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First Show, Bourse, PEX

Great Expectations

by Leon Lutje
23rd of May 2015

The date had finally arrived. I had been anticipating this historic event for a few months. After retiring and taking up stamp collecting after several decades hiatus I was as giddy as could be. I was going to attend my first stamp show, bourse, PEX or whatever. It was early spring and a fine sunshiny day, although a little on the chilly side. But, after all this is Wisconsin and such conditions are to be expected in late March. In the course of my life I have attended many trade shows. Automobile shows, electronic shows, the odd sports card show and of course state and county fairs. (I will neither confirm nor deny that I ever attended Comic-Con.) I was pumped.  Though I had never been to a stamp show or bourse or PEX or whatever I imagined it would be similar to other such events that I have attended. Visions of bunting, snazzy table cloths, snack bars, even the occasional dance routine at the booth of some national distributor were strolling through my head. Whistling a tune I dressed in my old-geezer outfit which consisted of a shirt, tie and sweater with slacks and white loafers. Passing the hall mirror there was a split-second when I wondered how I had morphed from Burt Reynolds to Ozzie Nelson, but it soon passed. I gave Bunny Marti a peck on the cheeked and was off. I had asked her if she wanted to go with me, but you can imagine the answer, so alone I went destination BAYPEX2015.

Driving northward on Highway 41 again my mind wandered to what awaited me at BAYPEX2015. I was somewhat concerned with parking and the crowd I might run into; however that was small potatoes compared to the enjoyment and deals I might encounter. Besides, it was bound to be no worse than attending a Packer game certainly. As I exited the highway I did not notice a particularly crowded off ramp or any street with more than the usual amount of Saturday afternoon traffic. I thought this quite odd. The parking lot of the venue was also sparsely used. No matter I was early. The show had only been open for three hours. Perhaps the crowd would come later, when the best deals would be available from dealers who did not relish the thought of one more box to pack up. Turns out I was half right.

As I walked into the church cafeteria I was quite shocked. The first thing I noticed to my left as I walked through the door, was a small folding table with five or six young boys rummaging through a huge pile of on-paper stamps as if the doors had just opened at Walmart on Black Friday. For a moment I wondered if I should join them. After all there were a few common items I needed to fill some album spaces. I rightly surmised that this was not at place for an old geezer. I mean that particular table. Other than that, the whole place was old geezer territory. Glancing around I noticed fifty or so folding tables with people sitting on folding chairs mostly on both sides of the tables rummaging through countless boxes of covers and the correspondence some of them contained. . I imagined they were all looking for the once in a lifetime priceless find. Something along the lines of, “Dear Mrs. Lincoln, Please accept these complimentary tickets. Bring Abe; he is bound to enjoy the evening. Signed The Management of Ford’s Theater.” Or perhaps, “Dear George, You go east, I will go west. Meet you in Moscow. Signed, Douglas.” “Dear Mr. Boleyn, I love your daughter because she has such a good head on her shoulders, Signed Henry.” I mean there were literally thousands and thousands of covers. As I am not a cover collector my first feeling was disappointment. Well, also I was miffed because there was no bunting, no snazzy table cloths or snack bar and forget about a dance routine.

As I started to stroll leisurely down an aisle, I noticed that I was being watched by everyone. Then it dawned on me. All of the people that were sitting at the tables rummaging through the covers, we not attendees, they were exhibitors! There was no one at any of the other tables. These folks were watching to see if I would stop at their table. I was the only attendee. Well, at the time. I am sure there were several people who attended at one time or another, but at this particular time, I and the few kids attacking the pile were the total of PEX-goers. My vision of being pampered and encouraged to examine the wares of some exhibitor with the same demeanor and attire as the servant staff from Downton Abby, quickly went the way of the self-destructing stamp.  

I turned the corner near the area where the children on a weekday must have put their lunch trays to be collected and started walking up the other way. Some of the gentleman who were proprietors of the tables eyed me suspiciously. They wondered “Who’s the geezer with the cane? I have never seen him at any of the shows.” Had I been able to read their thoughts I would have corrected their mistake concerning the cane. I do not have a cane I have a walking stick. Geesh!

Having been in attendance for five minutes, I was ready to sneak my way to the door before one of these hawkers tried to sell me the Brooklyn Bridge. I didn’t make it. Standing behind the second to the last set of tables was a man who nearly defies description. He was eyeing me as I walked by. He was also masticating a huge sub sandwich which looked like it consisted only of every kind of meat imaginable. You know, one of those “Heart Stopper” specials. However surely there was mayonnaise as well, as I deduced from the dollop hanging from the corner of his mouth. He was dressed in a T-shirt and jeans. I assumed he was also a classic car aficionado as printed on his T-shirt was a caricature of a buggy-eyed troll driving a 1957 Corvette, similar to a cartoon one would have seen in a 1962 issue of Hot Rod magazine. Printed on the shirt was also the exhortation “Wrap Your Ass in Fiberglass.”

The gentleman addressed me while continuing to masticate. “Mmhhsghphggg?”

Rightly discerning that he meant, “Whadya lookin for?” I froze. What was I going to say? I was not actually looking for anything except to avoid being hit by a flying pickle from his sandwich. I said the first thing that came to mind.  It was said hopping to get me away as I was sure that he would roll his eyes and shake his head. So my answer was, “Well sir, I am looking for a Baden #7. Preferably a forgery.”

To my horror, he motioned me to sit down. What was I getting myself into? I sat down and he turned around and walked toward the table behind him which was lined with approximately thirty very large, worn leather albums without benefit of labeling of any kind. He stuck the sub in his mouth holding it there, grabbed one of the albums, and plopped it down on the table in front of me indicating to take a look inside. Before me was an album which looked like a prop from a Norman Rockwell painting. It was worn and beat like a century old catcher‘s mitt. I opened it carefully fearing it would turn to dust in my hands, and was in for quite another shock.

On the first page, neatly mounted and protected were five, count-em five Penny Blacks. The queen properly staring sideway as if in embarrassment. I looked up at the gentleman, I no longer use that term for him lightly, and he smiled down at me. Thankfully he was finished with his sandwich, or who knows what I might have seen when he smiled. I turned to the next page in expectation and was not disappointed. There calling my name like one of Homer’s Sirens, was a completed set of Trans-Mississippi’s, yes 292 included. In honesty they were not gem-mint but they were together, I had never seen that in person. Remember this is the first show I had ever attended. Two and a half hours later I closed the book and sighed.

 “Well whadya-think?” He asked.

“I think I need to win the lottery.” I answered.

“Naaaaaa.” He said. “I’ll make you a good deal.”

“I am sure you will. But my problem is a need to eat.”

“Well, I can tell you where you can get a good sub sandwich.”

“Not now! I mean the rest of my life.”

The short version is that I purchased, a Penny Black for $85.00 which I thought was a fairly good deal and even if it is not, at least I can say I have one. The moral of course is that you cannot judge a book by its cover or I suppose in philately you cannot judge a cover by the book it’s in. Even though my first stamp show was not exactly what I had expected, it was entertaining and educational. And I did rush home with my Penny Black and ran into the house excited to tell Bunny Marti what I discovered and purchased. How that exchange went is a story for another time. Suffice to say that as Ricky Ricardo would say, I had some “’splainin’” to do.

Disclaimer. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. In other words, I did attend BAYPEX2015, and it was my first stamp show, yet there was no person I saw eating a sub sandwich. But there could have been. I seriously had a great time.

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