Digging into the mysteries of the lost and found

Hotel housekeepers sometimes take on role of Indiana Jones


— One sock. One shoe. Diamond earrings. Adult novelty items. A toothbrush. A bag of marijuana. In a city that sometimes hosts at least as many visitors as there are residents, housekeepers are the preeminent anthropologists.

As the shoulder season hits Steamboat Springs, the closets that act as lost and founds in hotels and motels offer a peek at the lives of the people who come briefly to visit and inadvertently or not leave something behind.

"At any hotel it is possible to find just about anything people bring on a vacation," said Mike Cowan, a bellman at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort.

The Sheraton's lost and found policy is decidedly strict.

Each found item goes into a black plastic bag with an i.d. tag and is written down in a log book.

The policy, in fact, used to be even more rigorous, with an advanced computer system tracking lost items, said Mike Barrett, the director of security at the Sheraton.

With the diamond earrings and wedding rings the staff would find, Barrett said the policy was often worth the effort.

But even though people were getting their items back, tracking lost or discarded items soon became too onerous on the staff, sometimes taking as long as five hours a day, Barrett said.

Two years ago he said he conducted an informal survey of hotels and resorts across the country to see what their lost and found policies were.

The majority of hotels he called did not take such deliberate care with peoples' belongings,

he said.

With underwear the number one found item, however, some people might not want their personal items tracked like wild game after a fresh snowfall.

When he worked in California, Barrett said he often had to toe the line between returning a lost checkbook and cluing a married person into her spouse's infidelities.

Mark McAndrew, who works at the Harbor Hotel downtown, said he also found the collected debris from California travelers to be a bit more unconventional than the belongings he has found in other parts of the country.

McAndrew said a coworker in the golden state once found a kilogram of cocaine in a hotel room.

McAndrew, who said he was once presented with a dead body in a hotel room here, called the guests in Steamboat comparatively "pretty boring."

Nonetheless, three different hoteliers reported finding bags of marijuana squirreled away in rooms or left by the hot tub. Departing guests also left behind pornography, pornographic posters attached to the ceiling and adult novelty items and then came back for their possessions when they realized their errors.

Carla Cox and Katrina Hicks at the Rabbit Ears Motel betrayed a slight note of irritation as they listed the items they have found in motel rooms.

Their lost and found closet presently contains blue swim trunks, pillows, an alarm clock and a thick book by Joyce

Carol Oates.

"When people go on vacation, they leave their brains at home," Cox, a front desk attendant at the motel, said jokingly.

Some of the finds, however, seem to be left as tips, Cox said. Alcohol, when it isn't half-consumed, is sometimes left as a gift to a housekeeper.

Returning certain items, indeed, can be a burden on hotels, some of which charge customers for the postage on the package.

One visitor to the Nordic Lodge asked for a cheap pair of reusable earplugs back after they were left in the room.

Others left ski equipment. When the identity of the owner cannot be deciphered or people fail to claim their possessions, the hotels often allow the staff to have them or give them away to organizations such as LIFT-UP of Routt County.

Beyond their financial value, the items the participants in Steamboat's tourist culture leave behind allow hotel employees to construct stories about the people who left them.

Local archaeologist Joanne Sanfilippo, who works for the forest service, said the items that housekeepers find in rooms can roughly be compared to some of the artifacts found by archaeologists in the field.

And while it may be difficult to compare a Texan tourist to an ancient Roman warrior or ski goggles to an earthenware bowl, the discarded possessions shed light on the transient population of the hotel universe.

To reach Avi Salzman call 871-4203

or e-mail asalzman@steamboatpilot.com


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