Rule number one about yard sales: If you want the good stuff, you've got to show up early. Hence the 7 a.m. meet-up on this Saturday at Common Grounds in Highland Square.
Realtor Brad Evans, his girlfriend, Erin Siegel, who owns a skin-care store, and longtime newspaperman Jim Burrus stumble in, bleary-eyed from a long night of booze, bottle rockets and brushes with the law. While Jim orders a four-shot latte, Brad adjusts the kid-sized cowboy hat perched on his head, one that clashes horribly with Erin's alien antennae and fairy wings. Also on hand is Boulder real-estate agent Patrick Temaat, the consummate bargain hunter; in the bed of his vintage truck outside sits a 1972 Suzuki motorcycle with only 180 miles on it, which he convinced the owner to part ways with for a fraction of its value. They're soon joined by the rest of their garage-sale-storming posse, including IBM project manager Stacey Rosenberg, sporting a slinky cocktail dress and a purple wig, and massage therapist Maria Hassett, who's stuffed a banana into the crotch of her form-fitting Technicolor unitard.
Brad withdraws a list of yard sales printed from Craigslist and sketches a map of the area. "Northwest Denver is a gold mine this week," he declares: 26 sales.
Patrick remains skeptical. The leader of the crew, he started blitzkrieging Boulder garage sales four years ago just for the hell of it, hitting two dozen or more at a time. He enlisted friends and colleagues into his Saturday-morning ritual, which now runs every week from May to October. Soon, some of the crew's more frenetic members began wearing crazy costumes, acting outlandishly and generally causing a spectacle everywhere they went.
And while they now sometimes take on Denver, Patrick prefers his original hunting grounds: "Boulder is so tight, six miles by six miles. It's easy to hit them all."
Brad, though, is certain this stretch of Denver will be just as good, especially if they don't sweat the small stuff — like traffic laws. "Troop, ready?" he asks, and everyone piles into cars filled with remnants of bygone plunders, like a foam Gumby head and a yarmulke-like bonnet sprouting claws and antennae that they've nicknamed the "Gefilte-crab." Waving unplugged video-game guns and blasting through stop signs to make time, the two-car convoy rockets to the first sale on the list — which turns out to be a dud, nothing to offer save for a Mexican blanket and box after box of door handles. In retaliation, Maria throws down a banana peel as the vehicles pull away, leaving in their wake the promise of endless pratfalls.
The next stop is more encouraging: a front yard packed with bric-a-brac and a sign noting that proceeds go to a local library — something Brad doesn't like. "These benefits are always overpriced, and you feel bad about bargaining," he says. Nevertheless, he scores a sheriff's star and plastic six-shooters for $1 to go with his cowboy hat. Patrick's not impressed. "Let's go. These people are unrealistic," he pronounces. As usual, Maria is "pulling a Maria," lagging behind and perusing every item, including an intriguing animatronic Fido: "This is a powerful dog," she notes. "It takes four batteries! Imagine what this thing does!"
Off the group goes, cruising down 38th Avenue, scooting up Zuni Street, blasting past brick bungalows and fix-n-flipped Victorians, numerous feather boas flapping in the wind. Brad, who's driving the lead car, follows his scratchy map, ignoring tempting yard-sale placards affixed to stop signs and telephone poles. "Sign-chasing is a pain. It's so not worth it," he says. "It will be for last week's sale, or the arrows don't point in the right direction."
They hit one sale after another: front-yard bazaars, driveway marketplaces, vacant-lot smorgasbords and backyard emporiums. Most of the garage-sale peddlers join in the fun, once they've recovered from the initial surprise of nearly a dozen thirty- and forty-somethings dressed in cowboy duds and unitards leaping out of cars screaming "Show no mercy!" before bombing the sale and then bailing.
Of course, they aren't always warmly received. "In Boulder we get a bunch of attitude," says Brad. But today it's all in fun.
"You can't buy memories like this!" declares the owner of a box of cassette tapes featuring Solid Gold hits from the likes of Carlos Montoya and Meatloaf. "That's right," the crew responds. "Your memories aren't worth crap!" They eventually agree, however, that the memories are worth a few bucks.
Amid the endless stream of spice racks, Buddha statues, drum sets, TV trays and Pogo Balls, the savvy shoppers find quite a bit that they simply must buy. "I need this plastic Pop-Tart container," Erin declares at one sale. "It's my new business-card holder." Afterward, out of earshot of its previous owners, she admits, "I'm actually going to put my weed in it!" Brad snags a see-through model of the female anatomy, mainly because he read on the box that it includes "parts to stimulate pregnancy." Only later does he realize that it had actually said "parts to simulate pregnancy." Maria, meanwhile, sniffs out the fashion find of the day: a very revealing outfit straight out of the Copacabana — if the Copacabana had a wing for crack hos. She doesn't bother with modesty, stripping down to her skivvies and changing into her new unitard in a side yard.
While the cars' trunks fill with board games and DVD players and Jell-O packets, Patrick buys nothing ("These people are unreasonable," he declares, over and over) save for a $1 pair of brand-new shoes that normally retail for $50. For him, it's not about the shenanigans; it's about the killer discovery. He can't say what, in particular, he's looking for. "You don't find stuff — it finds you," he says wisely. But that doesn't stop him from trying. At every sale, he asks, "Do you have any motorcycles?" It might sound like a strange question, but a few years ago, the query led him to a mothballed '73 Honda CB-350, which he bought for $700 and later sold for $2,400. He's been asking the question ever since. "It's a real addiction," he says.
Eventually, Brad gets lost. As a Stray Cats tape blasts over his stereo — courtesy of their newly purchased box of cassettes — he crumples up his map and puts his head on the wheel. Then he starts following yard-sale signs. As he bumbles through one dead end after another, Erin whispers to the other passengers, "He loves chasing signs."
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The gang hits a few final sales, fingering Korean-made fur coats and inspecting a cigar box that the toothless old woman who's selling it claims "can hold 300 condoms." Sorry, no sale. Too creepy even for this bunch.
They check the time: 11 a.m. By now, all worthwhile garage-sale treasures have surely been snatched up. "Are we parting ways?" asks Stacey, as the Boulder contingent prepares to head north. "Wait," Brad says. "There's one more on the way back."
And so off they go, untold adventures ahead. After all, when it comes to garage sales, you don't find stuff. It finds you.