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Shoes, Clothing and Cell Phone Chargers Are Among the Most Popular Items
 Left Behind in Hotel Rooms; Sometimes, though, People Leave
 Behind the valuable, the Unusual
By Robert Boyer, Times-News, Burlington, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Mar. 18, 2007 - Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Does it make the brain grow more forgetful?

Case in point: You are on vacation, or perhaps traveling for business.

You check out of a hotel and hit the road.

Miles or days later, a sick feeling hits you -- "Dang, I forgot something." Odds are, the item is relatively minor and replaceable, like a pair of shoes or jeans or a favorite tie. The loss stings for a moment but you quickly get over it. Maybe you don't even call the hotel. If you've stayed at several places during your trip, you might even fail to remember where you left your stuff.

Double dang.

Sometimes, though, people leave behind the valuable, the unusual, the frisky or the risky, local innkeepers say. And with all but the last two categories, they usually want it back.

Possibly the county's strangest "Oops, my bad," is the case of the $50,000 chair. In 2004, a couple from Ohio checked into the Best Western Inn on Truby Drive in Graham. The husband moved a chair and a plastic package fell out of a slit in the seat. Inside was 2.2 pounds of cocaine. The couple called the police. An officer arrived and found a second package in the chair. The 4.4 pounds of cocaine was worth $50,000, police said. As expected, no one claimed the powder. Guess the forgetful drug dealer didn't want to add a free stay in the local jail to his or her miseries.

Now, from a dealer's dilemma to a ballplayer's embarrassment. A visiting minor league outfielder once left Burlington's Ramada Inn to play the Burlington Indians. There was a slight problem, though, says Irvin White, a Ramada employee. The out fielder's uniform and equipment remained in the room. Thirty min utes later, a team representative returned to the hotel and scooped up the stuff. Crisis averted.

Edward Williams manages the Hampton Inn off Kirkpatrick Road in Burlington and has worked in the hospitality business for eight years. His current hotel opened about five months ago, so there isn't a stockpile of unusual items just yet. But the bounty of the forgetful is mounting. On average, guests leave behind about five items a week, Williams says. And, so far, at least one interesting find.

"I have found some medical equipment here," Williams says. "I have no idea what it is." An Atlanta hotel he once worked in yielded a cornucopia of the naughty, mysterious and downright illegal -- adult toys, drugs and cash stuffed between mattresses. Marijuana, crack cocaine and $1,000 stuffed in a paper bag are among the notables.

But an air-filled "guest" floats above the rest in Williams' memory.

While checking rooms at a Marriott hotel in Wilmington, Williams made a life-sized discovery. "I found a blow-up doll. It was laying right there" on the bed.

Williams called in the maintenance man to remove the plastic princess. No one claimed the doll and it found a new home in the dumpster. "I'll never forget that finding," he says.

Shoes, clothing, children toys and cell phone chargers are among the most popular "gifts" of the absent minded, hotel workers say.

"Every hotel has got a box full of cell phone chargers," Williams says.

Business travelers are the least forgetful. "When you get groups in, they always leave stuff," Williams says.

Travis Packingham of Graham is a guest services representative for Country Suites on Wilson Drive in Burlington. Some of his finds might signal more sinister than forgetfulness.

"I've found wedding bands before. I don't know what kind of indication that is," Packingham says. "We get a lot of nice suits and shoes and clothes." Hotel employees often end up with clothing because guests fail to remember where they left the items and don't claim them.

But those who do call "always want their stuff back," no matter how common the item, Packingham says.

Local hotels typically log-in finds and keep them 30 to 90 days in a box, shelf, cabinet or room. Jewelry and other valuables are kept in a safe or otherwise locked away. Employees try to contact owners of the more valuable property.

Sometimes, former guests respond with tokens of gratitude, says Joyce Hayes, a front desk attendant at the Best Western Inn on Huffman Mill Road in Burlington.

Hayes once found a necklace in a room and contacted the woman who owned it. Hayes sent her the necklace COD and got some mail of her own.

"It had sentimental value to her," Hayes says. "A few days later she sent me a check." Whatever causes the forgetfulness, hotel treasures will always be part of life on the road.

"Somebody leaves something all the time," Hayes says.

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Copyright (c) 2007, Times-News, Burlington, N.C.

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