It’s 9 AM on a chilly October morning and I am heading south on I-40, again my mind is wandering. It’s another pick, another adventure. I am getting ready to meet with a lady I’ve known only a short time. Her name is Lu Ann and she is well-known in the antique community. This morning, she is willing to allow me to pick through her antique collection, which I would later come to find out not many people have had the pleasure of doing. The roads are still wet and dark, while overhead, the sun like a wallflower has made several attempts to make its presence known but decided to call it a day. Nonetheless, it’s quiet on the empty road.
I have a full tank of gas, Hank on the radio, half a cup coffee and my trusty sidekick Cash, snoring in the backseat. The morning rain has left a sense of calm in the air reminding me how the seasons will indeed change your life, much like the trees are forced to change their colors. It’s times like these, on the open road that I can feel my heartbeat start to slow and my anxiousness fade away with the city of Albuquerque in my rear view mirror. I’m about 40 minutes away from the small town of San Antonio, New Mexico, famous for the original Owl Café and it’s green chili cheeseburger. This small town of one stop sign and two restaurants has seen better days, or perhaps it has always been like this and always will be. The stucco on most of the buildings show some signs of age and like an apocalyptic movie, the weeds are overgrown and the town is eerily quiet. These are the small towns I enjoy picking though, they seem to have been preserved in time and they often remind me of a slower time.
The lady I’m going to meet has been a collector and an antiques dealer since before I was born and has more knowledge of this rusty gold than I may ever have. I first met Lu Ann by chance, last summer as I was taking an adventure down south. I had stopped at the Owl Café to stretch my legs. As I was getting back in the car, I noticed down the street a bright and shiny, mint condition Texaco sign mounted to a small house. Instinctively, I drove down the street to take a look only to notice it was a closed antique shop; however, it had a phone number on the sign. I took a minute and a chance to call, and waited outside hoping that somebody would answer. A lady picked up the line and mentioned that the shop was closed. Unfazed, I replied that it was unfortunate but she had some beautiful signs hanging on the building; she cordially thanked me for noticing and told me that she could open up the shop for a few minutes. I proceeded to thank her and waited outside. Within a few minutes, the door had creaked opened and an older woman in her late 60s came outside to greet me. She had a slight limp and looked a little frail as she took her time walking down the steps to greet me. She would gradually show me around her shop and after talking with her for a few minutes, I noticed she was as sharp as a razor, well-versed with a wealth of knowledge on antiques and New Mexico history. I’ve always thought that best pickers are often history nerds like myself. Maybe it was the fact that I too, was a teacher like her in her early days or that I took interest her collection, but after 20 minutes or so of talking she mentioned that she had an airplane hangar in the back with a few other items that I might be interested In. I gladly accepted her invitation not knowing what to expect next. We slowly walked out the storefront to the back yard passing a ton of old signs and Americana lawn art along the way. As she opened the hanger, I was in shock, almost speechless, to see one of the finest collections of antiques my eyes had seen. There was everything from turn of the century furniture , medical equipment, Civil War memorabilia, gas signs and just about everything in between. All of her collection was somewhat dusty, just as it should have been. As I walked through this enormous building, I could tell that there were more antiques there than I would ever discover and it was clear that she had been collecting most of her life. As always, I gravitated to what I know best, the gas and oil section. She let me pick through the license plates, old oil cans, road maps and a few signs. She took the time to explain the history behind each item and where it came from. As always, I try to stay realistic on what I can afford and what I can actually sell.
I learned early in this business that, like teaching, if I was planning on making it rich, I was in the wrong profession, but for me it has never been about money and never will be. I also found out that she was very firm on her prices and wasn’t persuaded by the common American picker routine of negotiating prices with a handshake as seen on TV. Sometimes with people, you just have to pay and trust that they are genuine; besides, I could tell that she knew her business better than I did and there was no use in trying to catch a great deal, she was gonna be fair with me and I in return would be grateful. I thanked her for her time and loaded my finds. As I left that day, I somehow knew I would one day be back.
Another interesting aspect to picking is that if you’ve been collecting long enough there’s a good chance you’ll get to know many of the local pickers. A week after my first trip to San Antonio, as I was walking around one of the antique shops in town just looking around and killing time, I ran into another dealer that had been in the business for many years. I shared my story with him on how I met this woman from San Antonio that let me buy some of her items; in shock, he told me that I had met one of New Mexico’s longest antique dealers who was also a bit of a shut-in and normally did not like conversing with people. He was also quick to point out that not many people would ever be allowed to pick through her private stock. After she mentioned this, I was taken aback. I almost had an Indiana Jones moment of pride, holding a golden treasure just to see it slip away. It made me wonder, why me? A young man without many years under his belt in the business. Why didn’t she try to pull one over on me and why was I allowed to pick through her collection?
Even now as I’m driving down south this morning, it’s bothering me and I’m still contemplating, why me? I’m not good looking, far from charming,and my knowledge of antiques is elementary in comparison. Perhaps it was dumb luck or maybe she wanted someone to talk to but I’d like to think she understands and appreciates the same things I do. Nevertheless, I’ll just have to take advice from the Beatles and let it be. I’ll keep searching for places and people that also appreciate a good conversation and rusty gold. These may just be antiques or junk that we collect, but more importantly, they are memories. They are a snapshot of a story, a time in history. Perhaps these people I run into have a common gravitation towards each other through these treasures and beliefs, not by chance or business, but because we search for the same ideals. Regardless if mainstream America appreciates these items and people as I do. This sentiment is not something we can walk away from. Indeed it is isolating at times, when there’s only a handful of people that believe in opening the car door for others, saying yes ma’am or prefer vinyl to digital, wood burning stoves to central heat or sleeping under the stars to the comforts of the bed, but it is all some of us old souls know.
So like Lu Ann, I too am finding it harder to relate to this modern world, which forces us to change like the seasons. I too will one day sell off or giveaway my collection that has been bestowed unto me. If I am lucky,hopefully the next person will enjoy these treasures as much as I have. Perhaps the people I meet were born for another time or are old souls; and yes, the world may move too fast and spin too hard for people like us,but it’s all right. We can pick up the pieces in the next life and the next go-round.