Eliel Santos is far from a begging panhandler. Instead of relying on the spontaneous charity of strangers, he makes searching for that occasional quarter that falls out of their pockets a full-time job.
For about eight years, Santos, a Puerto Rico native who lives in The Bronx, has been roaming the streets of New York with a long string of dental floss and mousetrap glue in order to make a living. So far, he has reeled in jewelry, gold, electronics and cold-hard cash beneath city sidewalk grates. As Santos discovered — these hard-to-reach crevices are full of lost treasures.
On good days, he’ll bring in about $150. On better days, he finds jewelry that can be pawned for over $1,000. Recently, he found an 18K white gold and diamond bracelet that scored him $1,800, but iPod’s and cell phones are the most reclaimed items Santos reels in.
He got into the business entirely by chance. “I saw a guy on 41st Street and Broadway who dropped his keys down a grate and he was looking for a locksmith,” he told the New York Post. “I said, ‘I will help you if I can.’” He then purchased a mouse trap and attached the glue from the trap onto a rock, tied a string around it, and retrieved the man’s keys.
“He said, ‘Oh man, that’s awesome!’ — and he gave me $50. I thought, ‘Wow, this is a good way to make money!’” Santos explained.
And ever since that day, he has been making his rounds on the streets of New York City.
“If you drop it, I’m going to pick it up — so be careful,” advised Santos. “I have a lot of patience and optimism. If I want something, I’m going to get it.”