When we travel nowadays, no matter how far away, we remain very close to home. Hop on a jet plane to Rio, to Moscow, hell, probably to Antarctica and you can kept abreast of every drop of rain that falls on your backyard via Facebook, the iPhone, emails. When Janice and I visited Saudi Arabia we were still able to read the Star-Tribune, where I was kept abreast of the Twins 2006 comeback. You just can’t get away from it all.

Not that we want to get away from it all. Quite the contrary: We gripe and grumble if our call to Jupiter doesn’t connect in .05 seconds. Should the email fail to load on our iPad while we ignore the majesty of Yosemite, we will bark and shout and curse the government for its inability to have a national WiFi. It’s ridiculous. As comedian Louis CK says, “everything’s amazing right now and nobody’s happy.” 


This weekend’s sales began on a Friday, and took us high and low, from Rosemount to Fridley, Eden Prairie and Hopkins, and a couple in Minneapolis. Honestly, we may have clocking in around 150 miles all told, too far considering how awful a couple were. We were joined by ESC Special Guest stars Barry Kryshka and Stephanie Molstad, both of whom emerged with a few treasures, as we did. But it was a cache of beautiful postcards that triggered my imagination, and, as is my wont, sent me backwards to a simpler time, when travel meant vanishing over the horizon, your only connection a postcard, or an expensive telephone call.

Our first home on Friday was in Minneapolis’ Lyndale neighborhood, just off Lake Street. We actually came away from this one with very little, but I was struck with the enormity of the Irish trinkets that were scattered throughout the home. This was the home of Katherine, “a beautiful Irish lady” according to her obit, and she took that Irishness very seriously. Tables and tables and tables of little tchochkes from the old country, and it seemed that every book in the place had something to do with that blessed land (yes, of course you could find copies of the Frank McCourt books.) I came away from there with a rare paperback copy of Joseph Campbell’s Skeleton Key to Finnegan’s Wake. And no, I’m not in any way, shape or form going to read that headache any time soon.

From there it was Fridley and Shoreview, neither of which proved all that bountiful. The Fridley sale was the one with the family who loved games–cards, parcheesi, and Avalanche. Avalanche? Yes, Parker Brothers Avalanche, the game of marbles, which means, of course, a night of deafening fun as the sound of marbles cascading over hard plastic (and no doubt off the table and onto the floor), is far from pleasant. We bought it. Don’t ask me why.

But Fridley also revealed a big stack of chocolate moulds that Janice went nuts over–perfect for the creation of her incredible truffles. She was flying high after that one.

Click on the photo for a neat trick!

Saturday, with Barry and Stephanie in tow, we headed south, all the way to Rosemount, to a little condo whose owner apparently held a lifetime position in a concrete concern. I know this because he had a plethora of coasters with the company name and logo (including some made of what appeared to be the same kind of rubber used for tires), and tons of books on concrete. Either he or his wife (I couldn’t find a name) must’ve collected antiques, because there were old lamps and such, and… books. Stacks of not really all that valuable, but very old books. One of the grumpy book collectors, a man who owns a store in town that I never frequent, was there, passing over everything. But there were scads of nice, weird cookbooks, some of which Janice took home. Stephanie was happy, because she found a sweet, sweet lamp, and a rug, both of which now adorn her and Barry’s home. For his part, Barry emerged with a bunch of classy cocktail glasses (which he put to good use that evening), and this very bizarre book of cocktail recipes, whose title I’ll relay in full below:

The Gentleman’s Companion

Being an Exotic Drinking Book
Around the World with Jigger, Beaker and Flask

The title page goes on: “INCLUDING: A personally collected Regimen of World-Famous Lively Liquid Masterpieces from Greater & Lesser Ports of Orient & Occident & the South Seas. NOT FORGETTING: The Proper & Civilized Service of Beverages with Foods, together with Proven Formulae for Home Construction of Certain Bitters, Wines, Meads & Cordials; a Meaty Kernel of Advice for Those Departing for the Bars, & in the Last a Sextet of Temperance Delights, & a Platoon of Picker-Uppers of Proven Worth & Discretion.” All punctuation and italics are the authors. The picture above is from inside near the title page: “The mint julep is one of mankind’s truly civilized inventions.” They appear to be enjoying it in the afterlife.

We were fooled by a bullshit sale in Eden Prairie, a basement job, “a downsizing” as the goof who ran the thing put it, in which a bunch of high end gambling stuff, a Mercedes Benz, BMW, and a boat were for sale, but the rest of the place was off limits… er, including half the stuff in the area where the sale was being conducted. Books on shelves? Oh, uh, we forgot to put those away. Barry asks, “how much is this glass of swizzle sticks?” Let me check… oh, uh, we should’ve put those away, as they’re not for sale. Lazy bastards. Might be I’m going to remember their name and skip theirs, as their haphazard work has been getting worse and worse.

