When we travel around the country buying deals, nothing ever goes to plan, and you have to expect the unexpected. Steve and I could tell stories for hours, if not days, about all the stuff we've seen and experienced when on buying trips over the years. This is the story of our most recent trip.
I wake up at 3:45am on Wednesday, April 25th. My birthday every year is usually just like any other day, except with a few calls from my family members and a bunch of posts on my Facebook page from many of my friends. I'm at the Holiday Inn Express in Schererville, Indiana, my home away from home, just down the road from the BBCE offices. Steve will be here in exactly one hour to pick me up and we'll head across the giant city of Chicago for our flight to Phoenix. As I wait outside in the cool morning air, I keep looking at my phone. "Steve's late; I guess I should text him." As I wait for his reply, I realize that sometime during the night, my phone has reset the time zone from Central to Eastern! I'm up an hour early! I make the decision that after almost 14 years loyal to Sprint (the parent company of where my dad worked for over 30 years), it's time to find another carrier.
Almost two months ago, Steve got a call from a gentleman named Marc in Arizona, who was interested in selling his aunt's collection. Her husband had passed away a couple of months ago, and in an effort to downsize her living space, she needed to unload the collection he had spent over 30 years building. Marc, after receiving a couple of insulting offers from local dealers, picked up a copy of the latest Beckett Magazine, read our ad, and decided to call BBCE. Over the next couple of weeks, the inventory list of unopened product he put together to share with us was quite impressive - 1984 Topps Football cases, 1993 SP Baseball boxes, 1986/87 Fleer Basketball packs, and so much more. Steve kept in touch with Marc over the next few weeks, making offers on everything he could quantify. I was busy myself, driving around the South filling a truck with several collections, but every time I talked to Steve, he kept telling me about this deal in Arizona.
We land in Phoenix at 9am. I slept the whole flight and now Steve and I are both anxious to make the three hour drive to Show Low, Arizona, to see this collection. First stop, the Penske dealership to pick up our truck. I have had a love/hate relationship with Penske for the past few years. While I won't even consider using U-Haul again, Penske seems to be failing in their customer service department, which is the main reason why I like dealing with them. I often show up at the scheduled time to find my truck isn't there yet, have been offered trucks with the cab littered in pet hair, have been offered a truck where the floor of the box was all wet from the rain, and many other various disappointments. As predicted, our truck was not there when we arrived at the dealership. Half an hour later, it shows up, and Penske graciously offers to clean it, inside and out, before they turn the keys over to me. When the manager tells me I'm all ready to go, he says something very peculiar, something I've never heard a vehicle rental employee tell me before. He says, "Yeah, if you ever have a problem with the truck, like if it should stop working, don't worry, we'll "make things right." We'll send a replacement truck and a crew to help transport your goods from one truck to another." What? Are you trying to jinx me by telling me this scenario? Or, do you know something about this truck that I don't know? I tell Steve what the manager just told me, and he's dumfounded as well.
I've been all over the United States, to places most will never even think of going, for both business and pleasure, but I had to look on a map to find Show Low, Arizona. Phoenix is three hours away. Flagstaff is over two hours away. Albuquerque is four hours away. In other words, it's in the middle of nowhere. Furthermore, it's not easily accessible by a 26 foot box truck. For over three hours, the road twisted and turned, over mountains and through the valleys, and we climbed over a mile in elevation. The Penske truck performed admirably, but I would expect nothing less. Whenever I rent from Penske, I never feel like the truck they have provided me is going to give out. I've backed into a drainage ditch before, got stuck in the mud, and even once loaded it with twice the recommended weight in cargo, but the trucks always came through. We finally make it to Show Low, check into the hotel, get some food, and fall asleep early. The work begins tomorrow morning at 7am.
Normally I would never suggest to a potential seller that we meet at 7am. I'm not much of a morning person, and besides, I need to get warmed up if I'm going to be loading a truck with several tons of cards. However, Thursday, April 26th is unlike any other day. It's Day One of the 2012 NFL Draft. Those who have gotten to know me over the years understand what the Draft means to me; it's like Christmas in April. I never miss watching it. I've actually been to the Draft in 2005, 2006, and 2007, and in 2008, I was at Leodis McKelvin's draft party when the Bills selected him 11th overall. Starting at 7am gave me hope that there would be a chance that we could be done by 5pm, and I could head back to the hotel and watch the draft unfold. To my dismay, after walking around the house and seeing how much product that wasn't already inventoried, I knew we'd never finish in time. Furthermore, this house didn't have cable or satellite, so I couldn't even watch the draft while I worked! Further still, the computer in the home was hooked up to the internet with dial-up access. Seriously? Getting updates on my phone (which was on roaming) had to suffice. It would be over two weeks before I got home to watch the Draft saved on my girlfriend's DVR.
