Miami Airport Holds Public Auction of Lost and Found Items

It's easy enough to forget your sunglasses in the airport bathroom. But how do you forget a lawn mower?

One person's misfortune can be your gain at Miami International Airport's public auction of lost and found items. From 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., auctioneer Paul May will take bids for items left in MIA's terminals over the past five months.

That includes everything from paintings to wrapped presents to more than 600 pieces of luggage.

There's not a lot the auction won't offer. Some of the more bizarre items left at the curbside have been microwave ovens and cash registers. Drying machines have been left behind by travelers in a hurry. Item #360 is a bin containing chain and sprocket oil, butterscotch lotion and a large wooden fish.

''The risk and the fun of the auction is that you could get anything,'' said Greg Chin, MIA's media relations coordinator. He said past auctions have usually run at the rate of 100 sales an hour.

The law requires that items be kept 30 days before they're discarded. MIA keeps them for 90 days before they become fair game for public auction. Ernesto Alonso, an MIA lost-and-found employee, said the airport takes every possible measure to get lost items back to their owners. About 40 to 50 percent of items left in MIA terminals eventually are returned. One table holds nothing but digital cameras, video cameras and laptops. ''That's the sad thing,'' said Alonso. ''Their vacations, their weddings. Their cameras have all of that.''

MIA staff review videotapes in case someone calls to claim their wedding video, but if not, cameras are sold with the film still inside. If there's a name or a number or anything, we'll call and e-mail,'' he said.

May, a veteran auctioneer, has been master of ceremonies at the airport's auctions since the first one nine years ago. He said he'd let people start today's bidding where they want, or perhaps throw out a number and let the crowd start from there.

''Who they are, where they came from, what they left in it -- there's a story in every bag,'' said May.