Common Ground

Miami garage sales are much more than shopping sprees for bargain hunters. They're also racial and ethnic safety zones where people can freely mix and mingle.

8:50 a.m.

Pedro, the owner of the house, pulls up in a black jeep. Back from an early breakfast, he walks past the assembled throng, now pushing toward the door. An elderly Hispanic woman grabs for his arm and, strenuously rolling her r's, asks him if he's "rrrrready to open." It's less a question than an order.

Not all revved up: Some sellers may have mixed feelings about letting their stuff go
Steve Satterwhite
Not all revved up: Some sellers may have mixed feelings about letting their stuff go
Not all revved up: Some sellers may have mixed feelings about letting their stuff go
Steve Satterwhite
Not all revved up: Some sellers may have mixed feelings about letting their stuff go

Pedro opens the front door at exactly 8:59. His demeanor and punctuality suggest this moving sale is going to be a very coordinated affair. Indeed he appears to have split the difference between the informality of a garage sale and the studied structure of an estate sale.

Standing in the middle of the living room, Pedro simultaneously directs people throughout the house and takes questions, the most frequent, of course, being, "How much?" He is a large man, tall and muscled. It doesn't surprise anyone to see a workout bench and a set of free weights in the corner.

Actually the workout equipment is for sale, as is a beautiful antique dining room set, a collection of books, board games, a television and stereo, as well a variety of souvenirs and collectibles from Pedro's travels: an alligator bag and pottery and paintings from South America. An extensive assortment of polished minerals -- large, smooth, colorful sections of rock -- lines the shelves along the living room's far wall. The minerals also are for sale.

The buyers fan out. A young black woman asks Pedro how much he wants for a large green metal wall sconce/candle holder in the shape of a palm frond. He shouts out a price. Too much money, she decides, and puts the piece back on the floor.

Across the room Henry is trying to get Pedro's attention. He holds up a long orange extension cord and a surge protector. He gets his answer and puts the items down on a chair. "Twenty bucks," he grumbles, joining the growing consensus in the room. Prices are a bit high.

Throughout the house others are engaged in serious foraging. A short elderly man, wearing a uniform of comfortable white sneakers, blue polyester pants, and a striped polo shirt squeezes past another man in the hallway. They know each other from the garage sale circuit. "Friend, what you buy? Nothing?" asks the first man, giving his once-a-week acquaintance a friendly slap on the back. He advances to the bedroom, which contains only a bed and a dresser, both for sale.

The old man's gaze instantly is drawn to a small shiny pile of coins on top of the dresser. He pushes the visor of his dark-blue adjustable Navy SEALS cap up on his head, away from his eyes. Leaning over the pile, he begins to finger the coins, examining them with the hard stare of an expert collector. In truth he more closely resembles a guy who wouldn't be caught dead on a beach without his metal detector.

"Sir, those aren't for sale," says Glenn, a friend of Pedro on hand to help out with the crowd. Glenn explains the money is just loose change collected from the bottom of the dresser drawers. The man nods, looks around the bedroom, and heads back toward the living room. "What was the guy gonna do?" Glenn wonders aloud, shaking his head. "Say, Hey, how much you want for your money?'"

Out front prospective buyers continue to arrive. The most conspicuous of the new shoppers are a striking young couple, dressed more for South Beach than for sleepy Miami Shores. The woman, even in flip-flops, is statuesque. A tall, fit brunette, she wears a too-tight tank top and too-tight, too-short jean shorts. A fluorescent pink Playboy bunny head applied to her right rear pocket winks slyly. She carries a small basket of knickknacks around the house.

Her boyfriend, his sunglasses propped on top of a head of chestnut hair, is dressed in a khaki-color linen shirt with matching parachute-style puddle jumpers. His shirt hangs open, exposing a smooth hairless chest and six-pack abdomen. He holds an earth-color pot up to the light.

As if to provide musical accompaniment to the dance of the roaming rummagers, a bossa nova starts playing in the background. Pedro is showing off the tabletop stereo he wants to sell. Henry walks over to the stereo and does some quiet calculating. He decides not to inquire about the price. Too bad it's not broken, he seems to say with a philosophical shake of his head. On the stereo a Brazilian songstress sings a soft lament.

9:25 a.m.

If the scene on the lawn a little more than an hour ago recalled a Cheever short story, Pedro's living room -- strewn with personal mementos and family artifacts -- suggests the climactic finale of Citizen Kane. In that film classic a reporter is assigned the task of deciphering the significance of publisher Kane's obscure dying word: Rosebud.

In the final scene, the reporter walks through Kane's mansion, overflowing with a lifetime's worth of conspicuous accumulation: statues, paintings, furniture. He confesses to a group of colleagues that he couldn't unravel the meaning of "Rosebud." As he speaks the camera cuts to the churning furnace where worthless items from the estate are being deposited for destruction. We discover "Rosebud" was the name stenciled on Kane's boyhood sled, a revelation meant to intimate the great man's persistent longing for the uncomplicated virtues of his impoverished childhood.

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