Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Garage Sales

Last Saturday we had roughly 3000 garage sales in my neighborhood. We have a local real estate broker named Kiki who takes it upon herself to organize garage sales for five or six adjoining neighborhoods all at once. She provides the marketing and advertising, complete with teenage sign wavers at every street corner inside a six mile radius, all handing out maps to the sales, free water, and wearing matching red “Team Kiki” shirts. It is really something.

Obviously, she puts in so much of her own time, energy and money in order to find clients, either by contact with the local homeowners who might want to host a garage sale, or the shoppers. After witnessing the clientele that arrived in my neighborhood on Saturday, I’ve got to assume she’s in it more for the homeowner contacts than the garage sale shoppers. I didn’t see too many garage sale shoppers that looked like they might be in the market to buy my house. Rob my house… maybe. Buy my house? No.

If you have ever hosted a garage sale, then you know what I’m talking about. There is a certain element that is instantly attracted to the prospect of buying someone’s used shirt for twenty-five cents. Now, don’t get me wrong. My wife is an avid garage saler. She loves a good bargain on kid’s toys and floor lamps. You have met her, too, if you have ever had a garage sale. She was one of the 6 people out of the 200 that showed up that day that didn’t park on your lawn or walk through your flower bed.

We were not having a garage sale this weekend, but two of our immediate neighbors were, so I had the opportunity to sit leisurely and observe some of the shoppers in their natural bargain hunting environment.

The thing that struck me first about people’s garage sale day behavior was the driving. For starters, there were easily 20 times more cars on our street Saturday morning than on a normal day. This only seemed to encourage some of the drivers to go faster than they normally would on a deserted street. Apparently, cars parked at 45 degree angles out into the middle of the street with crowds of people darting back and forth through traffic says to some folks, “I’d better drive really fast into that mess and park hurriedly at a precarious angle to avoid having these other people get all the good deals before I do.”

And I’m not sure what it is about garage sales, but if there is more than one sale on a particular street, that is apparently viewed by the shoppers as an open license to park in front of anyone’s driveway. There is no other day when anyone would find that even a remotely acceptable option, but on garage sale day, anything goes.

On the other end of the traffic hazard spectrum, I also witnessed some incredibly slow moving vehicles that were perhaps more of a danger. Garage sales tend to bring more octogenarians to your street than a church parking lot on bingo night. Many of the older crowd perform what I like to call the “rolling recon” maneuver, where the wife walks in and out of the sales, while the husband, who may or may not want to be there, judging by the expression on his face, stays behind the wheel and rolls slowly down the side of the street, a car-length behind her. He’s the one you really have to watch out for when you’re crossing the street, because he nods off every once in a while.

If you see a large panel van or U-haul truck, these are the professionals. You probably won’t see them though, because they don’t just stumble upon your neighbor’s house at 10:00 in the morning. They plan a very precise route the night before and assault your neighbor’s house at 6:00 am while Bob is still in his jammies and just pouring his first cup of coffee. They knock on his door, apologize profusely for the early hour, and buy every last tool and piece of furniture that Bob has to sell. They were already selling Bob’s stuff at the flea market in the next town by the time you got out of bed.

Now, besides the professionals and the folks like my wife who browse your trinkets and happily give you your full dollar asking price for your kid’s old set of Star Wars action figures, you will find two main groups of buyers. We will call the first group the English as a Second Language crowd, and the second group the Employment as an Unappealing Lifestyle crowd. The ESLs and the EULs.

The ESLs tend to be made up of decent, hardworking, low-wage couples with thirteen kids and questionable immigration status. They buy your old clothes and shoes, and occasionally any furniture or tools that the professionals missed. For the most part they are polite and fair, but occasionally someone will employ the “no habla ingles” negotiating tactic of handing you half of your asking price for a certain item, saying “Is good, yes?” and then pretending not to understand the word “No,” even though it translates perfectly. Do not be fooled. Or, just take $2 for the mirror. Who cares? It’s leaving your garage for good. Any haggling that has occurred does tend to lose its luster when the ESL father comes to pay for the pile of shirts and shoes and starts peeling bills off a stack of money the size of a Stephen King paperback. Just remember, he only has that much cash on him because he doesn’t like banks and all of their questions.

The EULs are the real winners of the day. This is the crowd that thinks Wal Mart is super-fancy. This is the lady with the lit Menthol 100 dangling from her bright pink upper lip as she tries on your winter coats and complains about how hot it is on your driveway. These are the people that will not pay your asking price for anything, under any circumstance. “You want ten cents for this baseball mitt? It’s all worn out! I’ll give you a nickel.” These are the people who get indignant that you would ask fifty cents for a pair of jeans, because they have a hole in the knee, “and they’re not even acid-washed or nothin’.” These are the people who go to their car and bring back an old hair dryer and a pack of Marlboros and try to trade you for the blender you’re selling. These are the people that make you never want to have a garage sale again.

“You want two dollars for this coat? It’s got pink lipstick stains and cigarette burns on it!”

Thanks, Kiki, for making my Saturday a little more interesting. And for inadvertently inviting so many EULs into my neighborhood. They were a real treat. Many of them seemed to take a real interest in our cars, and I even saw a few of them peering inside some of the unattended garages, perhaps looking for bargains of a different kind.

Maybe I will be getting in touch with you sooner than I thought about my next move. Perhaps a neighborhood with a gate, and a no garage sale policy.

Naw! Where would the fun be in that?

See you soon,

Copyright © 2011 Marc Schmatjen

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  1. First of all let me say, I hate garage sales! I hate it when my neighbors have garage sales! I give my unwanted stuff to one of the many organizations that collect this type of stuff or it goes to my local waste recycling outfit. You know the place. Nortech.

    The "parking in front of my driveway" is the one that gets me. The last time this happened to me, I politely asked the offending "shopper" to move so I could leave for my appointment and they had the nerve to get attitude with me and tell me to wait until they were finished! Well when I offered to fire up my big green diesel truck and "help" them move, they indignantly obliged my request.

    By the way did I say I hate garage sales? I like the idea of a gated neighborhood and a no garage sale policy!

  2. haha! Kiki (?) that can't be true. what a crack up! My neighbor just put on FB that she is having a garage sale this weekend. I may have to walk down to her end of the street to watch the show and see if it's the same crazies in your neck of the woods!

  3. I think you should submit EUL as a term to the urban dictionary! That's a good one! ps--LOVE GARAGE SALES!! gail :)