Since 9/11, the Transportation Security Administration has collected tons of items at security checkpoints; in 2006 alone, screeners took in more than 13 million items. What happens to all that stuff? The TSA turns it over to state surplus property agencies, which tend to sell it online or at retail stores. (Sometimes the contraband is sold in bulk.)
The agencies say they'll reunite you with your prized pocketknife, if they can locate it. But they would much prefer that travelers figure out the rules and abide by them. "Our goal is for passengers not to bring this stuff on anymore, so we won't have to deal with it," says Steve Ekin, Georgia's surplus property division director. Here's where to look, and what you might find.
Airports: 14 in Florida and Alabama, including Miami, Orlando, Huntsville, and Birmingham
Where to buy: eBay (seller ID: alstatesurplus)
Typical deal: Golf driver $100
Craziest items? "There are always lots of plastic fake swords that people buy at Walt Disney World, so there are probably lots of mad kids."
Airports: Atlanta, Savannah/Hilton Head
Where to buy: Stores in Tucker (Atlanta Surplus Center, 770/414-6468); Swainsboro (Swainsboro Surplus Center, 478/289-2623); and Americus (Americus Surplus Center, 229/931-2407)
Typical deal: Hammers $3, cordless drills $10
Craziest items? "We get flatware and kitchen knives stolen from restaurants, and we've received a bowling pin, a chain saw, and a few circular saws."
Airports: Chicago O'Hare, Chicago Midway, and occasionally four more in Illinois and Michigan
Where to buy: Auctions held at ibid.illinois.gov
Typical deal: 25 pounds of Swiss Army knives for $250
Craziest items? "On occasion, we'll see big bowie knives and ninja swords. And nunchucks--a lot of those come through."
Airports: Eight in various states, including Orlando and Miami (Alabama shares the loot), and Louisville
Where to buy: eBay (seller ID: kysurplus)
Typical deal: 50 Swiss Army knives for $250
Craziest items? "We've collected about 500 mini Louisville Slugger bats bought at the Louisville Slugger Museum."
Airports: Portland and Eugene
Where to buy: eBay (seller ID: oregontrail2000)
Typical deal: 10 Leatherman multitools for $75
Craziest items? "Golf clubs and machetes."
Airports: 13 from various states, including New York JFK, Newark, Philadelphia, and Cleveland
Where to buy: eBay (seller ID: pastatesurplus)
Typical deal: Deer-hunting kit (gut-slitting knife, multitool, pocketknife, large safety pins, rope, flashlight) for $50
Craziest items? "We've received hundreds of pairs of fuzzy handcuffs and other S&M paraphernalia--I wanted to create funny Valentine's Day kits, but folks here thought taxpayers wouldn't like it."
Airports: Seven across the state, including Dallas/Fort Worth and Austin
Where to buy: Austin Storefront in Austin, 512/463-1990
Typical deal: Scissors and corkscrews 25¢, knives 50¢, multitools $2.50
Craziest items? "Brass knuckles, crutches, and piñata sticks. And we once got a cane with a knife inside it."
Airports: Seattle-Tacoma, Spokane, and Tri-Cities
Where to buy: Auburn Retail Store in Auburn, 253/333-4912
Typical deal: Corkscrews for 25¢
Craziest items? "Lots of ulus--round Eskimo chopping blades. Also, a Sit'n Putt. It's a short-handled putter designed to be used while you're on the potty."