WWYD: $70 in the Subway
Today’s edition of “WWYD”: Finding money while taking the train:
A few weeks ago I was on my way home on a Saturday afternoon when I noticed a wad of cash on the floor of the subway station. It was a moderately busy day, there were a fair number of people also using the station, but no one else noticed the money. It was a significant chunk of change—probably $70-$80—and I say “probably” because I did not count it. Instead, I bent down, picked it up with the tips of my thumb and forefinger, and carried it at arm’s length to the subway booth attendant. (Why at arms length? I was paranoid, given all the people around, that someone would have seen me pick up the cash and think I was taking it.)
Now I am certainly not above claiming someone’s dropped $1 or $5 as a free karmic windfall. But this looked like an amount of cash that someone would notice was missing—several twenties and at least a ten all folded up. So I handed it to the MTA agent, and said something like, “UHHH I found this over there it seems like someone might want it back!” She looked at me kinda funny and then asked if I wanted to leave my name and contact info (“no,” I’m thinking, “I do not need to be contacted or thanked by this person who is definitely going to go back and find their cash”), and then I went on my merry way, feeling righteous and altruistic. And then I tweeted about it—thereby negating any sincere altruistic motive in favor of the warm fuzzy feeling of people telling me I’m SUCH a good person. But also running the (admittedly small) risk of one of my less than 500 followers having the bright idea to go to the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station and claim the 70 bucks I’d just left there.
And that’s where I left it. I thought about going back to the window later that day to see if anyone claimed it, but I didn’t. I wondered if I had left my name and number, and no one claimed the cash, would they have called me? What does the MTA do with that kind of lost property? My whole conception of the situation relies on a basic assumption of honesty on all sides, which, being a cynical and hardened New Yorker, I was surprised to learn. — S.
Hoyt-Schermerhorn is a really great name for a subway station, isn’t it?
Okay, so: We’ve had a variation of the “found money” question before when a couple found $1,200 in an envelope on the floor of a bar. In that situation, a fair amount of people said they’d either turn in the money (either to the bar’s manager or to the police), or figure out a way to return the money to its owner (leaving a note at the bar with your phone number saying you found a lost item).
Now, obviously, $70 is not $1,200, but it’s still a fair amount of money. If I lost $1,200 I would retrace my steps and spend a serious amount of time looking for it. I wouldn’t do that for $70, although I’d still be a little upset about losing it (and I rarely carry more than $50 in cash on me). If I found $70 in a subway station, I would probably look around to see if any passengers looked like they had lost something (patting their pockets, sorting through their wallets) and return the money to her or him. If there wasn’t anyone do that, I’d consider pocketing the money, but then, like this letter writer, would decide to leave it with the MTA booth attendant. I could live without that $70, but that might not be the case for whomever had lost it. I wouldn’t retrace my steps for $70, but someone else might. If I pocketed that money, I’d probably use it to buy dinner, and well, I can just buy my own dinner.
Also, just because I was curious, I looked up what the Metropolitan Transit Authority does with lost property and learned that there is a “Lost and Found Unit” located at Penn Station where lost things find a home.