The truck, with engine running and two men sitting inside, had been parked in front of my house for more than an hour when I decided to call the police. I know there is an estate/household sale scheduled at the neighbor’s house for tomorrow, and I had been warned to expect people to start showing up early – as in maybe after midnight. So it is possible these men in the truck are here for the sale tomorrow. Fourteen hours early. But being cautious … ok, and cranky … I ask the ER PD to check it out so that I can at least know for sure if these are pickers or criminals.
Because we have had criminals sitting out in running cars on our street before. I am not making that up.
When the police arrive, I learn that apparently it’s bad form for me to come out to talk to the guys at the same time they do; one of the officers says it’s confrontational. Oops. But I want to know if this is something I need to be worried about. The men in the car call out that they aren’t the only ones parked here, that there were four or five other people already lined up, too.
You’ve got to be kidding me.
As one of the officers and I chat, he finally understands my concern about strange people sitting in running cars all night long, and he likens it to Walmart the night before Black Friday. These people aren’t breaking any laws – private investigators, for example, will sit out in a running car for hours on end - and it’s likely to get busier as the night wears on. But he assures me they’ll have the next shift keep their eye on things overnight. (I wonder: David got a parking ticket Monday night because he forgot to put his truck in the driveway after I got home from taking Bandit to the animal hospital. Since these cars overnight on the street violate the village winter parking rules, will they also get tickets?)
He also comes to the fence to see a barking Bailey, and he keeps trying to pet her over the fence – she’s jumping and barking and he’s reaching and pulling his hand back. I tell him if he keeps it up she’ll bite him and he asks why. Errr … because you’re teasing her? When I tell him that he looks at me like I’m maybe something he found on the bottom of his shoe and shakes his head as he walks back to the front yard.
Sigh. Poor policeman. You’re a dog bite waiting to happen. But I digress.
After the police leave and I realize that the street is safe but is going to continue to fill with cars and traffic all night, I go out to talk to the guys in the truck and apologize for calling the police. I tell them that I’d been warned to expect people lining up for the sale. But they are about 8 hours earlier than I’d expected.
The two men in the pick up – Dan and Joe – tell me people call the police on them all the time. This is a regular gig for them, going to estate sales and then reselling the stuff on Ebay. In fact, the people lining up are part of a loosely knit group of people who attend these kinds of sales all the time. They even have their own honor system: Whoever arrives first to the sale - in this case, Dan and Joe – hands out numbers to everyone who comes after. When the sale starts in the morning, everyone lines up nicely according to the numbers they received hours – and sometimes days – earlier.
Dan explains that sometimes people line up several days in advance, bringing with them campers and portajohns and whatever else they need to make sure they can be first in line.
Which leads me to my next question: when you get to the sale 14 hours early, where do you go to the bathroom?
Dan hesitates and then Joe jumps in. “You can leave for a few minutes,” he says. “But you can’t leave for hours.” Dan explains that sometimes people try to come and get an early number and then go home to sleep. That’s bad form in the estate sale picker circle. I sense that maybe the “leaving for a few minutes” is a euphemysm for “pee in a bottle” but I could be wrong. I hope.
But it’s apparently not bad form to invade a residential street overnight. Joe explains that the street is actually safer with the buyers there, although I’m not versed enough in estate sale shopping to know whether people will try to peek in the windows (the porch is loaded with items. Officer Friendly told me to call if there’s a problem.)
I don’t think there will be. Joe and Dan turn out to be nice guys who seem to enjoy spending hours in their truck in freezing temperatures, playing cards and eating the grilled chicken legs they’ve packed in the cooler stored in the bed of their truck.
Joe, who’s been in the antique business for 30 years, explains to me that a true picker finds stuff and sells to dealers. He and Dan are kind of estate sale buyers/ebay sellers. But there isn’t really any doubt that they and the other folks in the cars lining up are there for one reason: to scrouge through everything in Wayne’s house looking for valuables until it’s picked clean like that chicken leg Dan is eating.
“Hey, did you know his brother? ” Dan asks about my late neighbor Wayne, going on to tell me about another estate sale last year, around the corner from where we are now. He marvels that the man lived with no indoor plumbing or running water and had a house packed with stuff. Wayne didn’t have a brother, I explain.
I tell them that I’ve lived next door to Wayne for 20 years; I was the one who took him to the doctors once in a while and last August realized he’d fallen and needed emergency help when he wasn’t ready for an appointment. Wayne never came home from the hospital. I get emotional talking about how difficult it’s been to watch his life being sorted and boxed and to now see people lining up to pick through his belongings.
“Well, the stuff has to be gotten rid of somehow,” Joe says rationally. I understand, but it’s also clear that maybe these pickers forget that the tools and household items and books and other things they’re lining up to purchase once belonged to a human being, with family and friends, who lived and breathed and left fingerprints on his community and neighborhood. Of course, I’m more sensitive about this, since I actually knew Wayne.
“Come out and chat more later,” Dan tells me as I get ready to go back into my toasty warm house. “We like to talk to people.” I imagine they would; it must be boring sitting there all night. In the morning, I’ll get up and talk to some of the other people there to pick through Wayne’s junk. I only hope the growing picker contingent doesn’t keep the dozen resident dogs barking. Or it’s going to be a long night.