Hightailing it out of the faceless suburbs, we shook that one off and headed for the Fulton neighborhood, a little bungalow and a one day sale. This one turned out great for me–Mad Magazines! Most from the 70s (there might have been older ones, but we hit this one last), and a bunch of Esquires, which I dug through in my mania to find their Two-Lane Blacktop issue which is fecking rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth (no luck.) But this was the home of a total dude and reader from that era, as there were piles of magazines about skiing, Car & Driver, and the aforementioned Mad. Also, at right, this awesome George McGovern poster that I glommed cheap. I’ll either keep it or give it to the Colonel.

Today, Janice and I were loafing and thought we’d take in the warehouse sale in Hopkins, run by a reputable local company. Their warehouses are high on quality (read: price) and usually don’t have much, but then it was literally five minutes from home, so why not?

Why not, indeed. For I found a pack of cheap (it was discount day) old, beautiful postcards.

Ah, postcards. I collect postcards for two reasons. One, I like them as bookmarks. They’re the perfect size, the ideal thickness, and that’s important, for if they’re too thick the book doesn’t close, and if they’re too thin it’s hard the bookmark hides away in the pages. Plus, I enjoy leaving the bookmark permanently in the book in question, and often try to pair the neat old postcard with the title–so a western, like Oakley Hall’s Warlock, has a neat old postcard of Bryce Canyon in it forever.

Secondly, and this is probably blasphemy to collectors, I cut up the postcards and use them as business cards. Using scissors and another business card as a template, I cut a couple out of each postcard, and with a stamp and ink pad slap my pertinent info on the back. Yes, they are much more expensive than what you’d get even at a Kinko’s–but those are so nondescript as to have no meaning or impact. And how many cards do you really give away? Not all 10,000, I can assure you.

But I digress. I also love reading these not-so-private notes that people used to send to one another, and try to imagine that time from not-so-long ago. The postcards I purchased today are actually of a strange variety–there are none of the beautiful vistas of the aforementioned Bryce Canyon, or other natural delights. No, these are hotels, and buildings, like the Shippers Seafood restaurant (left), or one of a U. S. Post Office in Charlotte, MI (what?), or the most banal of motels like the Tides (prior paragraph, right), or Fulton Plaza Court (two back, left.) Some, like the postcard for the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago (top of the article, left) are beautifully designed little postcards, featuring a neat cartoon montage of the best of the city of Chicago. All are advertisements, but some, like the Stratford in Alton, IL are patently strange. “Absolutely fireproof!” the card claims. Honey, we’ve found our hotel.

Pray, what is the point of these cards? Well, as I stated before, it was a way to get in touch with the family. I imagine travel in the 30s and 40s and even 50s was much more intense, since you typically had to drive or take the train, thus guaranteeing that the length of travel was greater. Did they get more time off, and take longer vacations? This seems counterintuitive to me, so I wonder if possibly people avoided vacation one year, choosing instead to bank their time and take a couple weeks every other year.

On the road, staying at the utterly dull Fulton Plaza Court, you wouldn’t take the free postcard to show off the gorgeous beauty of your accommodations. Being gone for two weeks meant, for the most part, little to no contact whatsoever with the home front. You couldn’t get mail, but you could send it. Remember, long distance calls were pricey, so that was out. No, you’d be writing brief notes to friends and loved ones at every opportunity, and using that free advertisement to do so.

Some people apparently took this to extremes. I think the bag of postcards I bought was from a collector, since they’re very old and addressed to a number of different people. One man (I’m guessing it’s a man from the handwriting), wrote unbelievably terse notes to the same couple. One, from August of 1937, said simply, “Hello!” (left.) Others included such profound notes as “Hi There! How is the Long Lake Garden Spot?”; “Dear Friends: Just got John’s letter yesterday, will write soon.”; and my favorite, without addressing anyone, just “Roaming and running around some more.” Well, at least we know he’s still alive.

Honestly, folks, I love this stuff, and miss it. I miss, first of all, receiving postcards. I still get them from time to time, and keep them, and years later, look them over. I am deeply grateful for all the postcards I have, sent to and from, my father. On this recent trip to South Carolina, I made it a point to send out some admittedly dull cards with hopefully interesting and funny notes on them to friends. Writing a postcard slows you down for a moment, forces you to pause to find a place to write them, and even makes you stop for a visit at a local post office. I like that.

But I also miss being on the road, in a new place, and being cut off from home for the most part. No checking emails while walking around a cypress grove, no iPads at a King Street cafe, just the new town, your imagination, a book perhaps, and a stack of postcards you use to try and capture, in a 3 1/2 inch by 2 inch space, a drop of your experience. That, to me, is beautiful.

Don’t forget the stamp.

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