A couple of days ago I was watching a television program with my 16-year-old son. He’s got me hooked on all the antiques-based reality TV shows that are on at the moment, such as Pickers (two guys driving across the country seeing what treasures they can find in peoples’ attics and old barns and suchlike) and Pawn Stars (the items that roll into a 24/7 pawn shop in Las Vegas).
The most recent program of this ilk that we’ve started watching is Storage Wars, in which a bunch of folks go to storage complexes where the contents of sheds that are no longer being paid for are auctioned off (their owners may have moved away, passed away, been sent away [to prison], or whatever). The regulars on the program are Darrell (the “gambler”), Barry (the “collector”), Jarrod (the “young gun”), and Dave (the “pain in everyone’s backside”).
The idea is that when a shed is opened (which involves cutting off the lock), the bidders can look inside but they cannot cross the threshold and they cannot touch anything. In some cases, you can see quite a lot inside the shed; in other cases, the shed is full floor-to-ceiling and you have to take a guess as to what might be in there; and sometimes it’s in-between, but one of our experts might spot a hint of a sniff of an item of interest – perhaps a curved corner of something peeking out from behind a box…
So then there is the auction for this particular shed. The highest bidder wins and puts his own lock on it. And then they all move on to the next shed. Later in the program we watch them rooting through the sheds they purchased seeing what they have acquired. Sometimes a shed that looks like it might contain real treasures ends up containing dross. Alternatively, a shed that looks like it’s worth only a hundred dollars or so may end up containing valuable works of art, antiques, jewelry, and sometimes even cold hard cash (the contents of one shed ended up selling for $30,000).
The thing is that, in last night’s program, Barry purchased a locker in which he discovered an old (circa 1950s) television set. Initially he thought it might be worth some money, but he was quickly disillusioned. Later, one of Barry’s friends removed the non-working electronics (CRT, vacuum tubes, etc.) and replaced them with a three-dimensional miniature model.
I thought to myself “That’s a really good idea – this would look very tasty in the corner of my office.” I also thought to myself “I could do this much better than that guy!” I’m sort of thinking that a caveman diorama might look interesting – something vaguely like the following:
Of course I’m over-engineering things already. I’m thinking that this could be computer-controlled such that when it’s daylight in the real world it could be daylight in the diorama. When dusk falls in the real world, dusk also falls in the diorama, and so forth. I could also have a camp fire flickering away (using LEDs), maybe some nights it would be storming in both the real world and the diorama and you’d see the occasional flash of lightning. Hold me back!!!
Of course the first thing I need is an old television. I already have a real nice 1950s one in my study at home, but that one looks good just the way it is. (I found in in an antique shop when I was visiting my cousins in Edmonton, Canada, about 15 years ago. It cost me 50 Canadian dollars, which was a really good deal, but don’t ask me how much it cost to ship it back to Alabama!) I keep on thinking that if I could get it working it would look great playing old "I Love Lucy" type programs in the background, but we digress...
So, this morning when I came into work, I started asking the other guys in the office if they had seen an old-fashioned TV recently. One of the guys mentioned that there was a TV repair shop in a dingy strip mall in the seedy part of town, so I drove over there this lunchtime.
My initial thought was that the repair guy might see this sort of thing on his travels. He went one better, because he actually had a 1953 set in the shop. He’d picked it up a few years ago with the idea of using it for something or other, but had never gotten around to doing anything with it. So I ended up buying it off him…
…that was the happy part…
…the sad part was that we ended up chatting and I asked how business was going and he told me that things really aren’t very good. This guy is getting on in years; he learned everything he knows about electronics from his dad; all he knows is how to repair TVs and VCRs; and very few people are bringing them in to be repaired these days (instead they chuck them away and but a new one).
He told me that even as recently as 10 years ago he would see an average of three TVs a day (he also mentioned “80 TVs a month”) coming into his shop for repair. Now it’s just one TV every now and then. Fortunately, his house is paid for as is his truck. He lives about 40 miles away in Tennessee. The truck has 340,000+ miles on the clock. He can barely afford the gas to come into his shop. When the truck fails he doesn’t know what he’s going to do.
It’s getting close to the stage where he’s going to have to shut up shop and find some other employment. But he’s never worked for anyone else (apart from his father) and he doesn’t know how he would manage. He’s also a very shy person who finds it difficult to interface with people and strike up conversations, let alone friendships. His wife works with him and she expressed amazement that he was talking to me (people do – I don’t know why – maybe it’s just to stop me talking to them [grin]).
The end result is that I’m really happy I have my old TV to play with, but I’m really sad thinking about this guy. Also, I realize how amazingly lucky I am to be an engineer who can write (or maybe a writer who used to be an engineer), because it’s a cold, cold world out there when the skill you have is no longer required…
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