Archive for the ‘On The Road’ Category
Won-ok and I didn’t wake up on May 28, 2011 planning to have a life-affirming day that would still bring joy to our hearts a year and a half later. We didn’t plan to buy a hand-made wagon and fall so madly in love with it that we held on to it until 2013. (We put it up for sale today on our Web store.) It just sort of worked out that way.
Our intention then was to simply show two new friends representing the Japan Bear and Forest Society a little slice of America before they returned home: That meant only one thing — minor league baseball. We picked up Tomoko and Kaz at a D.C. hotel and headed north. Bryce Harper and his Hagerstown Suns teammates weren’t slated to take on the Asheville Tourists until the evening, giving us plenty of time to wander around Maryland before the game.
We jammed on the brakes when we passed a countryside yard sale in a hamlet called Foxville, Maryland. Most locals know it as Sabillasville. We didn’t know it at all but we were budding entrepreneurs with a vision for expanding the range of items Orion’s Attic sells. All American pickers have enough sense to stop when they see a front yard full of stuff for sale and a barn and shed behind the house. Tomoko and Kaz were mesmerized, too. They had no idea what a yard sale was.
I confess I did pause for a moment before we got out of the car. I wasn’t quite sure how an elderly white woman and her barrel-chested husband with military tattoos on his bulging arms would react to a Toyota Prius filled with a white guy, his Korean girlfriend and two Japanese folks. Bonnie and Gary Swope, though, greeted us like long-lost family the second we set foot on their driveway.
Won-ok and I filled a few boxes with items we knew we could easily re-sell. A wind chime enchanted Kaz while a couple of owl figurines grabbed Tomoko’s attention. The more we shopped, the better we got to know the Swopes. Turned out that Gary was a Navy man, serving from 1960 to 1964 — including a stint at nearby Camp David the year that JFK was assassinated. Gary then spent more than 30 years working for Mack Trucks in Hagerstown before he retired.
Even before calling it quits there, though, the son of a sawmill operator got out into the woods, and his workshop, every chance he could. We didn’t know that until after he and his wife had given us bear hugs goodbye and we were piling back into the car. He asked if we had a moment to see something he wanted to show us.
Gary escorted us to his workshop and pulled out a miniature wagon — also known as a goat cart — that he made from Linden wood near his home more than 20 years ago. He built the wagon as a little but exact replica of a four-horse wagon used in a bygone era. He said you could hook a goat to it and use it for modern day chores, though his has never been put to work. It’s in mint condition like the day he finished it. It took him an entire winter.
“I’ve got a lot of hours in that,” he said in a video interview now on our Orion’s Attic You Tube channel.
All four of us were struck silent by the quality of his craftsmanship and the notion that we were gazing at something made from the very woods he loves. The more he told us about its construction, the more riveted we became.
I didn’t want to insult Gary by asking him if it was for sale and I certainly didn’t want to add salt to the wound by suggesting a price that was too low. I spoke telepathically with Won-ok as we often do in this business and asked him if he thought he might ever sell it some day.
“I hadn’t — until just now,” he said, as if surprised by his own answer.
Won-ok and I braced ourselves for a price that we suspected would be well beyond our means, then nearly gasped when he tossed out a figure that we could manage. We didn’t have room in the car that day but we could speed right back the next day. We had to have that wagon and we had to capture him on video talking about its history so we could share his story … and perhaps provide the next owner with a DVD to keep with the wagon.
We all made another round of goodbyes and headed to Hagerstown for some baseball. Asheville dominated the Washington Nationals’ Single A team for eight innings — making phenom Harper look foolish on curve balls. The Suns stormed back and won it in the bottom of the ninth. Our Japanese friends loved the drama as much as they did the ballpark food and ice cold beer.
Our conversation continued flowing the entire way back to D.C. They shared their philosophies of life, centered around the concepts of love and gratitude, and we shared our remarkably similar views. We delved into questions about the essence of nature and conservation. (I was still working for The Wilderness Society at the time.) We wondered which nation was filled with worse drivers.
Won-ok and I bid them farewell and raced out of the house the next morning to buy Gary’s wagon.
“What made you decide to let it go?,” I asked.
“I am getting to the age now where I don’t know what’s going to happen to me,” he said. “Then I’d never know what happens to this. I’d like to know where it’s going and what happens to it.”
We thanked Gary profusely for the honor of selling us such an extraordinary item and allowing us in turn to find the right home for it. That home has been with us for 19 months. Will it be with yours next?
