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party poker


I work with pack rats. People who collect so much computer detritus that in a single year, it takes not one, but more than two full size vans to haul all the garbage to the only place other than the dump that would take it: a ham radio swap. The swap is truly the end of the economic food chain. Few can explain what motivates the “vendors” to haul their junk across the country, only to display it here, and fewer still can explain why the basement-dwelling radio devotees stop fiddling with their knobs and emerge, blinking in the sunlight, drawn by an insatiable need to acquire more broken electronics.

Our company’s mission is fundamentally different from all the other exhibitors. While they seek to exchange their “goods” for money, we seek to leave with nothing (though money is of course a welcome bonus). As my associate succinctly put it: “Save our environment! Whatever we don’t sell gets dumped into the Rouge River!”

Still, even at insanely discounted prices, the geeks aren’t biting. It takes me a long time to stop pitying myself for being there and get into the carnival atmosphere. My breaking point comes when I ask my partner what the new price for a stack of outdated PC motherboards should be; he suggests five dollars each. Suddenly invigorated, I shout, surprising us both: “FIVE DOLLARS FOR A PENTIUM MOTHERBOARD!? ARE YOU CRAZY?”

Now I’m in the groove. “Hey, are any of these monitors good?” The answer: “THEY’RE ALL GOOD! AND ONLY ONE DOLLAR!”

“How much for this ISA network card?” – ONE DOLLAR!
“How much for the whole box?” – ONE DOLLAR!
“How much for this IBM RS/6000?” – ORIGINALLY VALUED AT $20,000 – YOURS FOR JUST ONE DOLLAR!

The most horrifying part is the people who just don’t understand the value of a dollar – “Does this monitor work?” I respond, “FOR ONLY ONE DOLLAR, YOU’LL FIND OUT!” At last, one person gets it – “Well, for a dollar, I guess I could fix it myself.” Hooray!

Three eight foot tables are filled with old software packages. At five dollars each, they move pretty quickly – at a dollar each, quicker still – but progress stalls at four for a dollar. Satisfied with a thick stack of dollars, we announce the inevitable: “FREE!”, and the geeks suddenly queue up three deep around all the remaining merchandise, devouring everything inside of three minutes: broken printers, dubious monitors, gigantic 20 megabyte hard disks, and several boxes of, uh, something electronic.

We leave with a fistful of dollars.

Neal Manson (July 29, 1998)

Tags: exclamation | money | personal