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City Street Cleaner Makes A Habit Of Returning Lost Valuables

Helen Ubiñas

December 16, 2010

'Tis the season of giving.

But this is more of a holiday tale of returning. Specifically, a Hartford cleaning ambassador's endearing mission of returning lost items to their rightful owners.

In his 14 years of cleaning up after city residents and visitors alike, 62-year-old Horace Hicks has found all sorts of things — including a few unmentionables.

You name it, the city resident has likely spotted it on his rounds or swept it into his dustpan:

Jewelry: He's got a candy dish full of single earrings.

Cellphones: Not a week passes without a few of those turning up on his rounds. Before that, it was beepers. So big was the dusty collection of the unclaimed technological fossils that he brought a few home as toys for his puzzled grandchildren: What are these, grandpa?

Sometimes, Hicks, who works for the Hartford Business Improvement District, finds money. Usually it's just some loose change. But earlier this month, it was a $212 check that nearly became another piece of litter. "Whoa," he remembers thinking when he realized what it was.

It wasn't his biggest find. (A few years back, Hicks found a check for $30,000. Its owner had been headed to buy a car. He didn't even know it was missing until Hicks tracked him down.) But in these tough economic times, Hicks said, every bit counts. So Hicks set about finding the owner of the check.

It doesn't take much to see that Hicks gets a kick out of returning lost items. "It makes people so happy,'' he said. "Plus, it's the right thing to do."

When I visited him on the job on Pratt Street recently, he ticked off item after item that he'd returned over the years. He's never once thought of keeping anything he found, he said — before sheepishly admitting otherwise.

There was that one time when he found an FBI badge. "Now that was cool,'' he recalled. For the briefest of fantastical boyish moments, Hicks thought about keeping it. But after flashing it a few times to pretend perps, he turned it in.

The way Hicks sees it, he might technically be charged with keeping downtown streets clean. But being out and about Hartford is also an opportunity to leave people with a better impression of the city he loves, and which too often gets a bad rap.

Hicks has lived in Hartford since 1966 when he moved from Richmond, Va., after his father got a job at Underwood Typewriter. Hartford is where he raised his children. It's where he fawns over his grandchildren. And he's never considered living anywhere else, he said. He just wishes more people saw in it what he does.

Through the years, returning items people lose in the city has become his way of changing attitudes. Or at the very least, Hicks said, improving someone's day.

And that's exactly what he did when he returned that check to Audrey Honig Geragosian, who works in Hartford.

Geragosian had just cashed out her account at a Rocky Hill consignment shop where she sells clothes. She planned to use the money to help with Christmas shopping. But when she went looking for the check, she couldn't find it anywhere.

She was about to consider it a loss when she got home to a voicemail from the Rocky Hill shop: A man who works in Hartford found the check and had called several times seeking to return it.

Geragosian was floored. For starters, she said, what were the chances of someone noticing a piece of paper on a busy city street? And even if they did, what was the likelihood they'd actually look at it long enough to realize it was a check — and then go to all the trouble of returning it?

Later, she and Hicks met up near his North End home so that he could give her the check.

"There are so many fewer acts of kindness these days that when one comes your way, it throws you and restores your faith," she said.

And isn't faith what this season is all about?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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