Every morning, before unlocking the lobby of the bus headquarters, Tiara Holmes heads to the parking lot where the fleet is cleaned.
There, inside a glass door, a white locker stands 10 feet tall: Lost and Found.
Holmes unlocks the padlock and begins going through pieces of people’s lives.
A wallet. Two cell phones.
Someone’s identity, someone’s lifeline.
Something wrapped in a towel.
“I’m not going to touch it,” she mutters.
A small Target bag. A green bag.
“Not until I have gloves.”
A leopard print high heeled boot, left. A brown leather moccasin, the same size, on the right.
“I try not to question myself too much,” Holmes says on this Tuesday in August, the shoes side by side.
You take the bus in Florida because you have to. Because without a car, or a driver’s license, or money for an app like Uber, it’s often the only way to get to work, to doctor’s appointments, to the grocery store. To see the beach, for some. To cool off in the air conditioning, for people who don’t have one.
Everything you wear, you cradle in your lap, hold it next to you.
Yet so much is left behind.
Some things you expect: umbrellas, sunglasses, lunch boxes, leftovers.
Others you never imagined: Wheelchairs. Walkers. Canes.
“How is it going?” asks Stephanie Rank, spokeswoman for Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. “How do they get in? »
Some things worry you: Lower dentures.
Some make you wonder: A prosthetic leg.
Certain things haunt me: four wooden crosses, unpainted, four inches high. Left in different buses, for four days.
Some things break your heart.
After each shift, after driving 2,300 passengers each day, PSTA drivers “sweep” their more than 200 buses into the vast parking lot near St. Pete-Clearwater Airport.
Anything they find that isn’t trash, as well as anything handed in by passengers, they put in the locker.
Holmes notes the dates on yellow stickers, though the routes and times are often a mystery.
She and other workers hide most things in a storage room, the size of a two-car garage. Plastic bins line tall metal shelves, and larger items are stacked near the door.
Fishing rod. Beach chairs. Forgot before someone’s walk to the water? Or after?
Golf clubs. Library books. A plastic rosary. Were they praying on the bus?
Leaning against a crate, Holmes finds a cardboard poster, filled with magazine photos of a woman doing yoga, a woman wearing sunglasses, surrounded by cut-out quotes: Find yourself. Feel good. Erase your pain. Say yes to pleasure! Hours spent looking for inspiration, left on the bus.
Holmes searches for a name and, seeing none, puts it aside. She hates throwing away something so personal. But runners only have 10 days to claim their items.
The suitcases. So many big suitcases. And, always, backpacks.
Holmes has to look for ID to try to contact the owner.
But she hates opening bags. What if there is a gun? Or drug money? She found needles. Knives.
Nikki Kester, who came to help, remembers opening a thick plastic bag on a Monday. She smelled it before she saw it: A 5-pound raw chicken had oozed on a seat in the summer heat, then seeped into the locker all weekend. “I still can’t eat chicken,” she says.
This morning, the women find a gold-tinted necklace in the Target bag, along with her bill. A gift? A delicacy ?
A pair of green slides. A three-pack of Hanes boxers, unopened. Bleached swim shorts, inside out. Did someone take them off on the bus?
From the worn green bag, Holmes extracts worn sweatpants, two t-shirts, men’s briefs, deodorant, toothpaste and a toothbrush, a rusty razor and “very smelly shoes.”
“That person must be homeless,” Kester said, shaking his head. “A lot of times that’s all they have.”
Bicycles also harass women. In a cage next to the depot, 22 are waiting.
Someone took him to the stop, loaded him onto the bus, got off and – what? – forgot ? How did they get home? Do they know they can come get it?
Only 40% of lost bikes are claimed, Rank says. The rest is donated to the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.
“This one is so sad. Been here a while,” Kester said, looking over a dented blue Schwinn with a moldy tent and a tarp strapped to the handlebars.
“Someone didn’t just lose their means of transportation here. They lost their home.
Women like to play detective, associate objects with IDs, see people’s relief.
A man wept when Holmes found his brother’s funeral plan. Two tourists wrote Kester thank you notes for returning their wallets.
“We have a lot of loyal customers,” she says. “I call them my friends.”
“You know,” Holmes tells Kester as they walk back into the hall, “that lady got her teeth back today.”
The most important things Holmes locks away behind his desk.
A blue bin contains glasses. A yellow, wallets. Two green bins contain more than 100 cell phones.
A dozen lanyards, some loaded with a dozen keys each, hang from hooks. Orange pill bottles take up four entire cabinets. An HP laptop was put away for over a month.
“Pepper spray and swimming goggles? asks an employee answering the phone. “OK, are you sure you left them on the bus?”
Holmes laughs. “If you’re going to pepper spray someone, I’m guessing you’ll need goggles.”
Bicycle helmets and earphones. Watches and inhalers. A book on porcelain. A gold harmonica bearing the inscription “Marine Band”.
Holmes detaches a glittering purse. Inside, she finds small dolls: Elsa and Olaf the snowman, from “Frozen”, Belle and Moana from Disney. “My 3-year-old daughter would be so sad if she lost them,” she says.
Strangers rely on her to make their lives whole.
“You know that feeling of panic, when you can’t find your keys or your phone?” she asks. “We know people are stressed and scared. We worry.
How will this person get into their apartment without their keys? What if these pills kept someone alive?
Without a phone, how can anyone call for help?
She logs on to her computer, begins to catalog the consumption of the day, when two women and a man enter the hall. A woman approaches Holmes, but the man speaks.
“She is from Venezuela. She doesn’t speak English. My sister in-law. She lost her phone,” says Matthew Metzcus, who lives in Clearwater. She thinks she left him on the bus on Saturday. For three days, he says, they’ve been watching it on the Find my iPhone app.
“He went to downtown St. Petersburg, stayed there for a long time, then returned to the United States 19 so far. I didn’t know what this place was, but I followed the phone. I hoped he wouldn’t die.
Holmes smiles. “Is the phone in a case? What color?” The other woman holds her cell as a guide: glittery pink. “Do you have your ID card?” Holmes asks.
Three minutes later, she returns with a matching cell.
“Thank you! Gracias!”
Holmes sits down at his desk, scrolls through a long spreadsheet and types: Return.