I awoke this morning at my usual time. It was Saturday. I really just wanted to roll back over, pull the covers over me, and sleep another 30 minutes, but it was Saturday. And that’s not what I do on Saturdays. It didn’t matter that I was tired, and it didn’t matter that it was 10 degrees out. Staying out of the cold isn’t what I do on Saturdays.I got dressed, grabbed my coat and a map, and headed to my car. I knew where I had to be and when, and I was running late. I don’t know how I can get up at my usual time and still find a way to run late, but I guess I’m just talented that way.
I drank my morning cup of coffee in the car as I made my way into the city. Google would say to take the interstate, but I avoid interstates. It was Saturday. I might miss something interesting. Nothing interesting happens on Saturday when it’s 10 degrees out and sensible people are still in bed, taking cover under flannel sheets and a half-dozen quilts. But it was Saturday, and that’s what I do, whether it’s January or June.
I got excited when I saw someone putting signs out. Aha! Something interesting I didn’t know about! Then I realized the signs were advertising my planned destination. I turned onto a lonely road. There weren’t a lot of cars parked on the street, and most of the cars that were parked weren’t running. I started getting hopeful. Maybe it wouldn’t matter that I was running 15 minutes late. Then I saw some faces I recognized, sitting in cars, trying to keep warm. I angled into a spot a few doors down from my destination. I took a last drink of coffee, pulled my hood over my head, tucked my hands into my pockets, and trotted down the sidewalk, up the steps, and onto the patio where a box of numbers was waiting.
I took my number and headed back to my car. I didn’t get too dejected, because it’s Saturday, and that’s not what I do on Saturdays. Saturday is like Christmas when you’re a kid. Even the most disappointing Christmas is still the best day of the year when you’re a kid. That means the most disappointing Saturday is still better than the best day at the office. Even if I got number 47.
Besides, getting number 47 meant that 46 other people decided it was better to be out in the 10-degree cold than under flannel sheets and a half-dozen quilts. Maybe that meant I wasn’t crazy. Or maybe it meant they were crazier than me, since they probably got up earlier than I did.
I walked back to my car, motivated no longer by excitement but rather by the prospect of a warm place and a good book to pass the time. But of course I didn’t pick up the book right away. I checked the time. Eight twenty-five. I had 35 minutes. I checked my map. I weighed my options. Something else was going on about four miles away, but did I have time? I decided to stay put. About half the time I stay put in that situation, and about half the time I go, and about 99 percent of the time I wind up second-guessing the decision. It was Saturday, and that’s what I do.
So I sat in my semi-warm car, reading a 50-year-old book about metalworking, wondering where on earth one might find the tools described in the book now that we just buy things made half a world away instead of making them. And the only answer I could come up with was in the basements of people old enough to have read the same book, only way back when it was still possible to buy stuff like that.
I looked around. More cars were coming, more people were taking numbers and then taking shelter. But there was only one person who looks for the same things I do. The others must have decided to go someplace else. Or maybe they were less dedicated than me, still keeping warm under flannel sheets and a half-dozen quilts like sensible people.
Eight fifty-five came, and people abandoned the warmth of their cars for the 10-degree cold and the privilege of waiting in line. Someone standing next to me had number 42. Another had 45. Close enough. I watched a latecomer walk up the stairs and take number 94 out of the box. That meant at least 93 other people were about as crazy as me.
A man opened the front door and announced he’d only have room for the first 25 people. He started calling out numbers. A few didn’t show, so numbers 26 through 30 got in, including the guy who looks for the same things I do. But I can still find stuff in his wake. There’s another guy who’s a lot more likely to beat me to things I want, and he wasn’t there, so that didn’t bother me.
I looked around, trying to see who I recognized, and trying to remember what they look for. I wondered if they were as cold as me. I already knew they were as crazy as me. I bounced my knees up and down and wiggled my toes to try to keep warmer. It didn’t help much.
Three people left, and the man returned to the door and let five people in. The people who left came out empty-handed. That’s never a good sign. But the guy who looks for the same things I do was still inside, which meant he might be finding good stuff. Hopefully there would be something left for me too.
Another person left and five more people were allowed in. I didn’t complain. One more left, and then another, and finally I heard the man call number 47. I was in.
I surveyed the house. It was small, but nice. It had lots of nice woodwork and was solidly built–the kind of house that can stand for centuries. But there are fewer and fewer of those now, because tastes have changed and many houses like it get bulldozed to make way for what’s popular today–or for yet another Walgreen Drug Store. So I went out of my way to admire the woodwork, because in 20 years there might not be any of it left outside of the City Museum.
Based on a number of things in the house, I surmised the owners had been of Italian descent and Catholic. Given the area, neither was a surprise. Neither was what I found and what I didn’t find. Spend enough Saturdays doing what I do, and you start to notice patterns.
I lost track of time but I spent three dollars. I didn’t have to wait in line, so I guess most people weren’t buying much. I never saw the guy who looks for the same things as me inside, and I never saw him leave. Sometimes he’s sneaky that way. I put my change in my wallet, tucked my treasure under my arm, pulled my hood over my head, and walked out the door and to my car. After quickly double-checking my map, I headed to my next estate sale.
It was Saturday, and that’s what I do.