Thursday, April 2, 2009

Chapter 2: Ridin' the B&O

“We left Wilmington, Delaware Thursday noon. Aug. 7, 1930 over the Baltimore & Ohio R.R. to enjoy our marvelous trip,’’ writes Sarah in her travel journal.
For me, the trip begins in a different place - in the warehouse of the Savers thrift store on Elliott Road in Tempe.
I work in the “Operations Department’’ at Savers as a sales clerk. Savers has two departments - Operations is the sales floor. “Production’’ is where the merchandise is delivered, inspected, sorted, priced and prepared for the sales floor.
It is about 8 p.m. on a Tuesday and I am going through the Production Dept., en route to the break room for my 15-minute break. Because of the hour, Eddie is the only person in the Production Department. His job is to be available to help customers with heavy items, received donations that are dropped off after hours and, when time permits, sort and price items that will soon be sent to the sales floor.
“S’up?‘’ I ask as I walk through Production.
Eddie is leaning against a shelf. In front of him is a big cardboard box full of books.
He holds up a book that has a red checker-board pattern on its cover. There is no title or print of any kind on either cover. It is bound by what appears to be a brown shoestring looped through two holes that look as though they have been made by one of those punches you often see in an office.
The book seems a little swollen, as it has survived some sort of water damage.
“I’m not sure what to make of this,’’ Eddie said. “It looks like some sort of diary or something. It’s about these people who took a trip. There are pictures and stuff pasted in and the writing is hand-written. It’s not really a book, you know?’’
“Hmm,’’ I said. “You never know what you’re going to come across here, I guess.’’
“Yeah,’’ Eddie. “But it’s pretty cool because they went on this trip in, like, 1930.’’
“Really?’’ I asked, my curiosity aroused.
“Let me know when you price it,” I said. “I’ll buy it.’’
I often marvel at how the Production workers at Savers determine how to price the items that come into the store. You see all kinds of products, all kinds of brands. As a salesclerk, I’ve seen Seven and Lucky brand jeans, which normally sell for more than $100 priced at $10 or $12. I think that’s why so many people enjoy shopping at the store. If you are patient, you can find some absolutely smoking’ deals.
Some things are harder to fix a price for than other things, of course.
And this book was a good example: What is a travel journal of a trip made almost 80 years ago really worth? Tucked into that same book were a few pristine postcards from China Town in Los Angeles. You would be surprised what some postcards sell for on eBay these days. There were other photos of landmark hotels and venues which no longer exist pasted onto its yellowed pages. The photos are in remarkably good shape. They are not yellowed or faded like the pages onto which they are posted, for some odd reason.
What is something like that worth?
An hour later, Eddie slid the book across the table in front of my cash register. It has a price sticker on it: 99 cents.
With my 50 percent discount, I paid 53 cents, tax included.
And so the vacation begins.
The Canadian Rockies. The Pacific Coast. A 5,000-mile ocean cruise through the Panama Canal followed by a stop in Havana.
Fifty-three cents.
A vacation even I can afford.
Suddenly, I am in a passenger car on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and it is here that I am meeting my traveling companions - the doctor, Sarah and Margaret, a woman of about 20 who I assume is their daughter. She is a tall, pale, thin girl with big dark eyes. She is wearing a long print dress that falls just below her knees, a short form-fitting jacket, white gloves and a black cloche hat over her short-cropped, flapper-style haircut.
We are south-bound from New York, traveling through Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., before turning west for Chicago.
“Terribly hot and unpleasant for two days,’’ Sarah confides in her journal.
Sarah isn’t exaggerating.
“What’s the deal with the air-conditioning?’’ I ask, mopping the sweat off my head with a silk handkerchief while wondering why it is that I am dressed in a blue sear-sucker suit with a stiff white shirt, even stiffer collar and necktie.
The doctor fixes me with a curious gaze.
“The what?’’ he asks.
“Oh,’’ I say. “Well, never mind. On to Chicago, right?’’


leek said...

I'm liking it!


Geri Koeppel said...

I'm ecstatic that you're in the creative groove again. You are much more than just the sum of your life circumstances --you are an extremely talented person at the core and should be so proud of yourself.

And more selfishly, I'm just happy you're telling a great story! Keep it coming, and thank you.