It was just a short time ago that we happened upon a very peculiar character during one of our travels. Hmmmm…perhaps peculiar isn’t the right word. Peculiar is usually defined as odd or curious, eccentric, queer. I’ve always felt that it has a little underhanded quality that may not properly paint this particular gent. Maybe interesting would be a better tag. And since eccentric and queer are interesting to me, then yes, this fellow was definitely interesting.
Motoring down the highway, the old Suburban and trailer forming the Pickin’ Express, we spotted just off the roadside, in an abandoned fast food restaurant parking lot, an oasis of cool stuff piled high and wide. There might as well have been a billboard with a flashing arrow pointing “Stop Here!” Even though the arrow didn’t exist, that’s what Jill saw. We executed a perfect emergency landing into the parking lot, and amid the dust and sprinkling asphalt, exited the vehicle.
“G’mornin’,” the seller extended. Our entrance had obviously disturbed him from his peaceful refuge inside the Sunday paper and morning coffee. The salesman was a medium build black man, probably 35-ish, funny – but for no definable reason, and he exuded a feeling of genuine happiness. Baring a bright ivory smile, he was wearing baggy blue-jeans and a flannel shirt, tennis shoes that seemed to be the newest addition to his wardrobe, and a baseball cap that had long ago stopped advertising whatever it originally attempted to sell. He ceased leaning back in his chair, returned all its legs to earth with a thud and hopped to his feet.
“Y’all lookin’ for anything in ‘ticlar?” He had a little bit of a limp.
“Nah, we are just lookin,” I returned. “You got a lot of stuff here.”
My observation was sincere, but then I realized just how much of an understatement it was. As I gazed around the isolated lot I realized that the only means of conveyance as far as the eyes could see were our derailed antique train and his old formerly-red Ford pickup truck. No trailer, no backup car…nothing.
“I mean, you really have a lot of stuff,” I repeated. “How’d you get it all here?”
He did an obligatory over-the-shoulder glance and leaned in close, as though he was about to tell me the secrets of the universe.
“It’s amazing how high you can shovel shit ain’t it?” He said with a little giggle.
I found out later he was a mighty religious fellow and didn’t abide cussin’, especially on a Sunday. But he did keep his one favorite swear on reserve as a little verbal treat that he used sparingly and with a great degree of self-restraint.
We scoured the short isles and soon found this peddler had great taste. Not to mention, he was a conversationalist. He would occasionally stop over and start up a chat with “oh, I forgot I even had them. They’re pretty ain’t they?” Following a chat he would return to the paper and offer short updates about the world, politics or so-and-so in the news and “did you ever here the likes?”
Soon after our arrival we noticed quite a few more people arriving to take a peek at the goods lining the lot. Most were dressed in church attire, wandering just to be wandering…something lazy to do after spending all morning trying to catch the Holy Spirit. Some toted impatient kids, nearly at their limit from Sunday sitting-still time. Others sported some of the most beautiful and broadest brimmed hats you have ever laid eyes on, second, and a close second, only to the Kentucky Derby itself. Our haggler remarked, “The clothes are getting nicer. That means it must be getting close to lunch time!”
I thought it was a funny line, but it still made me feel a little heathenish for not being included in the Sunday best group. Note to self…hit an occasional church in your travels. The preachin’ is good, the singing is nice and you might even get invited for a little fried catfish afterwards. Nothing will recharge your faith quicker than a properly fried catfish dinner with all the trimmings. Yum!!
We had gathered all we could hold, and then some. I started thinking about the stacking comment from earlier and nearly dropped the entire haul giggling. The salesman must have sensed it and joined in on my laugh at the inside joke. All Jill’s items were laid before their soon-to-be-previous owner and the two of them began negotiations resembling a couple of roosters circling before a fight. Bids went up and bids went down. Accolades were given. Resumes presented.
“This one has a crack.”
“I saw one just like that sell on eBay for twice that much.”
“I just can’t pay that, I won’t.”
“I would throw it in the trash before I’ll take a penny less.”
The New York Stock Exchange has got nothing on these two. Finally a price was agreed, hands were shook and everyone parted as friends. It reminded me of the end of a prize fight. After beating each other mercilessly for twelve rounds, most boxers still hugged afterwards and told of great admiration for the other fighter in the post-match interview, regardless of who was the victor. I guessed there was a mutual respect by both parties. I reckon that extends to good old fashioned horse trading as well: each admired the other’s spunk and tenacity, and ultimately they both came away champs if in nothing else but the experience alone.
I had been quietly monitoring the goings-on while aimlessly rummaging through some books. Although I didn’t see anything of particular interest, I had just picked up a very old picture-style encyclopedia when the negotiations came to an end. I flipped open to the middle and, as the pages came into view, I heard a voice from over my shoulder.
“That’s me you know.”
It didn’t quite register what was even being said until I read on. The page was open to “Yankee Peddler” and showed a photo of an old man, selling items from a carriage. The gent asked if he could read the page to me. I agreed and he proceeded to tell of a simpler time, per the encyclopedia, when goods and services were traded by Peddlers. Peddlers were essentially traveling salesmen of goods, brought from the city to the country and vice versa. Peddlers would bring items from one region to another, sometimes exposing areas to products they had never seen for the very first time. They were known to be shrewd salesmen and carried a mystique about them, most likely a product of their great travels in a travel-deprived world. Along with their wares they brought news and gossip, likely embellished from time-to-time. Many things they brought were essential. Others were not. Some reports have shown Peddlers doubling as healers, salesman of magic elixers, performers and even fortune tellers. All-in-all, you got plenty bang for your buck when purchasing from the Peddler.
“Wow, that is you,” I said aloud. “You sold us some stuff, read us the news, and, I might add, you ARE a shrewd negotiator.”
He smiled at that.
“Yea, I read that part in that book a few times. I always did like it. But I’m from Michigan. Maybe I should be known as the Michigan Peddler.”
“You know, that has a good sound to it. The Michigan Peddler it is!”
“See,” he said, “now you can tell all your friends that you bought from the one-and-only Michigan Peddler. Now, you make sure to tell ’em my name in case I cross paths with any of the people you know, they’ll know me before we even shake hands.”
“The Michigan Peddler…HA,” I chuckled. “Oh, I’ll be sure to tell ’em all about you.”
And I just did…