An Unforgiving Pastime
Our battle plans are laid out days in advance. We plot ways to manage our resources and manpower for this assault, cross referenced against maps, and online and newspaper listings. Even then, nothing is certain. It’s Saturday morning in Yellowknife, and it’s time to go garage saleing.
My companion and I are equipped with extra-large coffees and snacks and we’re speeding down a busy uptown street when the wind snatches our game plan from my hand. It hurtles through the open window and into traffic. We pull over and my friend sends me scurrying through the major intersection of Range Lake and Old Airport roads to retrieve it. Fortunately, I find the scrap of paper. Without it, we’d be lost.
The quest for other people’s things is not to be taken lightly. Here, this isn’t so much a hobby as it is a lifestyle. And an unforgiving one. There’s a very small window after most sales open at 8 a.m. when you can get your hands on the good stuff. Show up after 11 a.m. and you may as well not bother. Fortune does not favour the snoozer. You can wait until the afternoon when the leftovers will end up at Ykea, the Yellowknife dump, but why risk it?
With a large transient population of government workers, military and police officers, short-term Yellowknifers will often offload their life’s possessions rather than send them south. That’s how I scored a never-used bread maker for $1, complete with instruction booklet. For every departure, there’s someone like me who arrives in town with a suitcase, a dream and a deep desire to make zucchini noodles without paying more than $2 for a spiralizer I’ll end up using twice because, really, carbs are the best.
We arrive at our first destination and it’s sprawling with junk. Sometimes, whole streets will get together, each house setting out their tables to attract more people. There’s a competitive tension among bargain-hunters—begrudging nods for a nice score and salty side-glances when someone grabs an item before you can get your hands on it. And there’s a community connection to it all—the camaraderie of good-natured avarice all wrapped up in the thrill of the hunt. There’s the unspoken agreement that prices will be fair but also won’t ever be over $10 because what are you, nuts?
We drive around the streets of neighbourhoods I might not otherwise go down and learn about new areas of town. Old Town is the spot for kooky weird finds like hot pink Adirondack chairs, while upscale Niven is where to go for high-end gadgets and countertop-gobbling kitchenware.
The beginning of the garage sale season in spring is full of last year’s camping gear. By fall, many of the tents, air mattresses and camping stoves will be back on the market, a little more battered. People advertise themed sales for hard-to-get Northern items like plants. (I didn’t know I needed a giant temperamental peace lily until someone with a very green thumb put hers on sale.) You quickly realize there are enough Christmas baubles and glittery Jesus-themed artwork to put on one heck of an ostentatious production of Jesus Christ Superstar, with even more left over for a burlesque-version of the Nativity. Also, you learn that no one ever needs to buy another Keurig, ever.
Garage saleing encourages some frankly troubling stalker behavior—I’ve gone to sales just to get a look inside interesting buildings in town, like when a giant blue house on Latham Island opened its doors to the public for an indoor bazaar. In a town as small as Yellowknife, you know just about everyone and so there’s a voyeuristic temptation to rummage through unwanted items and storage crevasses. It’s a peek behind the doors and under the sheets of what makes this town tick. I was seriously tempted by a bottle of 15-year-old orange pop scooped from the bottom of Long Lake by Jeremy Macdonald, when he put his scuba-diving finds up for sale. One of my favourite finds was a tiny green-suede and brown-leather backpack that makes me feel like I’m off to bake some cookies in a tree. I scored it for $5 from a local MLA one sunny Saturday. (Politicians: they’re hoarders just like us.)
I discover promotional mugs for the Arctic Winter Games from the 1980s and a ‘Free McFadden’ t-shirt, from that time a local crime reporter was before the court. (Something my little garage saleing cadre of media folks had to have.) But what makes the day a success is a beautiful piece of appliqué work—a woman in a parka playing a drum stitched with a flower border. It’s slightly soggy in the morning rain, but it’s art. And I get a deal on it.
I put a blow dryer to it and hang the piece next to a sealskin hair bow and an inukshuk made from caribou antler—other treasures pulled from garage sale heaps.