A joyful vibe permeates the Empire Polo Grounds this time of year. From the grassy fields to the dance tents to the beer gardens, the atmosphere at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival is one of peace and playfulness.
“People are having a great time,” Sgt. Daniel Marshall of the Indio Police Department said Saturday afternoon. “It’s beautiful weather, the kids are on their best behavior like I’ve never seen before, traffic is moving. It’s perfect.”
Almost perfect, that is.
Tucked away near the main entrance is a place where anxiety is thick in the air: the Lost and Found.
Phones, wallets, purses, sunglasses — with nearly 600,000 people in attendance over two weekends, you can imagine that a few things might end up AWOL amid all the dancing and carrying on.
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“Mostly phones,” said Gisele Losso, who has run the Lost and Found booth here for the last four years. “Last year we had 500 phones turned in.”
Losso had barely finished her sentence when a young woman came by to drop off a smartphone she had found in the Sahara Tent, a throbbing hub of electronic dance music. When someone comes to claim a phone, booth workers ask for some telltale detail about the item that only its owner would know about.
One young man, pressed for an identifying factor, revealed that his phone “had lots of pictures of naked people on it,” Losso recalled. The story checked out; he got his phone back.
The booth was doing steady business Friday night, with a half-dozen or so people routinely queued up, anxiously awaiting their turn at the window.
“I lost my purse,” said Sofia Gamlin, 16, of Palm Springs, standing in line with a couple of her friends. Sheepishly, Sofia reported that she had set the purse down, unattended, in a corner of the Sahara Tent as she rushed to join the throng. “I was just raging,” she said, savoring the memory. “I guess my parents would say I’m irresponsible.”
The purse had not found its way to the booth yet, which was the case for many on hand.
Natalie Duffy came looking for sunglasses. Noel Glad dropped her mobile phone somewhere. A young man came looking for something, but didn’t want to reveal either the item or his name (“My dad doesn’t know I’m here”). They would all walk away empty-handed.
Most people figured their missing belongings had fallen out of a purse or pocket. An exception was Julia Speiser, 18, of Los Angeles, who was looking for her smartphone.
“I think someone pickpocketed it in the Sahara Tent,” she said, saying the phone was apparently still in active use. “My parents are texting them: Turn this phone in! Turn this phone in!”
Like a lot of parental text messages, they were apparently going unheeded.
Then there were the lucky ones.
Young Smith, 32, an information technology worker, said he lost his car key — just that, a single car key on a lanyard. Lost and Found had it.
Relief washed over his face as he reclaimed his possession.
“It was just sitting here,” he said, amazed to be holding his key again. He had driven to the festival from San Antonio and didn’t have a spare. His weekend was back on track.
The fates also smiled on Brielle Dalena, 21, of New Jersey. She had lost a credit card and her identification card, but both were returned to her.
“I’m so relieved because I have to take a plane home, and I wouldn’t have been able to get on the plane without my ID,” she said a few minutes later. “I didn’t expect to lose this so soon either,” she added. “I was thinking if anything it would happen on the second day.”
There was good news for Sofia Gamlin too -- she checked back with Lost and Found Saturday, and her purse had been turned in.
“Everything was in it, down to the dollar,” she said in a message. “My phone and credit cards were there as well ...very pleased to say my belongings have been returned.”
Wallets, credit cards, phones – the relief that comes with recovering these items may only be fully understood by those who have lost them.
Still, Losso said she continues to be impressed by all the people who find something and bring it to the Lost and Found – including wallets with hundreds of dollars in cash tucked inside.
“People are here having fun,” she said, “and I guess they think that, if this happened to them, they wouldn’t want to have their experience ruined by losing something.
“So they turn it in.”
Times staff writer August Brown contributed to this report.