As Steve and I walked around the house surveying all this "new"material that wasn't in inventory, I quickly mentioned to Steve all this would not fit into one truck. Since both of us in the past year had been pulled over and interrogated by the police, we are now considered commercial drivers and must follow all the rules and regulations set forth by the Department of Transportation. We have to keep log books, take rest breaks, and carry a medical card, just like truckers do. One can only imagine how much more difficult this makes our job and the additional expenses we must now incur when buying large deals. So already I'm telling Steve, we're going to need a second truck, and instead of flying back tomorrow, he's going to have to drive behind me for the next 1600 miles over three days.
For fourteen hours, we did it all - prepared a final inventory, agreed on a price, wired the funds to the seller's bank, boxed up all the loose items, and loaded it on the truck. We'd worry about transferring the extra weight onto the second truck tomorrow, since Steve would have to head out to Flagstaff to pick up the truck and come back to Show Low. We were ready to return to our hotel around 9pm, so I started up the truck. I had some problems with the truck accelerating in the morning, but didn't think much of it since it was only a two mile drive to the house, and figured the engine just needed to warm up. For 15 minutes, I tried rocking the truck back and forth on the slight incline of this gravel driveway, switching between reverse and drive, desperately trying to get this vehicle to move. The nosy neighbors from across the street came out to see what the deal was, but I guess hearing several minutes of me revving the engine would piss anyone off as well. Finally, I was able to get out of the driveway, but as I slowly drove back to the hotel, I realized the transmission wasn't shifting gears, and something was terribly wrong with the truck.
The 24-hour roadside assistance guy showed up within a half-hour of my call, and spent the next hour running a whole bunch of diagnostics on the truck and the engine. Finally, he told me, "Your transmission is shot." Great. Penske calls me up and tells me they are sending a wrecker, towing the replacement truck, and it will be there in a few hours. However, they would not be sending a team of people to help me switch the goods from one truck to the next, and offered no explanation as to why. We pretty much figured it's because we were hours away from the closest Penske dealership, but what about that promise they made yesterday in Phoenix? Steve could care less; he just wanted to sleep, and let me handle the matter. At 3am, the driver calls me and I meet him across the street in an empty lot. There's the replacement truck in tow, ready to go. Or so we thought. For the next half-hour, I watched the driver try to reattach something underneath the truck; there's some sort of piece they need to disconnect when towing the vehicle, and apparently now that piece was broken. Awesome! Two broken trucks in the middle of nowhere!
Finally, the driver admits defeat. He determines there is a NAPA auto parts store down the street, and when they open in a few hours, he'll be able to get the part and return the truck to operational status. At 7am, I get the call telling me the truck is now ready. Fine; I tell the driver to leave the truck in the parking lot down the street. By now, Steve is up and on his way to Flagstaff to get another truck to relieve the extra weight of all the product we have. I go back to sleep and several hours later, Steve's back, and we're ready to transfer almost 12,000 pounds in cardboard from one truck that doesn't work into two trucks that will hopefully get us back to the office in one piece.
When the dates for this deal in Arizona were finalized in the beginning of April, I started to think about what other sorts of deals could I pickup along the way. By the time I left Buffalo for Chicago on April 22nd, I had stops scheduled in Nevada, Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Now that Steve was here with a second truck, and three hours of unloading a deal we had just loaded less than 24 hours ago was staring us in the face, I reached the point where I was seriously questioning whether or not it was bad karma to continue as planned and drive 3,000 miles all over the country, including through and around the Rockies, in a 26' truck. I made the decision to cancel the rest of my stops, much to the disappointment of the potential sellers I had lined up. While I would fly to Montana to buy that particular deal the following week, I'm not sure when I'll be able to reschedule trips to those other states in the near future. In eight years, I've never been to South Dakota once to look at a collection!
Three hours later, the broken truck was empty. In an attempt to minimize the amount of effort we would have to expend to transfer all the product, we were able to back one truck up to the other, then run the loading ramp between the two, and walk across the bridge. Quite a funny sight to see something like this, but not so funny when you have to carry a 60 pound case across a narrow walkway and the wind starts to blow. Once we were done, all we did was drive and drive and drive, from Friday afternoon until Sunday night. We bought some great items, so it was all worth it in the end, even with the added expenses. All I need to do now is cool down, collect my thoughts, and place that call to Penske and have them "make things right."