I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up.
…is the opening line Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, one of my favorite novels of all-time. Almost thirty years since I first read it, and I still think about that novel a lot. Especially when I’m traveling. In a car. In a boat. On a plane. On a train. Across the country or to the grocery, it doesn’t matter; Kerouac’s Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty are always somewhere with me, listening to jazz and having mad, wild conversations as the landscape of America changes before them. It’s a nice feeling to have characters that you keep so close like that. And I’ve always wanted to write that line. Thank you for indulging me.
Point of fact I like to travel. You wouldn’t know it to travel with me, but I do. The sad thing is that for as much as I enjoy traveling, it can bring out the worst in my anxiety. Money fears. Hotel room fears. Fear of not being an expert on any city or town the minute I step foot on its worn concrete. North becomes South. East becomes West. Tantrums when I’m being perceived as a tourist by locals, even though being a tourist is exactly what I am. I have travel anxiety but I do it all the same.
And from 2004 to 2019 I’d like to think that my wife and I have gone and put some miles in America and around the world. Coast to Coast trip by car. London. Paris. Madrid. Rome. Vienna. Berlin. Dublin. Amsterdam. Belgium. Vague talk of one day standing on the continent of Antarctica. In 2019, we traveled to Japan and then later in the year to San Francisco. It was the first time in my life that I could say I looked out onto the horizon of the Pacific Ocean from both sides of the world. I felt calm. I felt content. I felt like anything was possible.
Then 2020 happened. Covid-19 happened. Travel stopped. Life stopped. I sat on my ass on a couch for over a year, reading, binge watching TV shows, and getting fat on booze and copious amounts of Doritos. I collected baseball cards that I didn’t even want to collect, as a soundtrack of sirens wailed down my busy Brooklyn Street. Yes, I realize that it couldn’t been much worse. I was alive. My loved ones were safe. There was still a void to be filled.
But by mid-April of 2021, my wife and I joined to ranks of family who had been able to get to the Covid-19 vaccine (a brief aside…GET THE FUCKING VACCINE), and have their sheltered world open up, if only in small ways. That is to say we were able to travel again. Not to Japan. Not to San Francisco. Not to gaze longingly at the Pacific Ocean horizon like some pampered wanker, comparing what hole-in-the-wall had the best ramen (Answer: it's a small place off the main drag in Osaka). But to go home. Still…I can’t WAIT to be a pampered wanker again.
That’s right, my wife and I were at least able to see family. Buffalo and Pittsburgh respectively. Maybe visiting family for the first time during a plague isn’t necessarily traveling. Maybe Buffalo and Pittsburgh aren’t Tokyo or San Francisco. The ubiquitous Trump signs still hanging proud in rural New York and Pennsylvania told us as much. But they sure as fuck felt like it when I was renting a car, and plotting out where I wanted to go.
And where I wanted to go was baseball card shopping. In between the reunions with family, and the joy of reconnecting; the sad reflection at the loss of time and the people we’ve lost; the shared meals; the ancient arguments and grudges bubbling up again. I wanted to stretch my sea legs and visit some baseball card shops in the Buffalo and Pittsburgh area. At least the ones that I could get to in such a compact stretch of time. Sure, it wasn’t Kerouac’s Sal and Dean driving through the swampy Mexican night, their car rattling, the jazz blowing, another half of the hemisphere within their reach. But it was something. My something.
2021 is going to be baby steps.
The first place I visited was Dave and Adam’s Card World.
I visited there on a Saturday. Left my wife and mother-in-law behind to cruise Maple Street and Sheridan Avenue, my New Edition Fam playlist blasting out of the rental car, people at red lights staring at the aging jackass with his ballcap backwards belting out My Prerogative at the top of his lungs on otherwise quiet, Buffalo streets.
I’d been to Dave and Adam’s before, in September 2019 (my last actual visit to Buffalo before the plague). I was impressed with the store then. With Dave and Adam’s wide array of memorabilia and retail clothing for each Buffalo sports team. Their large back section dedicated to sports cards and comic books. Dave and Adam’s is a dork’s dream. On that trip in 2019, I bought a hobby box of both Topps Series 1 and Series 2. It was my first time buying a hobby box of anything since I got back into the hobby a few months beforehand
Flash forwards a year and half later and my current trip experience was…a little bit different. 2021 is decidedly NOT 2019. For one, I wasn’t the wide-eyed returning collector that I was in 2019. And current prices being what they are on new wax, rushing to the counter to purchase hobby boxes without serious spiritual and financial consulting with myself was not… in the cards, for lack of a better expression. It’s not that Dave and Adam’s was a rip-off. Their hobby box prices are just as outrageously aligned with everyone else out there. That is to say they were high enough to make you sweat. High enough to take the fun out of a purchase.
