His Junk, Your Treasure

The word detachment has never been part of Cesar Becerra's vocabulary. Until now. Becerra, a 25-year-old local historian known for his celebrations and newsletters honoring everything from the centennial of Miami to the 50th anniversary of Everglades National Park to the 40th anniversary of Frankie's Pizza in Westchester, is also known for something else: being a pack rat extraordinaire.

"It's amazing what gets thrown away. Anything that's of historic value I latch on to," exclaims the exuberant Becerra. And he's latched on to a lot. For the past ten years he has been gathering items of historical interest and stowing them at his parents' house. "There's stuff in the attic, in a shack in the back yard, and in the garage," he reports. "My parents need a break."

Becerra, who at the moment is the caretaker of the Coconut Grove Woman's Club (where he lives with his wife), will finally provide the folks some relief by staging the Tag Sale of the Millennium, a two-day event designed to dispose of his enormous collection. "I don't want to throw the stuff away. I want it to go to people who would enjoy it," he explains. "I'm really open to wheeling and dealing."

Among the unusual finds: an ornate Singer sewing machine from 1908, wooden-wheeled roller skates from the old Crandon Park Playland amusement park, a piece of the dock where the U.S.S. Maine refueled for the final time in the Dry Tortugas, Super 8 films from the Miami Seaquarium and Vizcaya geared toward tourists. "There's so much that I'm going to be surprised at what I'm pulling out," says Becerra, who as past president of the Miami Memorabilia Collectors Club used to receive from fellow members boxes and boxes of who knows what. Many he never even opened before stashing them away.

Parting will not be easy. "I'm going to need some major therapy," he jokes. "But I've learned to embrace history in my mind now. I used to collect and say to myself, 'One day I'm going to have the time to play with all the stuff and look through all of it.' I sincerely doubt that day is coming. My projects just keep getting bigger and bigger."

Becerra's most ambitious scheme so far, which will be funded partly by tag sale proceeds and a few corporate sponsors, is called "Motoring into the Millennium." On January 1, 1999, he and his wife will leave Miami and begin a tour of all 50 states (Alaska and Hawaii included) in his precious 1979 Chevy Malibu Classic station wagon. The car, dubbed the "Corps of Rediscovery" by Becerra (in honor of the Lewis and Clark expedition, whose 1803 transcontinental exploration was called the Corps of Discovery), has logged nearly 186,000 miles and averages ten miles per gallon. Becerra's Uncle Willy, who owns an auto parts store in Hialeah, has graciously volunteered to rebuild the V-8 engine; graphic designer Bill Stahl will decorate the car with a patriotic flag motif.

The couple has already mapped out the entire route for the trip and has established a Website (www.intothemillennium.com). While on the road they will post a weekly newsletter, The Great Wide Open, detailing their adventures, and they'll visit every state capital to meet the governors, who will sign the car's hood and attach to the vehicle artwork created by school kids, winners of a contest the couple is holding. They plan to roll back into Miami December 31, 1999.

"We want to explore America," Becerra declares. "We want to see what Americans are thinking, what their dreams are at the end of this century. It's a crucial period, almost as if there's no blueprint of what's going to happen in the future. Before we leave this century, we want to take a deep breath, see where we've been, where we're going, and what we are all about." And bid farewell to anything that's weighing them down.

-- Nina Korman

The Tag Sale of the Millennium begins at 6:00 a.m. Saturday, July 25, at 14021 SW 109th St. A presale party takes place Friday, July 24, from 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. Admission to the sale is free; the party costs $5 or a donation of a sale item valued at $5 or more. Call 305-444-1932.

 
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