So this past Monday, I journeyed around the city attending Public Storage auctions. That’s right – my very own version of Storage Wars.
In case you didn’t know, Storage Wars is this wildly addicting reality show on A&E. A camera crew follows an interesting cast of characters as they bounce from auction to auction, vying for the contents of foreclosed storage units. Dave, Barry, Darrell, Jarod and Brandi – they make a living doing this, and it appears to be a good one. Every so often someone hits the jackpot, selling the contents of a unit for thousands in profit. It’s a gamble though. Potential buyers bid based only on what’s visible from outside a unit, and only after a unit is purchased may a buyer enter it. I haven’t watched the show recently, but back when life was simpler, I could blow a whole Sunday night watching this shit.
So my work friend, AB, and I took PTO to do this. Why? Because my whole life is wrecked. It’s early October. By now, I’m 100% supposed to be home with Matthew. But he’s gone. So anytime I can blow a day doing something I would be doing neither in my old life (well, let’s be honest, at some point, I might have done this), nor in my parallel universe, I’m game. As for AB, she likes to sell crap on Craigslist, so she was all over this.
Since Matthew died, I haven’t been capable of doing any activity for more than ~four hours, especially if it involves socializing with others. At some point, I become exhausted and overwhelmed, and I have to go lie down and cry, and visit baby loss forums and blogs on the internet. These auctions were scheduled to last all day, and AB and I were riding together, so I’d be stuck, with no option to retreat as needed.
I thought it could go okay with AB though. She was excited and had no expectations. She never has expectations for me either, and I love that about her. My work friends, AB and JVB, are two of the several people I’d credit with saving me. They got me back to work, relentlessly texting me if I didn’t show up. They also made me laugh, even in the depths of my despair. Just when I’d start to think I’d never laugh again, they’d have yet another lunch conversation about an unsolved mystery in our office – how a commercial toilet in the women’s restroom could possibly be clogged yet again. And I’d lose it (yes, we’re like teenage boys around here).
So AB and I took our Jamba Juice smoothies, her flashlight, our locks, some cash, my GPS and headed to the first location on the docket, or actually, the second location, because we’re always running late like that. We were the second group of auction attendees to arrive at this location on the southwest side of the city (the auctions start in the southwest and move north). We signed in and stood in the parking lot, sizing up the other two guys who’d already arrived…
After a few minutes, a Fiat pulled into the parking lot, followed by about 10 trucks, one pulling a huge trailer. These were the people coming from the first auction location – the regulars. And this was the caravan we’d be joining for the remainder of the day. The Fiat parked right next to us, and out stepped Barry’s doppelganger (sorry if you haven’t seen the show), at which point we knew this could be fun.
No one talked to us at the first few locations. They totally recognized us as newbies and seemed annoyed at the possibility of increased competition. But we didn’t bid on anything. The thrill of what might be behind the door was entertaining enough. We’d shine AB’s flashlight into each unit, laughing at the contents. In the car rides between locations, we decided it was unlikely we’d buy anything. If you “win” something, you only have 48 hours to collect your shit, and if you don’t do it, you could be banned from coming back. So winning something, we decided, would be more work than we’d bargained for.
