Standing in a nearly empty fairgrounds “cutting horse” arena on a Friday afternoon, I watched as a couple stragglers loaded up various unsold bits of rusty antique automobiles they’d brought to trade a couple of days before. And I then had an epiphany: I hate swap meets!
For a BangShifter, that’s akin to admitting a secret yearning for FWD or imported sport compacts or…custom VANS! For decades, swap meets have been a fundamental element of the BangShifting barter system. They’ve been an important place for grassroots entrepreneurs to “score” the parts and funds necessary for making their BangShifting dreams come true. They’ve also often been a key element in the BangShifting social circuit.
Swap meets are a tradition. Even in the era of eBay, CraigsList and other on-line markets for unwanted and surplus parts, old-fashioned swap meets remain. Some of the big venues are so ingrained in automotive culture they’re nationally known by single names, such as Hershey, Carlisle, Pate, and Pomona.
Some plan annual vacations around them. Others travel as swap meet gypsies from event to event hawking their wares. Occasionally, some even fly in to attend, and then wonder aloud how they’ll transport their latest finds through the air.
After a long cold winter, swap meets are often the first events of the new automotive season. After months of garage-bound isolation and virtual BangShifting, early spring swap meets allow for finally getting “out and about” in the automotive community. Late Summer and Fall swap meets often suggest a plethora of new potential projects for the “off season.”
So why do I hate them?
Standing in that empty cutting horse arena on a Friday (at a “antique automobile” swap meet which will remain nameless to protect the guilty), I came up with this list of reasons:
1. Great swap meets are few and far between: Skip this paragraph if you live in perpetually sunny “So Cal” or some other BangShifting Mecca. For the rest of us, getting to a good swap meet takes a significant commitment of time and money. Often the anticipation outstrips the reality of the event. Most ordinary swap meets are little more than tiresome, automotive-themed rummage sales.
2. Lots of chaff and little wheat: The hunt for something you want or need that’s not just total junk is what drives many back again and again to swap meets. But for every undiscovered gem lurking in a pile of unlabeled, unpriced, disorganized parts, you’ve usually got to spend hours scanning all sorts of pure, overpriced debris. And if you’ve been BangShifting for a while, much of the junk looks exactly like stuff you threw away or passed up “back in the day” when it really was cheap.
3. Absence of “screamin’ deals:” Another bit of swap meet mythology is that there are plenty of “screamin’ deals.” But most of the screamin’ is caused by vendors who believe something that somehow didn’t end up in the trash decades ago is now worth big money because it’s old.
4. Too many middlemen: The real “screamin’ deals are the ones that the vendors got when they acquired the parts BEFORE the swap meet. At the meet, you’re paying vendors for the part itself, transportation, handling, space rent and profit.
5. Too many jerks: I recall once merely glancing at a hopped-up Corvette. The seller immediately engaged in the heavy sales pitch. When I politely responded I wasn’t interested, he snipped back “I didn’t think so!” Sadly, such rudeness is not scarce at swap meets.
6. No price tags: It’s bad enough that you’ve often got to search through mounds of disorganized junk. But too often, when you find what you want, it’s a hassle to get even an initial price. Is it so hard to make easily-read price tags and add the words “firm” or “O.B.O.?” Apparently.
7. Walking, Walking, Walking: I like exercise just as much as the next BangShifter. But hours of standing and walking (especially after you’ve bought something) eventually takes its toll. Why is it that almost nobody thinks to bring extra chairs for their potential customers?
8. Ridiculous schedules: The swap meet I referenced earlier opened on a Wednesday afternoon. And the “experts” said all the “screamin’ deals” were made in the line waiting to get in. Some folks even bought stuff in line and immediately put it up for resale! It’s not open on the weekends (the only time most “working” BangShifters could attend). And taking off work toward the end was no guarantee that there’d be much of anything left to look at.
9.Too many traps and diversions (Is a rusty bird in the hand really better than two rusty ones in the bush?): How many times have you found yourself considering some old part or project car at a swap meet because it was supposedly rare and/or too cheap to pass up? Too often, what you really should be spending your money on isn’t anywhere to be found. And what’s for sale will likely end up gathering dust in the garage – if could just think objectively about it. Or how many times have you skipped buying something because you’re looking for something else, only to return later to find it sold?
10. Promoter gouging: Parking fees, massive space rents, $3.00 soft drinks, camping fees, cartage fees…it all adds up to money that you won’t be able to spend on your project. Sure it costs money to field a swap meet, but do you have to recoup it all from me?
11. Tiny spaces: Some swap meet promoters apparently have never measured a modern truck/trailer combination. Or they intentionally make the spaces too small so that vendors will have to purchase multiple spaces. Selling spaces that are too small drives up vendor overhead, increases prices, and leads to cramped, disorganized displays.
That being said, does anybody have a line on a good swap meet next weekend?