Dave and Adam’s had individual packs available for the various releases. For some reason (and I can think of a few) the store wasn’t exactly outright in what they were selling individual packs for. Not knowing the price of something without having to ask is prohibitive to me (and a lot of others…so take note retailers). Also, I’d made a pact with myself not to open much wax this year. I’m going Topps Flagship and flagship only in 2021. Singles of players that I want for everything else. Even if I wanted to splurge, there wasn’t much to buy hobby wise during my trip to Dave and Adam’s. I’d had my fill of Topps Series 1, wasn’t touching Heritage, and 2021 Bowman was a good week away from being released at a price that I still can’t choke down when I see it.
If I wasn’t buying cards what in the hell was I in Dave and Adam’s for?
Or rather a lack of supplies, which seems to be endemic in The Hobby currently. Let’s talk about a lack of supplies. When I visited Dave and Adam’s in 2019, the place was a Mecca for me for card supplies. Boxes in any size. Top loaders, binder sheets, penny sleeves, oh my! They had everything. 2021, as expected, was a different story. 2021 Dave and Adam’s had some penny sleeves, mostly under their own Dave and Adam’s brand. They had some magnetic one touches. Bu there were no standard top loaders or even 9-pocket sheets to be had. The supply section was mostly relegated to off-popular supplies, like ticket holders or full-page, single use sheets. I did buy my first individual card stand for a buck, which the kind cashier at D & A didn’t even charge me for when he wrung up my other supplies.
I think the Kiner card looks good displayed as such.
Of course, while in the wild and wooly suburbs of Buffalo, I also had to do the requisite visit to Target to take the standard empty card shelves photo.
I even stood in the aisle for a good minute, hands on hips, looking flummoxed and cursing card flippers.
Time being short and of the essence in Buffalo, I only managed a visit to one other sports card place: 716 Sports Cards & Collectibles, in the Orchard Park suburb, just south of the city of Buffalo.
I’d been wanting to/excited about going to 716 for some time. I’d first heard about and seen the shop in a video on Jabs YouTube channel. In the video, Jabs shows himself going through boxes of $1 and .50 cent cards, pulling out things like 1977 George Brett cards and Carl Yastrzemski cards. Older cards are more in my wheelhouse than the newer ones. 716 Cards seemed right up my alley. I couldn’t wait to see what treasures I’d get my grubby hands on.
716 Sports Cards & Collectibles itself is a small store set in a two-building strip mall that houses the shop and an adjoining pizza joint, that was proving popular enough to almost pique my interest; the place smelled good enough to question my loyalty to NYC pizza. The interior of 716 had a few display cases that held more expensive cards. There were some baseball cards but Football and Hockey seemed to rule the shelves. The store had a display case in the back for current hobby box items.
716 Sports Cards & Collectibles had some actual supplies. Top loaders that I couldn’t find at Dave and Adam’s. And they weren’t trying to gouge a fella for a package of them either. So, I definitely had to snag some. The store had some framed memorabilia on its walls. They even had some jerseys in display cases propped against shelving on the floor. Sabres and Bills stuff, mostly. To be honest, 716 had the look of just recently being opened, even though I heard to owner tell another customer that 716 had been in operation for over two years.
The real draw for me were those boxes of cards that I saw on Jabs’ video. There had to be two or three dozen, three-row boxes full of cards stacked on top of each other. The prices in the boxes ranged from 10-cents to two-dollars. I gravitated to them, hoping to pull myself a ton of vintage stuff. I was having delusions of 1977 Topps George Brett cards and $1 Willie Stargell cards. My experience was a touch different from Jabs. Most of the cards I sifted through were on the newer end of the collecting spectrum. I’d say mostly from 2018 on up. For some reason there were a ton of Anthony Alford rookies in those boxes still selling for a buck. I ended up grabbing some cards of current players I’m into.
And I did manage to find some “older” stuff mixed in with the picutred new in the .25cent bins
Also…when you find a Doc Gooden rookie, no matter the condition, you give it a good home.
Full disclosure, By the time my wife and I arrived in Pittsburgh, I had no real plans to go card shopping. Steel City Collectibles, the only shop near my parent’s home, was still closed for the pandemic for some reason, and is currently only doing business online. Plus, there’s a Dave and Adam’s vibe (albeit a smaller store) in Steel City. And I wasn’t in the mood for over-priced new stuff. My somewhat futile search at 716 Sports Cards & Collectibles had left me hungering for vintage cards and the junk wax era stuff of my youth. All of the other card shops recommended to me, in the Pittsburgh area, were in suburbs a good thirty to forty miles away. And if you’ve ever visited family (especially mine) getting away to go somewhere thirty to forty miles away is a challenge during normal times. Another time perhaps.
