Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Scavengers of the Desert

They swoop down on their mark as the first rays of light split the gray Coachella sky. Most are cunning hunter’s intent on grabbing as much bounty as they can before more experienced hunter-gathers crowd them aside in their feeding frenzy.

The real pros know how to find the traces, tracks, and signs of a pending materialistic sacrifice. Yet only after scouting the day’s prey on Craig’s List, newspaper listings and select internet sites such as Tattoo Mark (one of Sharon’s favorites) can they be sure of the worthiness of their mark. Once satisfied of their vision quest, the stalking begins.

The hunt goes on year-long but always grows into a heightened frenzy when the snowbirds return to winter in the Valley. It’s a classic rendezvous in the best tradition of the mountain men. Only instead of trading pelts and beads, the currency exchanged is a few cents on the dollar for the long forgotten treasures of someone’s passed life. For unlike most other places in the country, there is an abundance of consignment stories throughout the Coachella Valley.

It’s almost as if Woody Allen had descended upon the land and pronounced his vision of a shopping religion which is ‘never pay retail.’ It’s a mantra whispered among the locals and visitors alike and easy to believe when there are so many venues to choose from.

There are church-sponsored thrift stores, specialty shops in mid-century modern furniture and accessories and stores specializing in only estate sales. There is even a chain of stores called Revivals that is one of the grand-daddy of all of them. Simple garage sales are the poor cousin in all this huge cauldron of shopping activities.

Despite the plethora of brick and mortar shopping sites, the real deals (and steals) take place in the individual homes now relegated to the children or in-laws of the deceased who are cleaning house. ‘Everything must go’ is their rousing anthem and it usually does in a whirlwind of flying shopping bags being stuffed, eager fingers snatching up bargains and dutiful husbands guarding the booty as the misses hunt for more.

Make no mistake, these are the real professionals who do this for a living or live to do it every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. They are the re-sellers, the collectors, the bargain hunters, the shopping addicts, and the scavengers looking to pick off the pitiful remains of a once full life.

These modern-day Comancheros arrive early, listen to the gossip of ‘what’s inside,’ can spot deals (or resales) and know how to negotiate the terrain. I’m just a tenderfoot among these veterans and careful not to cross their paths.

That said, I’ve crowded alongside the best of the best at the Hearst mansion (newspapers) finding old books for my research library. I’ve arrived late at the Swanson compound (frozen foods) which had been picked over before I even got in the front door. I’ve meandered through the long-forgotten lives of past Hollywood royalty in some cul-da-sac down Valley.

Picking through the remains of someone’s life seems cruel at first but it’s also finding treasures not found elsewhere. Even an inconsequential something might jog my imagination and trip my mind to dream up yet another story to tell.

So, Don Quixote gets to share space with my Yellow Submarine. Not a bad price to pay for following on the trail of my fellow scavengers.

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