Saturday December 29th, 2012 – Reno, NV
There’s a part of me that absolutely loves the process of treasure hunting. Shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars have made it hot with the masses, but I’ve been around it as long as I can remember. My grandfather loved to visit thrift stores constantly, and my father of all people had a great eye for junk and was an excellent picker himself. He scored regularly with antique deals.
On my exercise walk today I discovered a really neat antique shop in downtown Reno. I wasn’t looking to buy anything, but the prices were so reasonable and the people were so nice that I did happen to pick up a couple of tiny items to give as gifts for some friends who are also collectors.
I found a patch from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for $5 that I’ll send off to my old friend Dave Wilson who lives in Indianapolis and is a huge race fan. Dave is a great guy and he booked me at his comedy club One Liners for years. The least I can do is send a small gift to say thanks.
I also ran across some clean old professional wrestling magazines from the California territory of the mid ‘70s. There were four of them, and they’ve got the great old blood soaked pictures of wrestlers from that era like Ray Stevens, Pat Patterson and even Andre the Giant. They’re really cool, and I picked up all four at $10 each. If I can’t at least break even, then I’m a flaming idiot.
Depending on who is asked, there are rather serious doubts as to whether I am an idiot anyway. It’s not gambling rent money, and it’s something I had never ever seen in all my travels. I looked them up on Ebay and there was another issue that I didn’t have that had an asking price of $25.
I was talking to one of the dealers at the shop, a very nice guy probably in his late 50s. He said he’s been wheeling and dealing for decades, and his specialty is pocket watches. He’d purchased a new old one from a walk in customer about an hour before I got there, and he told me he’d paid $50 for it. A pawn shop had offered the guy $25 apparently, but he wanted $50 firm so he bolted.
The guy at the antique shop showed it to me, and said it was worth probably $300 minimum as is, but quite a bit more with just a little cleaning and maintenance work. He said he expected he’d get about $450-$500 depending on how long he chose to sit on it and hold out for the best price.
I had a nice long talk with the guy, and compared notes on how the collectibles game is playing out in the tough economy. He said something that really resonated with me. “There’s a whole lot more junk than people in the world to go through it all. There will ALWAYS be deals around.”
Like anything, there’s work involved and it’s not easy but he seemed to think anyone with any kind of work ethic and drive could turn a fair profit by putting one’s effort in. He suggested there be a field of specialization, only because there’s too much out there to know about everything.
My quandary is, do I slice my time even more and wheel and deal part time to bring in an extra few bucks or blow it off and put every last ounce of energy into comedy? Nothing is ‘stable’, and I’ve had time issues in the past. But I need money and I love the hunt. I’ll have to think carefully.
This really got my mental wheels spinning though. I’m at the point in my life where I am either going to make my mark or fade into obscurity like everyone else in my family. I’m the single nut off our family tree that actually has a chance to do something noteworthy. As much as I love and respect my grandfather, he was a small time hustler. He admitted as much, and he regretted it.
On his death bed he told me a story about how he and a couple of friends of his could have had dibs on early McDonald’s franchises in the Milwaukee area. It would have been risky, and would have involved selling off some rental properties they all owned together. Gramps turned it down, but his buddies didn’t and they ended up doing extremely well. Gramps wouldn’t pull the trigger.
Gramps told me that was his biggest regret in retrospect, but at the time he said it was a matter of stability. He knew for a fact that people needed a place to live, but fast food wasn’t what it is today and he said he just didn’t see the potential of the big picture. He said he’d worked hard for that money, and just wasn’t willing to put it all on the line. It was everything he had in the world.
I can’t say I blame him, and it’s easy to look back on what could have been. I look back at how many things I’ve screwed up in my own life and I have no fingers to point at anyone else. I made more than my share of stupid decisions, but at the time with the information I had, they appeared to be correct. It’s a whole different perspective from the heat of battle than it is from hindsight.
Right now I’m in the heat of my biggest battle. I’ve given everything I’ve got inside me to both comedy and radio, and my results have been extremely disappointing. In hindsight, I should have chosen one or the other, but I didn’t. I kept getting radio opportunities, and then I’d get fired and go back to comedy. Just as that got going, another radio offer came along and it started all over.
It’s too late to go back now, but here I sit with lots of comedy and radio experience – just when both of those industries are sliding down the dumper at a lightning pace. Radio jobs are harder to find than Amish video games, and it’s a struggle to keep myself booked every week in comedy.
It’s a different world than it was twenty years ago, and I’m twenty years older. Nobody thinks of that being a factor, but it always is. Everyone ages, and our needs evolve as it happens. I don’t have the same needs or wants I did twenty years ago. Being a major star was never on my agenda mainly because I was too busy trying to survive month to month. I thought it would all work out.
How wrong and naïve that was. Nothing just ‘works out’ in life. We have to plan in detail, and then follow up and work that plan. IF and only if we do that, then we can hope for luck to put us in the elite class we may dream of being in. I didn’t do the right things it took to get myself there. I did what I had to do to survive, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now – but not anything more.
Am I a small time hustler like my grandfather and father? Unfortunately, I’d have to say yes to that very difficult and humbling question. I aspired to much more, but never achieved it. Now, do I continue to pursue the long shot that gets longer by the day, or change plans and begin to wheel and deal collectibles because I enjoy it and could probably do ok. I really don’t have the answer.