Plus, I had to make it a point to visit this shrine
…indulge one of my other passions.
And aside from a bunch of sad-bastard Sinatra albums, I found this R&B masterpiece.
See how we've come almost full circle?
But sometimes if you don’t go looking for the cards, the cards come looking for you. That is to say that I accidently did some card shopping while in Pittsburgh. While I went antiquing. Yes…antiquing. Something I never thought I’d do. And antiquing is word I never thought that I’d say or write. Jack Kerouac never went antiquing. Bukowski never went looking for an oak table and matching chairs. Shakespeare never was on the hunt for a lamp that accentuated a room. Why in the fuck would I then? I’m going to leave the word hanging there for a second.
Going to an antique shop wasn’t actually as bad as I made it sound. I quite enjoyed it. To hell with Bukowski! My wife and I went with my mom to a two-level place they call The Hub, in the North Versailles section of the Pittsburgh suburbs.
The place was pretty much a mixture of antiques and cast-off flea market items. That is to say you could buy a solid oak table with chairs, and add PITT or Penn State pint glasses to the purchase, along with an Andy Van Slyke pin from 1988. A pin I actually found and purchased.
My horror-writing wife (intentional plug right HERE) got these creepy ass dolls for inspiration.
And they do stuff like this when we're not home...
I suspected there’d be baseball cards/sports cards in general somewhere in The Hub. A few display cases had individual cards for Pirates players in the 1950s and some early 1970s Steelers cards. But nothing that screamed purchases, and certainly not anything in bulk. Until I went down to the second-level of the store. That’s when I found this waiting for me.
And what was this? As you can see it’s a collection of pre-wrapped cards, both of the sports and non-sports variety. The Hub catered to a lot of Pittsburgh teams, especially the Pirates. It doesn’t get more in my wheelhouse than Pittsburgh Pirates team sets. I was able to find myself a number of team sets from the 1980s in the Topps, Fleer and Donruss brands. I also found myself a nice 150-card “starter” set for 1976 Topps, a set that I absolutely adore. So that’s a new project for me to start delving into. I even went outside of my baseball comfort zone and grabbed me a 450-card lot of 1984 Topps football. Sure, it was sans the Marino, Elway and Dickerson rookies (and most of the Steelers), but it’s a pretty complete set that I can’t wait to finish.
My Hub purchases:
No trip home would be complete without a card visit with my brother…in his new apartment of all things. My brother and I like to send each other cards from time to time. Because it’s been so hard finding product on the shelves, I brought him all of the 2021 series doubles etc that I had on hand…and thanks to the MLB Flagship Store being in NYC I had a lot. He was kind enough to hook me up with this.
Yeah, it’s beat to shit…but a 1960 Clemente is a 1960 Clemente.
Oh…and Shelly Pie is better than Vincent’s. Don’t @ me Pittsburghers.
All in all, it was good to get back out “on the road.” It was good to see family and reconnect. Good to visit places where I lived, that held a history for me; places that I’d been missing during all of those months of inertia sitting in Brooklyn. Christ, it was awesome to go somewhere new and buy cards. I can’t wait to do it again. And though I muse Tokyo and San Francisco…one can fined either a nuanced or violent argument in Buffalo over who has the better wings.
I’m no preacher but getting vaccinated was a good, small thing that I’ve done for myself. It saddens me to think that a small (but sizeable) portion of Americans don’t view vaccination this way, and to read the sad news that we are probably not going to reach a herd immunity. Like those Trump signs I saw in rural New York and Pennsylvania; there’s no excuse for ignorance. Rugged individualism will just keep you sick and could get you killed. Inaction could keep this virus with us for years, in strains that could render vaccines worthless. How about we pull up our bootstraps for others this time around? Huh America?
Also…let’s share the wealth around the world.
And hopefully that’s as political as I’ll have to get on this blog.
Thanks for reading! Happy Collecting!
I have a new book of poetry out on Kung Fu Treachery Press: Eating a Cheeseburger During the End Times.
NEXT FRIDAY: Going back to 1984 to maybe talk about 1984 Topps Football cards, but mostly for me to ramble on for paragraphs aboout being a kid in the fall of 1984. I'm bringing all the characters back: Me, Miller, my brother and even poor ol' A.J. See you then!