Man makes living by searching subway grates for lost treasure

Claudine Zap
The Sideshow

One person's lost iPhone is another man's income.

A story in the New York Post follows Eliel Santos on his hunt for cash, jewelry and technology—all dropped and probably assumed gone forever down the subway grates.

Santos has been snagging subway loot for the past eight years. He uses dental floss, mousetrap glue—and a sharp eye. And what he finds, he pawns. He's good at it, too: The Puerto Rican native, who lives in the Bronx, checks grates from 23rd street to 47th street, making about $150 a day.

“If you drop it, I’m going to pick it up—so be careful,” the 38-year-old told the Post.

But Santos also provides a pro bono service: He helps the frantic find items they’ve dropped, once finding a man’s keys and another man’s wedding ring. He’s rewarded by their thanks and, usually, some cash.

Times Square, he said, is a particularly good place for dropped cash and iPhones: “When people text while they are standing on a grate, their phones fall in,” he said.

His biggest one-day haul: a diamond-and-gold bracelet he pawned for $1,800. Another day he found three dropped iPhones. “I have a lot of patience and optimism,” he said.

“If I want something," Santos added, "I’m going to get it.”

Subway grates are notorious for swallowing treasured items. But sometimes, there are happy endings. Last year, when a New York City woman lost her ring, she called the nonemergency 311 line and a Con Ed employee searched underground—and actually recovered it.