Picking America

In honor of election day, I am posting a controversial post.  Sort of.  (OK, it’s not really controversial, but it’s about as controversial as I get on the blog.)

A while ago, I came across a show on the History Channel called American Pickers.

I would like to preface this post by saying that I now love this show.

However, when I first watched it, I was disgusted.  Mortified.  Horrified.  Irate.  You get the picture.

I was to the point of composing a letter in my mind to the History Channel execs, telling them why this show was disgraceful and needed to be canceled effective immediately.  That’s how disturbed by it I was.

So this (reality) show is about two guys, Mike and Frank, from Iowa who love antiques and old junk and have an antique dealership, and drive across America in search of hidden treasures.  Sometimes they make appointments to visit certain people and search through their junk; other times, they just drive the back roads of America in search of places that look like they may have hidden treasures.

Now, I love antiques and old junk, too, and goodness knows I love searching for a treasure, so I was super interested in checking this show out.  It sounded like a fun show (and really, it is).

So the first time I watched the show, the guys were “freestyling,” which is what they call driving around aimlessly in hopes of stumbling upon places they can search for junk.  And in this particular episode I think they were in Wisconsin, and stopped at a couple of farms.  And at each of these farms, they were greeted by two VERY OLD men.  Old farmers who had spent decades collecting stuff, and had buildings and buildings crammed full of junk.  So after explaining who they were and why they were there, Frank and Mike were granted permission to search through barns and outbuildings for treasures, which of course they did.  And they found stuff – often really GOOD stuff.   That part didn’t bother me.  What bothered me was that they offered these old guys pennies on the dollar of what stuff was really worth, and the old guys didn’t know any better – so they agreed.

The longer I watched, the madder I got.  Jon was laughing at how mad I was, but I just couldn’t help it.   I just couldn’t help thinking that if those old men were my relatives, and those two random guys waltzed onto family property and cheated my relatives not only out of some pretty amazing items that probably could have (should have) been family heirlooms, but also out of the money that those items were actually WORTH…well, I was pretty frustrated with the show, to say the least.

I don’t remember much from my college economics class, but I do remember this one lesson on ethics:  If you buy something and you know that it is worth far more than what you’re paying for it, but the person you’re buying it from doesn’t realize it’s worth that much, you are stealing from them.  It’s isn’t bargain hunting – it is theft.

So that just kept running through my mind as I watched that show.  I just felt like they were taking complete, unfair advantage of people.

That was the first time I watched it.

A month or so later, I decided to give the show a second chance.  OK, so maybe there was just nothing else on tv that night; regardless, I watched the show again.  And I liked it a lot better that time.  In that episode, Frank and Mike actually had appointments to go to specific homes and look through junk, and this time, people fought back against the offers the guys presented.  Their low prices were challenged and they had to negotiate and really work to get the junk they wanted.

It’s a fine line, I think.  I completely understand that they are “picking” junk for a living.  That’s their money maker.  I get that.  I get that they have to pay a low price that allows them to turn around and sell the item for a profit, especially if they have to sink money into improving the condition of the item before they’re able to resell it.  I totally understand and appreciate their negotiations.

And I also understand that it’s a two-way street.  Often they make offers for items and the owners tell them to take a hike over the price that’s offered.  And I get that if they offer a price that is acceptable to the other party, whether it’s super low or not, and the other party accepts it, it’s really not my problem.  I just hate it when I feel like they take advantage of people, and I think the line between taking advantage of someone and finding a super bargain is very, very fine.

So I have to say that the show has grown on me.  I DVR it each week because I think Frank and Mike are good guys and they’re fun to watch and I love seeing the items they “rescue” and bring back into circulation. They have a good eye for collectible items and they know their stuff.  If I had a little more gumption, I’d be a picker, because they make it look like that much fun.

I need to remember that I don’t know the situations of people on the show.  Maybe those old farmers don’t have any family members left who would want any of the junk.  Or maybe some of the people who sell stuff at crazy-low prices really just need the money more than they need the junk, regardless of what it’s retail value is.

I guess the bottom line is that Mike and Frank make me want to watch the show, and that’s what makes it good television.


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