Wednesday, February 24, 2010

COLUMN: Pickers

(pic courtesy The History Channel)

I get excited whenever the Quad Cities gets national attention. I'm not exactly sure WHY, though.

But I've got a theory. We should all be in agreement by now that the world revolves entirely around ME, right? After all, I'm pretty cool and all-powerful in certain circles -- or at least the entirely credible and horribly important circle of locally-based humor columnists. Ergo, all of the nation's media should be pointed squarely at me and my innate coolness. Oh, and I'm humble, too -- I don't mind if the rest of you locals cash in on my fame from time to time, so I like it whenever camera crews roll through town.

Seriously, though, who wasn't excited when Charlie Gibson was on ABC eating a Magic Mountain at Ross'? Who doesn't get mildly thrilled by all the secret service detours whenever presidential candidates come a-stumping through town? And I, for one, stood up and clapped when the poor shoppers of the Village of East Davenport melted into the ground in the locally-filmed and entirely-awful disaster flick, "Megafault." It's cool to see ourselves and our humble homestead on the boob tube.

That's why I got excited when I found out that the History Channel had picked up a 10-episode run of a locally-filmed documentary series, "American Pickers." I was especially excited when I found out that "Pickers" stars one of my absolute favorite Quad Citizens, Danielle Cushman. I've known Danielle and her husband Chad for ages, and they've always had their hands in some of the coolest hipster activities in town. From roller derbies to burlesque shows, DJ gigs to farmer's markets, Chad and Dannie are familiar faces to the local arts scene.

Too bad, then, that I'm not a huge fan of "American Pickers." And it's NOTHING against the show itself. It's actually pretty entertaining and you guys should all watch it. It's just not MY thing.

Here's the deal with "American Pickers." It features a couple of guys who run an antique business out of Leclaire (my friend Dannie works in their office and runs the joint when they're gone.) In each episode, the guys cruise around the Midwest in a van, looking for crusty old farmhouses with equally crusty old owners. Their goal is to find folks who have collected mountains of old junk in barns and closets and backyards. They invite themselves in, "pick" through the junk for antique treasures, make offers to the owners, and then take their prizes home to determine their resale worth.

In a way, it's a fascinating show. The two guys are pretty funny, and they meet some pretty colorful characters on their adventures, many of whom are more than eager to share the tales behind their treasures. In the premiere episode, they meet an old guy who proudly tells the story of how he came to possess the Japanese samurai sword that the pickers found rusting away in his barn -- he got it while part of the occupying force following the bombing of Hiroshima. That kinda stuff is pretty cool to hear, and the show's full of similar stories. It's a good marriage for The History Channel, that's for sure.

My problem is this: I can't help but feel a little bad for the old folks these guys are dealing with. On every episode, the guys pick through these folks' worldly possessions, pull out some junk, and then start haggling prices. If they come to an agreement, they head home with their stuff, where they have it appraised and learn its real value. A little graphic pops up on the screen like, "Paid: $150. Value: $400. Profit: $250" while the guys high-five each other and smile.

It's neat for the two pickers, but I can't help but wonder what Farmer Joe's gonna feel like when he watches the show and realizes he could have made an extra $250. The arrival of this TV crew might just be The Most Exciting Thing That's Happened To Farmer Joe In Nigh On A Decade, so I would expect nothing less than a grand Farmer Joe Family Potluck to celebrate the show's airing. Imagine a room full of family and friends, all there to support a guy's Hollywood minute, only to find out that Hollywood used that minute to stiff Farmer Joe out of a couple hundred bucks.

But I guess the buying and selling and profiteering is the whole fun purpose of collecting and owning antiques in the first place -- it's a world I don't appreciate, it's a world I don't understand. The true miracle of this show is that there's people out there willing to pay $150 for these gross, rusted-out tetanus traps in the first place. One crusty motorcycle they bought required knocking out live, active beehives before they put it in their van. I don't know about you, but once bees set up home in something, it's theirs until winter comes.

I don't get antiques. I just don't. There's only two good places for old junk of this caliber: (a) a dumpster, or (b) free of bees, cleaned meticulously, and hung from the walls of a TGI Friday's. What these guys call "treasure troves of antiques" I call "oughta-be-condemned."

We live in a world of progress. The neat part of the industrial revolution is that new stuff constantly comes out that's better than the old stuff. Throw the old stuff away, buy the new stuff. Don't hold on to the old stuff and revere it and dream of a simpler day. I prefer my stuff to be shiny, new, and with any luck, remote-controlled. You antique weirdos can keep your hardwood floors and oak craftsmanship. I want my whole house to be, I dunno, chrome. Like a cross between "Barbarella" and "The Jetsons." And if there's a robot maid in the mix, all the better.

To each their own, I guess. While some people collect antiques, I collect music. And there will probably come a day, sooner than later, when CD's will be a thing of the past (likely replaced by some new technology where music is directly implanted into your brain stem by an Apple product called an iLobotomy.) And maybe someday I'll be an old, crusty dude who gets accosted by a pair of cocky pickers. And when that day comes, I'll do the only thing I can:

"Don't you know who I am?! The world revolves around me! You wanna buy this music? $1000 apiece or I release the hounds!" (I'll have hounds when I'm old, I'm sure of it.)

1 comment:

The Phenominal Blind Jasper said...

Hey Shane, good blog. My opinion is opposite of yours on the show and here's why. Much like the other newer show on the History channel, Pawn Stars, I find the products and history lesson associated with each find ver informative which is what lets my brain associate these shows with the History channel in the first place. I will say this regarding your point that the pickers are scamming people. You should keep in mind that the valued price is after they have cleaned something and then shopped it around to prospective buyers. In other words the leg work required to take something from the collapsing barn to some yuppies garden or play room. When I first started watching the show I felt the same way you do, but it faded the more I watched and realized two things. First, these people who are collectors know what they have and there's no way Mike or Frank are taking them for a ride. I've seen plenty of no's from sellers. Secondly, I think that the sellers value the experience as much as the pickers which has value in itself. In any case I am glad to see you getting excited about locals on the tele. Especailly Danielle, they need more of her in the next season. She's hilarious.