MAUREEN DALY, a SEPTA passenger-services representative, put it best: This is a Philadelphia story, a little tale to help restore our sometimes shaky faith in our fellow Philadelphian.
So here it goes:
The snow was coming down hard by the time Kit Thomas got to 30th Street Station late on Jan. 2 for his annual visit to Philly from Hawaii.
Outside, a friend who was also from the islands, picked him up and asked him to drive.
Before they drove off, Thomas got out of the car to wipe the ice from the windshield wipers and then the two friends white-knuckled it to a relative's house in Haverford.
"We finally made it driving 5 miles per hour," Thomas said. "It was a real adventure."
Thomas was relieved, until the next morning, when he went to pay for some orchestra tickets and discovered that his wallet was gone.
The 66-year-old checked his pockets and bags. Nothing. He checked the driveway and had his friend check the car. Still nothing. He called Amtrak, and went back to 30th Street Station to check the spot where his friend had picked him up. A huge snow pile was in the spot the car had been, but no sign of his wallet.
Thomas' heart sank. Had he been pickpocketed on the train? Had he dropped the wallet when he got out of the car to wipe off the windshield? To make matters worse, Thomas had $600 and just about every credit and identification card he owned in his wallet. He didn't normally carry all that, but it was an extended holiday trip and there were places to go and gifts to buy.
Thomas worried about how he'd get on a plane back home without identification, but luckily he found the passport he'd left in a shoulder bag after a recent trip to Europe.
By the time Thomas headed back home on Jan. 11, he figured the wallet was history.
But then, when he landed, a voice mail. It was AAA; they'd received a call from SEPTA passenger services. They had his wallet.
Thomas was thrilled, but he wondered: Was there actually anything in the wallet?
(I could tell you, but then what guarantee would I have that you'd keep reading?)
Nine days after Thomas lost his wallet, an unidentified woman walked up to passenger-services representative Joanne Ashley at 30th Street Station and handed her a sopping wet wallet she'd found outside. She walked off before anyone could get her name.
Ashley noticed an AAA card inside, so she called to see if they could contact Thomas. She then handed the wallet off to Donna Sizer, a station manager, who brought it to the supersleuths at the lost and found at Suburban Station.
There, Daly called 4-1-1 and sent letters to the address on Thomas' driver's license.
"We are detectives," said Daly when talking about the lengths they go to reunite passengers with lost items.
"It takes a village," said Garry Deans, a station manager who oversees the Regional Rail lost and found. "We're that village."
Deans said the majority of lost wallets are returned untouched. So maybe it shouldn't have been a surprise when shortly after that phone call from SEPTA, Thomas got his wallet - with every dollar and every identification card inside. But it was.
"I can't tell you what a complete miracle it was," Thomas said. As best as Thomas can tell, he thinks the wallet must have fallen out of his coat pocket when he took his gloves out to clean the windshield. It probably ended up at the bottom of a pile of snow until it melted. The wallet was still wet when he got it back.
"As much as it was a nightmare, it became one of the best things that have ever happened to me," Thomas said. "I was the very, very lucky beneficiary of good Samaritans who resisted the 'finders keepers' temptation."
SEPTA employees were pleased to have another happy customer. But in many ways, they said, it's just business as usual for an organization that's reunited folks with all kinds of lost items, from luggage to an engagement ring a tearful fiance thought was lost forever.
"It's just a great Philadelphia story," said Daly. "It really is. In my job, I have this great opportunity to meet so many people from out of town and a lot of times people are surprised at how wonderful we are here. So to have someone who lives in Hawaii lose his wallet and then through a series of all these good people have it turn up with all his cash, with everything, it's amazing."
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