Friday’s Weekend Column
Not Exactly a Farm Auction

by James Glaser
March 3, 2006

No, they don't have farm auctions down here in Tallahassee, but they do have storage space auctions. I have read that Americans have enough storage buildings so that every man, women, and child could get inside one of them.

All over this city are "Secure Storage" facilities, where you can rent a little 5'x10' space with a roll up door—all the way up to a 10' x 25' one with air-conditioning. I rented a secure parking space for the trailer I moved all my tools down here with. These are big money operations. The place I rent from has a thousand units and I think the cheapest is $43 a month.

Well last month, when I went to pay my rent they had an auction bill up, and this week I went to it and bought one unit. People store things and pay month after month. Some decide the rent is no longer worth what they have stored, or they die, or they are sick, in the middle of a divorce, or maybe in prison. After so long without payment the storage company can sell the contents to get their money, and open the space up to rent it again.

Here is how it works. They open the door to the unit, you can look inside from the doorway, and then the bidding starts. They had 38 units up for auction, and I waited and watched for a while before I bid on one. Some of them looked like they were filled with garbage. Others had mattresses and box springs, washers and dryers. You don't know if an appliance works, and here's the catch. You have to get everything out of the unit in 24 hours, or you can start renting it.

I watched and I could tell some of the bidders knew what they were doing, and were buying to resell the good stuff. It seemed like everyone knew each other, except for me. They were all nice though and told me where the dump was, and what that cost. Many said they would burn what junk they could to save on that expense.

Well like I said I watched for a while, but then a small unit opened up, and I saw an outboard motor, a small 5hp one and several tool boxes, an oak dresser and a few boxes. When you are bidding you have no idea of what is in any box, or bag, so any bid is a bit of a gamble. I decided to bid on this unit, because everything in it was stacked and packed neatly. It was way different than any of the other units. It did cross my mind that the renter was a neat freak and maybe everything that I couldn't see was junk. Oh yeah, if you buy a unit, and it has personal things in it like pictures, year books, financial records, or letters you have to turn them in to the storage company, and they have to hold them for the past due renter for some period of time.

I ended up buying that unit and wouldn't you know, mine was the most expensive of the day, two hundred dollars. On top of that I had to get to work, so I rented the space for a month at another forty three bucks. Then I had to buy a new lock, and I got talked into the super duper chrome one, made in where else but China, for $9.95.

Today I went back and looked at what I bought, and I think I found the Holy Grail of storage auctions. I found about forty US Mint proof sets, and maybe five thousand baseball cards. The tool boxes had some OK tools but moisture had rusted some of them. I did get three "Snap-on" ratchet socket sets, some very old Stanley chisels, two complete brace and bit sets, a lot of lapidary tools, like a rock cutter, and stuff I have know idea of what it is. The oak dresser is pretty nice and is made out of solid oak. There was a small torch set and some toys. I did well!

There were lots of pictures, yearbooks, photographs, trophies, and a Bible. I turned all of them into the office. I kind of felt bad, but then I remembered how I paid storage fees for seven years down in Arizona, and finally picked everything up last summer. I paid many times what the stuff was worth. I guess the guy who had my unit decided paying the storage fees was not worth what he had in there. I could have done the same, but there is something about renting a space and telling the owner that I would pay my rent. I know things can come up, and you can't make the payment, but it was $43 a month, and the unit was filled with this guy's memories.

I know I'm not in that guy's shoes, but the things he left in that storage unit were the proof of his life. Things he may not find important right now, but some day in the future he will wish he had taken the time to secure those memories, if not for himself, then for his off-spring. Really now, few of us leave a real mark in this life, it is nice though to be able to look back at where we come from, and we all should try to preserve something for those who follow.

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