Of course, there are always the line cheaters. Throughout history, people have lied, cheated and committed murder for the sake of books and civilization has apparently not changed that much. The outwardly personable guy holding ticket #299 was originally standing in the #250 area. This seemed okay when there were 50 people who had not yet shown up to claim their spots, but #299 seemed determined not to retreat when more people joined the line and the boundaries were subsequently adjusted. He surreptitiously lingered at least 50 spots ahead of where his number said he should be.
However, the integrity of the book sale proved to be in good hands with YMCA Executive Director Dan Schulze. The wrist bracelet system averted a potential crisis when Dan called out numbers by increments of tens. People had to lift their wrists and actually show their number before being allowed indoors. St. Peter guarding Heaven's gate could not have been more vigilant than Dan Schulze guarding the heavenly books, as #299 slunk back into the shadows.
According to the volunteers, the wrist bracelet system had been in place for the last 3-4 years and was engineered to prevent fights in the waiting line, which had become a recurring problem. Fights? At a book sale?
The reality is that such an event tends to bring out the best and worst of human nature. Only at a book sale does the drama of life in the mind visibly collide with the drama of life in the flesh. The themes of Homer's Iliad play out poignantly in the theater of book tents, auditoriums and narrow-aisled rooms while shoppers take the field and do battle for the coveted books.
There was the mad rush as the doors opened, the dash down narrow hallways and up and down stairs… boxes colliding against tote bags. My spouse, a novice attendee experiencing his first foray into the battlefield of book sales, told of being sandwiched in an aisle between a slow-moving woman in a walker and a man banging a large box repeatedly against his back. I flew upstairs and ran straight to the room housing the collectible books. The ancient room air conditioner couldn't cope with the massive influx of crazed shoppers and the heat was suffocating.
A man with a zombie-like look in his eyes rushed to the table labeled "Rare, Special and Unusual," reached directly in front of me and snagged two books simultaneously in record time. So much for my pre-conceptions about Midwestern book sales being kinder and gentler.
However, there were many moments marked by Midwestern neighborliness. I had spoken to a woman in line while waiting to enter, and just before our numbers were called, we wished each other "good luck" as we parted ways. I wondered how she was doing as the next few hours melted away in a blur of frenzied shopping exacerbated by the sweltering heat.
Some people were genuinely taking their time examining each book slowly and carefully. A man politely asked if I had seen any Boxcar Children series books. Youthful book sale volunteers chivalrously carried books for older buyers out to their cars.
Surprisingly, I observed very few people using scanners at this sale. YMCA Executive Director Dan Schulze explained to me that only individual books on the tables could be scanned; it was against the rules to hoard a pile of books and then scan each one. This was the biggest difference I noticed from the Eastern sales I had previously attended and, from a non-scanner perspective, it was a policy which made the book sale a much more pleasant experience.
Since we traveled to St. Louis by plane - and having to bring shoes for every possible occasion, I already had 6 pairs of shoes taking up valuable luggage space - I was necessarily constrained in the amount of books I purchased. I tried to limit myself only to those books worth the hassle of hauling long distance via Southwest Airlines.
While there were indeed some nice books on the Rare, Special and Unusual table, some of the prices were shockingly high. A copy of Mein Kampf was available for sale for $2,500 (not surprisingly, it still had not sold by the second-to-last day of the sale); however, most of the other prices on that table ranged from $25 to $100. Other books in the upstairs collectible room ranged in price from $2 to $20, while the bulk of books in the tented areas, the gym and the basement started as low as 25 cents.
I wound up with 17 books at individual prices running the gamut from 25 cents to $25 for a total outlay of $69.75. After bringing the books back to Maryland and doing a little research, I discovered that three of my purchases were total duds. However, the rest stand to make a profit.
My most interesting find was an original 1910 edition of The Science of Getting Rich by W.D. Wattles, the same book in which Rhonda Byme reportedly found The Secret which inspired her phenomenally successful film and book of the same name. Although reprints abound, original 1910 printings of this prosperity classic seem to be quite scarce. It cost me $2.
All in all, the St. Louis YMCA Book Fair was a culmination of expectations, hopes, dreams, books and interesting people that blended together to create a powerful experience I will remember for many days to come. Who could ask for a more Perfect Storm?
EDITOR'S NOTE: Dan Schulze, executive director of the Carondelet Family YMCA, reports that next year's St. Louis YMCA Book Fair will take place August 22-27.
Questions or comments?