Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Mystery of the Misplaced Backpack

When I was Sam's age, my favorite, fictional, female detective was 13 year old Trixie Belden.

Trixie and her friends have a club whose motto is to "help others whenever they can." Often, they "find themselves devoting much of their time to helping Trixie solve mysteries or helping her out of various scrapes which come as a result of her overenthusiastic investigations." Hmm. Interesting.

"Trixie Belden is the antithesis of Nancy Drew. Trixie's realness goes beyond that of any other series character."

Recently, Sam gave me the opportunity to relive my Trixie Belden days. We were in the city to get his stitches removed.

We'd decided to spend that evening with my cousin, Ariel. She'd taken us to a lovely park where we saw dogs frolic, admired the view of the skyline and watched the sunset. (photo credit)

Later, we were running around trying to find supplies for Sam's electric motor project. Generously, Ariel had offered to lend her expertise as a lighting tech and designer to assisting Sam with his school science project.

On our way into a hardware store, Sam noticed a backpack. It was half stuffed into the mouth of a garbage can with the other half still hanging out.

Ariel and I exchanged a knowing look. It seemed pretty obvious to us that someone's backpack had been stolen, looted and tossed. We almost just walked away, figuring anything of value would be long gone but decided to stop for a minute and take a look.

When I opened the bag, I saw a college text book. It was brand new with the receipt still in it, showing that whoever bought it had paid over $50 for it, recently. And, there was a big binder holding hand-written notes and syllabi from several college classes. The contents of the bag still seemed to be of value to the owner.

It appeared the owner was studying psychology or social work of some sort. I felt this bag could have been my bag last year when I was taking classes towards a masters in Mental Health Counseling at Roosevelt University. Or could have been my bag a year from now if I am lucky and organized enough to get myself into another graduate program. But would we be able to identify the real owner?

There was a letter in the bag. We tried calling the number on the letterhead but there was no answer. We called 411 in search of a phone number for the recipient. I made calls to a couple people with that person's name but didn't reach the right one.

I figured whoever lost the bag would be looking for it pretty seriously and wanted to let them know as soon as possible that it was in good hands so they could stop worrying. But it didn't seem like I was going to be able to do much on the side of the road.

It felt weird keeping the bag since it wasn't mine and it had been stolen. What if someone though I'd taken it? We could call the police, Ariel suggested but I was afraid that the people at police headquarters would be too busy to bother to hunt down the owner and was confident that with the help of a computer and a quiet place to make phone calls I would be able to.

I might not be able to find them until the person who had written the letter was back in the office on Monday. But still, I figured the bag had a better chance of being returned to its owner with me than it had in the garbage can. So, I threw it in my trunk and went on with my night.

The next morning, I opened the bag again. It was full of clues.
Cameron helped me investigate too. He brainstormed with me for ideas about finding the owner. He figured out where the person was taking classes and suggested I contact their campus police.

The campus police were helpful. They took my info and said they'd see what they could do. However, the school was scheduled to be on break the following week. So, the guy didn't sound too optimistic about finding the person we thought was the owner very soon.

Next, I started emailing the people whose email addresses were in the binder. I wrote several professors explaining that I had found a bag I believed belonged to one of their students. I gave her name and asked them to have her contact me if they reached her.

I was a little discouraged that I hadn't found the owner right away after two attempts but felt good that I had made an effort. I set the bag aside, not planning to think about it again until Monday and we went off on a hike up Slacker Hill.

After the hike, I noticed a missed call on my cell phone. I didn't recognize the number. But since I've started working as as substitute teacher, unknown numbers aren't that unusual. I thought it was someone calling to offer me work. When I listened to the message and realized it was from the owner of the bag and heard how happy and excited she was that we had it, I was pleasantly surprised.

It turned out that her car had been broken into and the bag had been taken from her vehicle. She'd pretty much written off finding the bag and was surprised when she started hearing from people about it.

She was quite a distance from where I was. So, I offered to mail the bag to her. She said she would pay for whatever it cost to ship the bag. I assured her it was no problem.

I was happy to have the chance to gain some positive Karma and teach Sam that it is worth going out of your way to help someone else.

Yesterday, we received a thank you note from her in the mail. Again, she expressed her appreciation and said we "reaffirmed the idea that there are good people in this world."

Thanks for letting me share a story with a happy ending. I'm sort of in the mood to read a Trixie Belden book again.


mcewen said...

A very pleasant antidote to the current ethos of the news.
Best wishes

Cameron said...

Mary Maddux would be a great name for a new (non)fictional detective for young girls to admire.