It’s been a few weeks, and I’ve finally recovered from the time I spent at the World’s Longest Yard Sale. For those of you who don’t know, this piece of Americana is exactly what it says it is – a scenic stretch of rural, two-lane highways that begins in Michigan and ends 690 miles and 8,000 Dollar General stores later in Gadsden, Alabama.
All along the way there are yard sales – and lots of them. So, for a picker (or hoarder, as my wife calls me) it’s heaven. From people with one table in front of their house, to dozens of tents manned by dealers in huge fields, they’re everywhere. Thousands of merchants set up along this route, selling everything known to humankind. There are clothes, old tools, signs, toys, furniture, chickens, glassware, household supplies, car parts, swords, guns, oil cans, hubcaps, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree. I even saw an old toilet for sale that I embarrassingly discovered was not hooked up for public use.
This year I stayed exclusively in Alabama. I figured there was enough stuff nearby to fill up the booth I have at a local antique mall. By the way, when I’m buying, I call it junk, and when I’m selling, it becomes antiques. That’s the law of the picker.
I began my day by driving to Mentone, a charming little mountain town in the northeast corner of the state. At my first stop I hit paydirt, purchasing an old table, an American flag, a copy of Heidi, and a pair of wooden shutters. Then, I found 4 matching mid-century wooden folding chairs at a local church. The price was a bit high, but a sweet-talking lady convinced me that the money was going to do the Lord’s work, and being a good Methodist, I couldn’t resist.
Eventually, I began heading south, hitting dozens of individual yard sales. Most of the time they’re a bust, but every now and again you will find a nice item at a good price. However, what you do find at every stop are nice people. So many times I was offered water and directions, along with a dose of good ol’ southern small talk. Couple these chatty folks with my penchant to talk, and it’s a wonder I’m not still out there.
The truth is, so much of the stuff you see really is junk. I have the feeling that many of these so-called treasures could be easily purchased at a nearby thrift store. That’s because there’s a life cycle for junk. It goes like this: Someone buys something at a thrift store, tries to sell it in a yard sale, and after failing, returns it to another thrift store. Then someone else will buy it, put it in their yard sale, fail, and donate it to yet another thrift store. This process will keep repeating until one of two things will happen: 1) the item will finally end up at the landfill, where it probably belonged in the first place, or 2) the cycle continues for years and years until the item is so old that it actually becomes valuable. Of course, the odds of that happening are about the same as Nancy Pelosi speaking at a Donald Trump rally.
But being a picker, I understand that you have to go through a lot of chaff to get a little wheat. That’s ok by me. The thrill of the hunt is entertaining, and I have come across some relatively valuable items at low prices.
After a long hot day, my search turned up enough rusty old stuff to keep the booth full and to keep my wife complaining about the condition of our basement.
I don’t have the heart to tell her that the Highway 411 Yard Sale begins soon, because the search must continue. That’s the life cycle of junk.
Joe Hobby is a standup comedian, a syndicated columnist, and a long-time writer for Jay Leno. He’s a member of Cullman Electric Cooperative and is very happy now that he can use Sprout from his little place on Smith Lake. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.