I arrived forty minutes early, hoping to be first in line. But seven others had beaten me to the punch.
It was the Beaver Area Memorial Library’s annual book sale, my most anticipated day of the year just ahead of my birthday and the first day of the Steelers season.
The three women in the lobby didn’t particularly scare me:
- Girl with sketch pad: Probably into chick-lit.
- Teen girl playing with iPhone: Definitely a Twilight devotee.
- Middle-aged woman with large bag: Obviously a seasoned veteran, but most likely an Oprah Book Club disciple.
On the other side of the room, however, there were four older gentlemen who from my past experiences I recognized as serious book hounds. You could tell by their appearance: unshaven, dowdy, showing an obvious disregard for society’s conventions. And each was wearing a distinctive hat: a fedora, a railroad engineer-type, a floppy farmer-style, and a camouflage ball cap. Two of them also sported long, grey ponytails. For those of us in the book-hunting world, these are all common traits among book-hoarding hermits. My guess is their scruffy appearance buys them reading time from their wives, who want nothing to do with them in such an unkempt state.
Looking around, it was easy to pick out the newbies who foolishly failed to bring along a bag or other container in which to put their book sale finds. Rookie mistake. Once you get inside and the elbows and books start flying, trying to hold your books is futile. What worried me was that each member of the Hat Crew was carrying a large cardboard box, which could hold a lot more books than my Giant Eagle reusable grocery sack.
Twenty minutes before the beginning of the sale, the crowd had grown from eight people to over 40. Meanwhile, Railroad Engineer and Farmer were up by the entrance to book sale room, peeking in the window to survey the layout and plan their attack.
I turned and saw another unfamiliar face carrying a plastic storage crate. Obviously this wasn’t his first rodeo. We exchanged glances and nodded—a subtle acknowledgement of each other’s presence. He was younger than any of the Hat Crew guys, which meant he’d be able to maneuver better in the crammed confines of the bargain book room. But at the last second he got into the vintage book room line instead. Crisis averted.
Two minutes before the sale began, the room fell quiet. The excitement was palpable. My heart was pounding as I counted down the seconds. Fortunately I had skipped my afternoon coffee in order to avoid any last-minute “emergencies.”
As the clock struck five, the madness began! The poor old library volunteer barely escaped being trampled to death as she opened the door to the bargain book room. Pushing my way inside, my original intention was to head straight for Non-Fiction. But seeing Camou Hat and Fedora make for History, and Railroad Engineer and Farmer dash for Biographies, I altered my strategy and headed instead for Trade Paperback Fiction.
Scanning each table, I carefully navigated the narrow aisles, politely nudging people out of my way. Within the first 10 seconds I managed to grab three great finds: a Cormac McCarthy, a Chuck Palahniuk, and a Dave Eggers—Score! A minute in I was up to seven. Meanwhile, the other rabid book hunters jockeyed for position.
After snatching a couple Children’s titles, I tried to navigate my way back to Non-Fiction to scavenge for anything Civil War. But it was just too risky; I couldn’t chance getting cornered in the Self-Help section. So I back-tracked to Fiction, scrunching down to scan the books beneath the tables—a commonly overlooked area only we experienced book-salers know about. You just have to be careful not to get stepped on. Or worse.
In the end, the Hat Crew wasn’t much of a threat after all. Who knows what they stuffed in their boxes to haul back to their dilapidated shacks in the woods? Hopefully just a bunch of Zane Greys, George R.R. Martins, or random volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary to complete their sad collections.
Suddenly the adrenaline rush died down and I decided to call it quits. In less than 15 minutes I managed to collect 17 great books and one DVD for the kiddos, all for under $20 bucks.
Best of all, I emerged uninjured. Which is always a plus.