Speedy's Lost & Found

On the road… again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek


Speedy’s Lost & Found

The Chronicles of a Footloose Forester are true stories about a gadabout adventurer who, for lack of steady employment of his choosing at a time or in a place to his liking, was on the road….again!!! and again!!! more often than most other restless souls that he knew. 
He had wanted to devote his career as a public service dirt forester in the wilds of America’s vast national forests, but never won a Civil Service appointment that was the prescribed path to such a career; and for which he had spent many years in college.  Rather than investing all of his hopes in a system that never acknowledged his qualifications (he was on the Civil Service list of qualified applicants for all of 12 years); he sometimes settled for being gainfully employed in circumstances where the job openings and work requirements at least matched his skills and personal attitude towards the kind of work being offered. Thus, his dozens and dozens of jobs over a period of 60 years in the workforce included part-time work, hourly wages, salaried positions, personal services contracts, paid consultancies, short-term and long-term assignments in foreign countries; and unpaid, voluntary participation in projects and programs. Even the latter involved isolation, inconvenience, much sweat, long hours and physical endurance. But the Footloose Forester believed that the world did not owe him a thing, and was willing to do an honest day’s work at most any job that gave him personal satisfaction in the doing.
All of the preceding background information of this Chronicle entry is provided merely to put a proper context to the story, itself.  The Footloose Forester bounced from high paying jobs to low paying ones, with full knowledge that professional stature was not something he would ever see as affecting his pay grade.

In the manner of a historical novel that is based on actual events in the past, but with fictional characters inserted as the storytellers, this Chronicle entry uses fictitious places and names for the purpose of protecting the innocent and deflecting aspersions from others, who, although they may have been guilty of shady activity, were not in the crosshairs of the Footloose Forester.  Retribution was never his job.

Two previous Chronicle stories about Speedy Rent-a-Car have already been published, such were the shocking revelations about how loosely managed that fictitious car rental agency really was. This entry would seem to make the series into a trilogy; under the category of Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction.


Going back to the time when the Footloose Forester was a driver for Speedy Rent-a-Car in Pawtuckett, Wisconsin, he was always irritated when Speedy employees did not seem to be much interested in providing good customer service.  It was especially mortifying when senior management did not recognize the weaknesses in how a few of its operations were run. The point of this story is how Speedy Rent-a-Car operated its Lost & Found Department.
Nobody wanted to be charged with running the Lost & Found Department because it was a time-consuming function that did not contribute to the bottom line.  It required an information collecting phase on the part of the person finding the lost item(s); it involved recording the time, date and particulars about where the items were found; in making a side trip to the office where the items were deposited, and then were logged into a special book. Finally, the lost items were stored in bins, pending the return of the items to their rightful owners. Most times, however, the renter realized his/her loss before their plane took off; and arranged to have the item retrieved from a large desk in the office where it was in clear sight, prior to going into a storage bin.
Most of the time, items that went missing were left in rental cars upon completion of a renter’s contract.  Thus, they were usually missing items, not really lost items.  But Speedy Rent-a-Car had an unspoken obligation to serve the customer, even if it meant contacting them in another city about a “lost” item that was left in a returned rental car.  At a minimum, the rightful owner was contacted by phone about the item(s) left in the car; and that is where accurate information about the time, date and kind of car came into play.  Without the finders of lost items doing what was necessary in the way of recording the details, the chances of renters recovering their lost items was somewhat diminished.

In the event that telephonic contact was not successful, Speedy Rent-a-Car followed up with a letter or postcard to the renter regarding the fact that an (unidentified) item was found in a returned car. If the renter wanted the item back, they had to explain the circumstances whereby an item was left in a car, and possibly identify what the item was.  The process was, therefore, not an open-and-shut case of making a claim on the basis of the dialogue between the renter and Speedy Rent-a-Car.  Very often the renter or the car was the driver who was unaware that a relative or child in the back seat had discovered something was missing when they got home from a trip. Thus, more headaches for the person responsible for operating the Lost & Found Department.
When the item left in a rental car was an umbrella, for example; the renter sometimes declined to claim it, due to its nominal value.  But when an expensive diamond studded tie clasp with sentimental value was discovered on the floor mat in the back seat area, that renter tended to show some anguish, then relief when the item was returned.  On the other hand, the many stuffed bins in the Speedy Lost & Found Department contained hundreds, perhaps thousands of items that somehow went unclaimed.  If the process of making a claim seemed like it was always going to be hit-or-miss, it was because the communications and correspondence links were so often ineffective. Thus, the inventory of unclaimed items had to be cataloged by month and by year, the better to locate an overlooked item of value that the renter did not originally discover as missing.
One of the revealing aspects of the whole lost and found operation at Speedy Rent-a-Car was the personal stake that Speedy employees had in NOT doing a proper job at reporting a lost item; nor in properly recording the details.  If and when the renter did not claim a lost item within 90 days, according to Speedy Rent-a-Car management rules, the employee making the discovery of a lost item was entitled to claim it for himself.  What a great temptation to report a lost item with insufficient or bogus information; or not to make a report of a lost item, in the first place.  It was easy to ignore the renters, most of whom we never laid eyes on or would ever meet face to face.  Integrity was called for at every stage, but too many people at Speedy Rent-a-Car ignored that moral imperative in favor of their own greedy impulses.
In the interests of full disclosure, the Footloose Forester will be the first to admit that during the years when he was a driver at Speedy Rent-a-Car in Pawtuckett, Wisconsin, he benefitted in spades with dozens of unclaimed items from the Lost & Found Department.