Eventually, the crowd decided we weren’t a threat and warmed up to us. We asked them lots of questions, and they spilled their secrets. Some of those with whom we spent our day included:
- Barry’s doppelganger, Terry – Drives a white Fiat, thin, mid-50s, dressed chic, white hair, glasses, divorced, owns a store, seemed kind of rich, purchased all the best units (probably spent $4,000), most he’s ever made on a group of two units is $27,000 (mostly landscaping equipment), has made $15,000 selling gold he’s collected from various units
- Dollar Paul – Drives a piece of shit truck with a brand new steering wheel, skinny, looks homeless, smoker, buys all the units nobody wants for $1 (except a unit even he didn’t want), has paid staff to clean out all the units he purchases, AB bought an umbrella off him for $1.50
- Roger – Wore camo, smoker, bought a unit for $315 with an AR-15 – jackpot, right?! Nope – just a fancy BB gun
- Jarod & Brandi +20 years (that’s what I’m calling them) – Husband and wife, Brandi had some brassy blonde hair with a green tint at the ends and some cool bangs, wins award for most $$$ spent on crappiest looking units
- Dave (that’s what I’m calling him) – Drives huge truck with big trailer, bought surprisingly little, wife sat in car all day, gun dealer, owns a store, claims he makes $10,000 per month
- Red-shirt guy – Drives a $55,000 truck (he passed on the $78,000 one), smoker, jokester, has made $10,000 on several units in his career, also has paid staff
- The bros – Actually had full-time jobs, came for fun, looking for things they need more than a profit
During the day, we bonded with the other attendees over the undeniable truths AB and I quickly discovered… First, almost every single storage unit contains a mattress set as well as a Christmas tree. Second, people store crap, and trash, and more often than not, the rent they rack up far outweighs the value of their items (if only I had thought of the idea of putting up aluminum sheds all over the city so hoarders could store their junk…). This isn’t to say that there weren’t some good finds or money to be made – those opportunities existed too – the more attractive units went for about $1,000. And last month, the rumor is, a unit went for $12,000.
While the day was a good distraction, it wasn’t a total distraction. At one point, Red-shirt guy approached us and asked, “Ladies, what is the goal here?” He’d noticed we hadn’t bid on any units.
AB replied, “I don’t know, if I buy something I might sell it on Craigslist, but we’re just here…”
What was my goal here? To distract myself from the loss of my child? Ha – as if that’s possible. To get through another day, keep myself extra busy via this random activity. Should I tell him that? Say it out loud to a crowd full of strangers? I could see the situation playing out – the frowns, the awkward pause in conversation. Was anyone else here for such a pathetic reason? Unlikely. What if I have to do this kind of stuff for the rest of my life to distract me from my sorrow? What if my life never gets any better than it is right now?
The thoughts can snowball quickly.
There were also some storage units that made me think… We gasped as the auctioneer raised the door to one unit – it was a guy’s motorcycle garage (motorcycle included). He’d hung tools and decorations on the walls with care, attached fans to the ceiling, and neatly stored expensive jacks and helmets. One onlooker exclaimed, “Dayyyyummmm, we know he be in jail, he be sick, or he be dead.”
Some units, we could tell, had been packed by professional movers. The items looked clean and expensive – someone had cared enough to take the time, or pay the money, to have them packed this way.
What happened to these people? Sure, they could be average, down on their luck people who didn’t pay their rent. Or it could be worse… Were some of these people in jail, sick or dead? Could one of them have lost a child?
I thought back to the early days after we lost Matthew. I got a call from the credit union – our mortgage payment was late. We’d forgotten to pay it. Our minds were elsewhere. That could easily have been a missed payment on a storage unit. And if it had been, I probably would have let it go too. Because it’s just stuff, and it’s not that freaking important.
And then there were the storage units with the baby strollers and kids’ clothes and toys.
Were these single moms? Desperate and evicted from their apartments, did they just grab all their shit, throw it in storage, and disappear when their situations worsened further? Would I trade for their lives? They have the one thing I don’t have (a child), but I don’t know the struggles of their situations…
We were exhausted after a near full day and said goodbye to our new friends with five more locations still to go on the docket. I’d successfully managed to burn nine hours without talking about my “situation” – a first. Though there were reminders and triggers everywhere, and Matthew was never far from my mind, it was a successful day.
Three days later I’m still thinking about the stories behind these units – were any of the people who’d defaulted on their rent bereaved parents? I’m sure it’s happened before… And, if so, those foreclosed storage units represent a hard truth they’ve all, by now, likely discovered – that when you lose a child, the world keeps going whether you’re ready or not.
Have you done any weird things to attempt to distract yourself from your loss? Or just to get you through another day? If so, what? Did it work, or were there unexpected triggers? Leave a comment.