Thursday, August 09, 2007

8/5/07 The Longest Yard Sale

In the three years I have been publishing this site one of the questions that I’m commonly asked is “have you ever been to the world’s longest yard sale?” That sale is a yearly event where local folks along a highway stretching from Alabama to Ohio all hold yard sales on one long weekend each summer. Over the years I have attended sales from Hawaii to US military bases in Germany. But for the most part what I have studied in this web site has been sales in my own back yard. Of the hundreds of sales I have documented over the past three years most have been within four miles of my home in Atlanta. In my travels through the rural south I have not had much attraction to the divestments of my country cousins. Perhaps I am a bit of a snob for a pile of Wal-Mart clutter in someone’s yard does not offer me the intellectual stimulation I get from perusing the castoffs of some bourgeois bohemian or the discards of an urban eccentric. I also feared that this sale would consist more of booths set up by professional resellers than the local folks seeking weekend divestment.
But to culminate three years of documentation and the last weekend of my summer vacation I decided to take on the longest sale.
The sale begins in Gadsden Alabama, then heads north through a slice of north Georgia, it then bisects Tennessee and Kentucky and ends somewhere in Ohio. I went out with Cindy early Saturday morning and headed to Gadsden. A local directed us to the starting point and warned of the slow moving traffic. Near a city park a large sign marked the beginning of the sale. I presumed the sign to be permanent and that tourist come here to have their photos taken next to it even when the sales not happening. I also wonder if there is a partner sign somewhere in Ohio marking the end of the sale.
As soon as we turned onto the highway traffic did slow to a crawl. For the next four hours we encountered mile after mile of clutter. The sales were of several types. Some were yard sales in people’s yard occasionally run by the homeowners themselves. Then there were larger lots and yards with space rented out to whoever wanted to set up there. In other larger empty lots or parking lots to commercial buildings were sales for churches and groups. Between all this were some houses with their yards bordered in orange tape where the residents must have wanted nothing to do with the event. I’m sure these folks are treated like the neighbors who don’t want to put up decorations at Christmas time. Occasionally there are stretches where there are no sales. Then there were a number of whole flea markets set out mostly with professional and semi professional resellers occupying entire farm fields.

As we stopped and wandered amid the buyers, the sellers and the assembled goods it appeared that I was correct in my assumption of what might be there. Among the items fulfilling my dour expectations were large plastic children’s toys, old tools of questionable quality, nondescript clothing and home décor that walked a thin line between mundane and tedious. There were some objects that I would not see in a jaunt thought Candler Park. These included garish religious images, obscure mechanical instruments, pickup trucks filled with golf balls and boxes of old church supplies. Some things were no different from urban sales for along the route I found the usual share of disassembled ceiling fans, plush toys and large partially burned candles.

Truck filled with golf balls.

The usual country clutter?

A few unique objects stood out such as a two-foot ceramic squirrel that I had to talk Cindy out of buying and a framed drawn portrait of an old woman placed next to a crucifixion scene.

Unique art found in Alabama.

The squirrel we left behind.

The presentation was as varied as the sales. On a few lots there were simple piles of clutter gathered on a tarp n the grass. Most sellers attempted some sort of organization but after seeing so many tables of goods to be sold it did not matter. Some sales were in the sun, some onder covered awnings and tents. Most of the sellers were right next to the road. regardless of what was adjecent. One larger sale was set up next to a local cemetary.

Man with melon at grave side sale.

Sign indicating that this sale is the real thing.

The professional sellers were like any flea market one might encounter in the rural south. Some were selling handicrafts such as planters made from old tires, while most sold the usual antiques, Elvis junk, not so old furniture and sports memorabilia.

Sellers relaxing at flea market site.

On top of all this was a smattering of food vendors pitching BBQ, hot dogs and cold drinks. One booth offered sand art that you could eat.

Attendee attracted to the smell of cooking meat.

Sandy edibles for sale.

The over scene was tempered by the exhausted heat of an August heat wave. Many locals appeared entertained by the event and used the congested highway as a place to ride their ATVs over curbs and yards. Temperatures hovered in the mid 90’s and by 11AM everyone was moving slow. I found as the day went on I was more and more reluctant to leave to cool of our cars air conditioning. By One o’clock we had had enough we had barely traveled 20 miles of the total 450. So we turned east towards Georgia leaving the Longest Yard Sale behind. Before departing I did ask one seller why they didn’t hold the event at a more pleasant time of year. She told me that there was another longest yard sale in October on highway 411 just a few miles from this event. So in the end I don’t even know if this was actually the longest yard sale or just an event using that moniker. I don’t know if I’ll be back for the other sale.
I bought nothing. Cindy bought a piece of metal to use on a sculpture she’s constructing and a straw bag. We noticed on the way home the handle on the bag was coming loose.


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