Sunglasses and umbrellas were the most common items checked into Lost & Found; and unless the sunglasses were known to have prescription lenses, even Speedy Rent-a-Car management did not bother to write or call the renters about them. They also let it slip out to their employees that they didn’t much care if an employee didn’t report sunglasses left in a car. In the case of umbrellas, it was company policy to ignore the procedure of being proactive about calling or writing the renter about them.  Of course, if the renter called us, they got their items back without hesitation.  The operation was, nonetheless, a losing proposition that did not add to the bottom line, and could be contentious at any step in the process.

Thus it was that the Footloose Forester carried home dozens of unclaimed sunglasses and umbrellas. On one trip to Viet Nam, he packed 16 umbrellas that he then gave away to people who could use them. Same thing with sunglasses; his horde of 60 pairs of sunglasses would serve him personally for years to come, and he gave away dozens along the way.  Unclaimed articles of clothing he would take to Good Will Industires and deposit them into bins that accepted used clothing. The ball point pens taken from hotel and motel rooms and then left in Speedy rental cars were gathered up, bound into bundles of 50-60, and donated to the local food bank.  Bundles of pens also went into his suitcase to give away in Viet Nam.
It was serendipitously easy to also benefit personally with valuables from Lost & Found, simply by following the rules.  Those rules for reporting lost items were intended to facilitate the prompt return of lost items; and most often resulted in the renter recovering an item that was important to them alone, such as a garage door opener.

A typical garage door opener did not look valuable but when it went missing, there was cause for concern among the families whose homes then became vulnerable to any unprincipled and unscrupulous finders who knew that a coded garage door opener is as good as a house key.  Needless to say, some of those same employee/finders had access to the address of the renter who lost it. And that is why the Footloose Forester became anguished when one of several drivers did not follow the rules for reporting lost items; or if the finders did not provide enough detail about where and when such an item was found in a returned car. 

It also didn’t help when the newest Speedy Rent-a-Car clerk charged with managing the Lost & Found system tossed out two different reports about two lost garage door openers submitted by the Footloose Forester on the same day.  When he saw the items on her desk, but without the brief reports with the details about the proper owners, he inquired about what had happened to the report slips.  She denied that any reports had been made. Later on, and after she had gone home from work, the Footloose Forester fished both reports from her waste basket.
That was one of those times when Footloose Forester was obliged to inform a manager that she was probably unsuited to undertake the task of managing the Lost & Found Department. Not only did she throw away the report slips written in the hand of the Footloose Forester; and then lied about it, but she entered incomplete information into the official log book intended to keep track of Lost & Found items for long periods of time.  Yes, mention of the items was recorded, but without the identification of the car, the name and address of the renter, and other details.  And since she thought she would escape scrutiny, she put that information into the log book on the following day, but only after she was confronted by a manager.  Since the Footloose Forester made copies of all his own report slips and had kept the report slips that he had retrieved from the waste basket the previous day, she could not make a convincing case regarding her procedures.  But she couldn’t lie her way past the manager, and soon she became an ex-employee of Speedy Rent-a-Car.
Truth is stranger than fiction, thus the tales of the Lost & Found Department at Speedy Rent-a-Car makes the case for a compelling historical novelette. But the young girl who took the easy way out of her duties as manager of the Lost & Found Department was not the worst offender.

That shameful title goes to a slightly older married lady whose good looks and sex appeal probably emboldened her to do things the way she wanted. It emboldened her when she was tasked to manage the Lost & Found Department and discovered a way to enrich herself and get away with it for more than a year. Instead of recording the name and employee number of the person who found a lost item in a car, she entered her own name as the finder—of everything.  And because she had access to the time, date, name and address of the renter from the Lost & Found slips, she could answer all the questions when it came to contacting renters who had left items in their rental cars.

She was usually alone in one part of the office, so could easily conceal what she was doing. The person dropping off the lost item stayed only a minute or less in the office, so she could decide what action she was going to take….and whether or not she was going to help herself to someone’s property. A pretty severe accusation?  Yes. Since he kept duplicates of the Lost & Found slips he submitted because he did not trust her, the Footloose Forester had enough evidence of her nefarious ways. On the other hand, nobody appointed the Footloose Forester as an investigator.
Once, the Footloose Forester found that a renter, apparently in a hurry to catch a plane, had left a large case full of compact disks with recorded music in the back seat of his rental car. There were so many CDs that the Footloose Forester decided to count them and make that information as part of his Lost & Found report. Forty-three CDs as part of the renters’ luggage is not something to be overlooked.  Miss Pretty Eyes was on duty when he came into the office with the case of 43 CDs.  He submitted his Lost & Found report, left the case of CDs on her desk and returned to work outside.  At the end of the workday and after Miss Pretty Eyes had gone home, there was no entry in the log book about 43 lost CDs, no case of CDs on her desk, and no evidence in the storage room that such a conspicuous item was present.  She probably took them home, but she was not talking and none of the several managers at Speedy ever pinned it on her.
Only after another driver at Speedy Rent-a-Car complained that, for more than a year after she came to work, nobody else had received unclaimed items that they themselves had turned in and had remembered. In former times, nearly everyone had found lost items from time to time, so we were aware that two or three times a year the city manager would turn over the inventory of tagged and untagged items from the storage bins and put them on display in the meeting room. That is when the scheme of Miss Pretty Eyes began to unravel.  But only after the managers inspected the Lost & Found log book in which she claimed to have found everything (by ignoring those who submitted lost item reports), was she on her way out.  In the long interim until she was exposed, one can only imagine how many items she decided to take home with her.    

Willard, My Meticulous Brother
Who Will Be The One To Record Your Legacy?


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