The days are longer, or at least they’re brighter longer, and the season of after-dinner walks is upon us.
Liz Levine and her husband, David, like to put their pit bull rescue, Bella, on a leash and head out into the streets of Nob Hill in search of lost toys.
Bella, a velvety brown menschette, prefers to look for cats, but she keeps her nose in the gutters and has shown a surprising talent for ferreting out the lost plastic airplane or baby rattle or Beanie Baby.
Into Liz or David’s pocket they go.
At some point along their walk they always make a point of passing by a utility pole on Roma, midway between the cross streets of Montclaire and Fontana, and adding the new finds to the glomeration of toys already tacked up there.
The Lost Toy Pole has been a neighborhood collection place since 2006, when the Levines wedged their first lost toy under a staple left in the pole from some bygone missing-cat or lost-dog flier.
In the ensuing years, the Levines have fed the pole regularly with lost Barbie shoes and Army men, Happy Meal toys and Matchbox racers. It has also become the repository of baby socks and mittens – always singletons – and anything else that winds up dropped, lost and, perhaps, forgotten.
Liz, an APS substitute teacher, says the Lost Toy Pole came to life after she found a little Army man in the gutter on her walk one day. She took it to school and talked to the third-graders about the movie “Toy Story” and the sad fact that Woody was a lost toy. She encouraged them to think about the fate of lost toys and bring some in to school.
“Who doesn’t love little toys?” Liz asks.
The school year ended, but as anyone who walks knows, when you start thinking about a certain item on your walk, you tend to start finding it.
Liz and David started finding toys. And David suggested they tack them up somewhere so whoever lost them could claim them. Because the thought occurred to him at that particular utility pole, that particular utility pole became the Lost Toy Pole.
“Time went by, and before you know it we just started finding all kinds of things on our walk,” she says. The collection on the pole grew and others began contributing.
“Some really cool stuff gets put up and some really cool stuff gets taken,” she says. “People know they can look there.”
Case in point? The set of car keys she found and hooked onto a tack on the pole. The next day the keys were gone and, because there were no reports of a car theft in the neighborhood, we can assume the story ended happily.
Back before cities got huge and sprawling, before suburbs spread for miles, before we all started spending half our time in our cars and the other half staring at our phones, there were places where people could gather and visit and spread news and, I suppose, mention to their neighbors that they had lost a baby sock on a walk – or their car keys – and would appreciate everyone keeping an eye out for it.
We don’t have the old Post Office wood stove or the cracker barrel at the general store anymore. But the people of east Nob Hill have the Lost Toy Pole.
The pole was glittering with a mosaic of childhood tchotchkes the other day: a bright silver airplane, one of Barbie’s ice skates, a jigsaw puzzle piece, a handmade bracelet, a motorcycle, a fairy wand, a butterfly hair tie, a candy hamburger, a peace sign Beanie Baby, a rubber dinosaur, a Superball, a baby’s rattle.
“Somebody’s missing these things,” Liz says.
But instead of sitting in the gutter or succumbing to a fractured demise, they live on at the Lost Toy Pole, waiting to go home.