I was in Vermont over the weekend. I expected it to be the usual family/tourist experience, completely devoid of the hobby. I didn't even have any plans to scope out a big-box store (I wouldn't be surprised if they don't exist in Vermont) or a card shop.
I was going to be plenty busy. I figured I could do without cards for a few days.
As suburbanites do on their first day in a new city, my wife and I strolled through the mall, which sat across the street from our hotel. In full mall-mode, meaning slightly bored, I wandered aimlessly through a couple of stores while looking forward to lunch.
Then my wife said, "that sign says there's a card show here."
I turned and looked to my left. In the middle of the aisle, usually where those annoying kiosks go, was an empty wooden stand with a little roof. Dangling from the roof was a single, small poster that read:
Sports Card Show
I stared at it. The sign was so out of place with what was around it, and the stand so empty and abandoned, that I was fairly certain that this sign was left over from a mall card show from three years ago.
But I looked at the dates and they matched up. It was Friday, May 27. Card shows usually happen on Saturdays and Sundays. May 28 and 29 were a Saturday and Sunday. I explained all this to my wife (as if she didn't know it already -- she did show me the sign) and said I would have to stop at the mall again Saturday morning in the unlikely event there was a card show.
I still didn't believe anything existed. A mall card show? I hadn't witnessed a mall card show since the 1980s.
Of course, by now, I was obsessed. Later that evening I looked up the mall website and scrolled to the events schedule. Sure enough, "sports card, post card and coin show in the JC Penney's court" was on the docket.
It was time to get excited.
The next day I got up early for about the 11th day straight (the kitchen was being remodeled before we left for Vermont), but this time I wanted to get up early. I zipped to the mall and started walking toward JC Penney's.
Within minutes I spotted the certain sign of a card show:
Grown men in shorts stooped over a table.
I couldn't believe my luck. I'm on vacation, in some random spot in America, in 2016 for crying out loud, and I stumble across a card show.
The show was small. Maybe 10 different dealers. But I didn't care. It'd been so long since I was at a mall show. I took my usual tour of the perimeter. The first few tables didn't look promising. Shiny autographed football cards, a table full of framed photos of sports figures. One table -- which made me certain I could be a dealer at a show one day -- displayed a random collection of comic books, NASCAR items and a single binder of star cards from junk wax central.
Then I came to the next table and spotted my kind of cards. This dealer displayed the usual shiny football autographs that you see everywhere at shows now, but next to it were divider boxes of baseball cards separated by year, going back to the '50s. I was home.
As is my habit, I zeroed in on the '70s. I noted that the set that I am collecting -- from 1972 -- featured more cards than any other year in the boxes. This was interesting. But with my wants strictly limited to hard-to-find high numbers, I didn't expect anything I needed.
I poked around at a few cards and decided to ask. The dealer was a 30ish type who was obviously overworked because all he talked about was being burnt out. I asked him whether there were any high numbers. And he said, "I don't know. Baseball is my weak spot."
OK. This could be good or bad.
I decided to hunt for myself. And guess what? I found some high numbers.
I found some in Vermont at a mall show with 10 dealers. I can't find that in the self-proclaimed largest show in Upstate New York half the time.
I pulled these three high numbers off my wants:
I noticed that the Peterson was a bit dinged with a slight crease in the right corner, but it didn't matter. The condition was consistent enough with my collection.
Having exhausted what I needed from the '72s, I looked around at its neighbors, all the while keeping in mind that I still had a couple more tables to check out.
I turned to the '73s because I wanted to make sure I have every appropriate card for the 100 Greatest Cards of the '70s countdown and also because I'm going to complete that set some day.
And I pulled these three '73s:
There were plenty of cards still before me, but I had a limited amount of cash since this show was a complete surprise, so I handed the cards to the dealer.
This is what I handed him:
Given the prices on the cards, I expected him to look at them, look back at me and say, "$15". The 25-percent discount is customary.
But this dealer didn't do that. He dropped the cards back down on the table and said, "5 dollars. Is that OK?"
Is that OK?
Can I live in Vermont forever?
Now here is where I got stupid.
Instead of staying in that particular spot until the money was all gone, I paid the 5 dollars, said a few pleasantries and headed on my way. Because stupid me, I have to check out every table.
The next table also featured vintage cards. In fact, it was nothing but vintage cards.
I spotted a binder that was separated by year and the only thing in it was Topps high numbers. High numbers from 1963 to 1973. As tempting as it was to find out how much the 1967 highs were going for, obviously I had to check out the 1972s.
I was successful here, too, pulling these high numbers that I needed:
The dealer here, a soft-spoken, gray-haired fellow in his early 60s, helped me keep a running tally as I pulled the cards. I could tell by the tally that all I would be getting was the 25 percent discount.
At that point I should have dropped these cards and gone running back to the Baseball Is My Weakness Guy and started to see how many cards from 1973 I could get for 5 dollars. But my brain said I Am Collecting 1972s Dammit, and I couldn't walk away from cards I need.
So I paid my money for those cards and I was pretty much out of cash. That ended the show.
Still, I was very excited by this development. This put a whole new face on the trip and everything else from that point was just wonderful -- well, except the torrential thunderstorms I drove through on the way back. I still can't believe my luck.
The next day, I spotted a few extra dollars in the suitcase and headed back to the mall for Day 2 of the show to find Baseball Weakness guy. Unfortunately, it was almost an entirely different group of dealers for Sunday. And there were a lot fewer of them. Baseball Weak Spot wasn't anywhere to be found. I'm sure he had to work.
One dealer who returned was a guy who was selling a bunch of unopened packs for a dollar. That's when I bought the 10 packs that I referred to in yesterday's post (I promise you I published it on Monday).
I could have been smarter with the money that I had, but I'm not on Wall Street and surprise money situations fluster me.
Besides, you couldn't wipe the smile off my face as I was leaving Vermont.