The New York Times, January 18, 2004

    City Sunday: New York Observed
    A Lost Camera And One Knight's Heroic Fantasy

    By Bruce Kluger

    76th Street. It was just after dinnertime, and we were heading home to the West
    Side. As the cab pulled over to the corner, a couple climbed out. They appeared to
    be in their 50's; both were dressed in overcoats, and the woman wore a furry black
    babushka-type hat.

    "Am I going to like this cab?" I asked the couple as Bridgette scooted across the
    back seat. The man ignored me; the woman looked confused and said in what
    sounded like a Russian accent, "Do you want the cab or not?"

    "They weren't very nice," Bridgette commented as we tore up Madison.

    "No, honey," I responded. "Not everyone has Daddy's odd sense of humor."

    As I reached to buckle my seat belt, I felt something bulky under my right leg.
    Reaching down, I discovered that I was sitting on a state-of-the-art Sony digital
    camera, estimated value, $500.

    "Holy cow, Bridgey," I said. "Look what I found!"

    Bridgette's eyes widened. "Whose camera is it?" she asked.

    "I don't have the slightest idea," I said. Then I added, and this is the God's honest
    truth, "but I'm telling you right now, whoever this belongs to, I promise I'm going to
    get it back to them."

    Making such an outrageous pledge to one's child is foolish enough in its own right;
    but when one lives in a city of eight million, it's downright nuts. Yet something told
    me that the search for the owner of the wayward Sony was going to be an

    My first step was to engage in a little voyeurism: I turned the camera on. Shrugging
    off the momentary guilt I felt at invading a stranger's privacy (I was, I rationalized,
    doing some poor soul a favor), I began scrolling through the pictures, about 15 of
    them altogether.

    Just as I had expected, the pictures revealed Babushka Woman and her (I
    assumed) husband at various locations around New York. They were dressed in
    the same clothes they had been wearing only moments earlier, so the photos, I
    again surmised, were taken that day.

    Then I looked at the photos a second time. Among the pictured backdrops were the
    Statue of Liberty, the Metropolitan Museum, Fifth Avenue, a park. Tourists, I
    thought glumly. They were probably already on their way out of town.

    As our taxi cut across Central Park, Bridgette's interest in the camera waned. Mine
    didn't. Indeed, by the time we got home, I was deep into the logistics of the problem.
    The cab had dropped the couple off in an area filled with restaurants and hotels,
    and it had been dinnertime. Judging by the photos, our weary travelers had had a
    busy day. Therefore, I reasoned, they were headed either to dinner or back to their
    hotel. I opted to go the hotel route.

    Grabbing the Yellow Pages, I thumbed through the lodgings section, and selected
    the first hotel I saw with a Madison Avenue address, located somewhere in the 90's.
    Briefly recounting my undertaking to the receptionist, I asked him if he knew of
    another hotel on Madison Avenue, perhaps in the 70's. He suggested the Mark at
    77th Street.

    I hung up and called the Mark. Rather than speak with a receptionist, I asked for
    the concierge. Experience has taught me that hotel phone banks are usually
    located in a room behind the registration desk, while concierges are the masters of
    lobby traffic. If anyone could recognize a hotel guest from my description, it would
    be the concierge.

    Unfortunately, despite his sincere interest in my quest, the Mark's concierge came
    up blank. I tried one more gambit.

    "Is there another hotel near you," I asked, almost perfunctorily.

    "Sure," he said. "The Surrey is one block south."

    Seventy-sixth and Madisonprecisely where Bridgette and I had grabbed our cab.

    I quickly called the Surrey, asked for the concierge, and wasn't 15 seconds into my
    spiel before he said: "I know exactly who you're talking about. They're guests here.
    They were very upset about losing their camera. We tried to call the Taxi and
    Limousine Commission, but they were closed for the night. So the couple went to
    dinner. They'll be back in a few hours."

    Elated, I gave the concierge my number and asked him to have the couple call me.
    Then I did something truly preposterous: I'd just bought a new printer that produces
    photo-quality images, and I decided to give it a test. Loading the disk from the
    camera into the special port, I downloaded the pictures to my PC, then printed my
    favorite shots for Mr. and Mrs. Babushka. My wife thought I'd lost my mind.

    The next morning I got a call. The man on the other end had an accentItalian, as
    it turned outand introduced himself as Ugo Savona, the owner of the camera. To
    say he was delighted was an understatement, and he thanked me repeatedly.
    When he asked when he could retrieve his camera, I told him he could have the
    hotel send a messenger.

    "No, no," he protested. "We'd like to come over ourselves. Right now, if it's O.K."

    Thirty minutes later, Ugo and Raha Savona of Palermo arrived at my apartment.
    When we first laid eyes on each other, I surprised myself by doing something wholly
    instinctual: I reached out for Mrs. Savona, took her in my arms and gave her a
    gigantic hug. Maybe it was because I'd spent so much time looking at her photos, or
    reproducing them for the little souvenir album I'd made. Or perhaps I was just
    overcome with a strange and lovely feeling of warmth for this woman. Whatever the
    case, she hugged me back twice as hard.

    Then I presented them with their camera and the photos I'd printed. They were
    delighted by the former, and touched by the latter.

    "Is there anything we can do for you?" Ugo asked.

    "Just have a wonderful time in New York," I said. "When do you leave?"

    "We head back to Italy tomorrow," he said.

    Later that afternoon, a large box arrived at my door. Inside was a case of wine,
    along with a note on Surrey Hotel stationery.

    "Bruce carissimo," it began. "What can we say to you after this morning? You
    warmed up our heart, you broke the clouds of a sinister mediocrity, and you
    showed us the very best of man's nature. May life be generous to you. We will
    never forget this day, and we will always remember you."

I have this silly little ritual
whenever I get into a taxi
that's dropping off a fare. As
I open the door for the exiting
passenger, I ask, "Am I going to
like this cab?"

Usually the person I'm addressing
is amused by the absurdity of such
an inquiry, and plays along. Every now
and then, however, the joke falls flat.

Such was the case one evening recently
when my 7-year-old daughter, Bridgette,
and I hailed a taxi on Madison Avenue and
Telltale photos: the Savonas in New York.