message asking her to give me a call.

    She didn’t, so I was left come up with my own story: I’d like to think an accommodating refuse collector went out of his way to find the keys and return them to a super grateful agent who in turn gave him a nice tip which he used to take his family out for ice-cream.

    There. Told you I like stories.

    Have you found anything cool in your travels? Let me know and I’ll include the best stories and pictures in a future post.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.