Queen City Flea Market on 1 Bennett Lane in Cumberland, Maryland may be one of the state’s best kept shopping secrets. Locals know it and love it. Serious antiques and collectibles buyers shop there. Still, the place doesn’t have a Web site and online map services like Google Maps can’t find Bennett Lane. (Head to Franklin Street between the railroad tracks and Columbia Avenue.)
Its relative obscurity actually adds to its allure. Orion’s Attic found it by accident on a random day trip to Cumberland, feeling like we had just stepped through a corn field to find our own indoor, three-story field of dreams. The place was packed with all kinds of stuff and shoppers were buying it with gusto. We promptly chose to join the large roster of vendor selling in the market by obtaining our first space there despite the 130-mile one-way drive from our base in Silver Spring, Maryland.
The decision turned out to be a great one. Many months later, we have now added yet another space to our domain — linking about five spaces together on the third floor … Queen City’s own attic, if you will. Find our clearly marked section by going up the stairs to the third floor and heading toward the life-size cardboard stand-up of John Wayne. We fill our vast array of floor space with truckloads of collectibles and a few small pieces of furniture and discount it all by 50 percent because we are currently overwhelmed by inventory. You can scoop it up year-round on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
We’ve done very well there. Just as important, we’ve had a heck of a lot of fun getting to know owner Lenny, manager Roxanne, vendor Dave (who works at the site to manage his cavernous flea market real estate) and many other vendors and staff members. Won-ok and I learned very early in our entrepreneurial lives that one key to our happiness is making sure we only do business with people we enjoy spending time with. Staff and shoppers alike fit that bill at the Queen City Flea Market.
We love our regular “commute” to the Cumberland mountains. We bring new merchandise to replace what has sold, visit our friends there, and then go goof off around town and around the area. Queen City has been our passport to the northwest Maryland region.
And oh by the way, you should absolutely make a point to visit the market — heading to the Orion’s Attic section on the third floor first, of course.
Here’s just a partial list of what’s on our shelves: Colored glass of all colors and varieties; Barbies, Hess trucks and other fun toys that even grown-ups love; alcohol and tobacco collectibles including glasses, mugs, clocks and other items with various beer company logos along with an unusual collection of ash trays and lighters; Elvis and Beatles records and memorabilia; massive amounts of china; oil lamps; vintage kitchen items; a nifty collection of figurines (animals, Hummels, and others including some made in occupied Japan); a bit of pottery; post cards; art; end tables and chairs; seasonal items (currently featuring a huge Christmas display including Keepsake ornaments, Santa Claus figures, candles, porcelain, etc.); all kinds of home decor and household goods. See more than 200 photos of our section in our Queen City photo album on the Orion’s Attic Facebook page.
We bring boxes and boxes of stuff every time we visit, sometimes selling it as fast as we unpack it. Find out what we’re bringing next by “Liking” our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/orionsattic (where you can also tell us what you would like for us to bring). You can find out about all of our latest news and upcoming events by signing up for our e-newsletter from the top of our Orion’s Attic home page and by following this blog.
Make plans now to head to Cumberland, explore the city and all it has to offer and romp around Queen City Flea Market — especially our section on the third floor. Be sure to say hello to Roxanne and Dave and tell them that Orion’s Attic sent you.
Don’t forget you can also find our antiques and collectibles in stores including Copper Fox Antiques in Sperryville, Virginia; Old Glory in Frederick, Maryland; Hancock Antiques Mall in Hancock, Maryland. Be sure to attend our estate sales and Upscale Yard Sales, too.
I jammed on the brakes the moment we spotted three horses in a pasture alongside a back road somewhere in western Maryland. My girlfriend and business partner Won-ok Kim hopped out of her Prius to snap photos with her iPad. The horses looked up from their mid-afternoon grass munching and stared us in the eyes. They didn’t know who we were or why we were stopping.
We didn’t know where we were. The GPS showed that we were crisscrossing dotted state lines all day long. We had just finished another round of stocking shelves in our third-floor space at the Queen City Flea Market in Cumberland, Maryland, and were spending the rest of the day driving aimlessly in whatever directions the car felt like taking us.
I stepped out of the car to join the photo shoot.
The horses decided to come over and say hello and to make sure we captured their best sides. A white one with a brown and white face forced his way to me and ate grass right out of my hands, tickling my fingers with his sandpapery tongue and lips. A brown horse with a mohawk demanded Won-ok’s attention. A very old white horse with black spots, blood-shot eyes and cracked hooves stood back a bit. He or she wasn’t quite sure what to make of us. I reached out to the old thing, drawing the animal closer and then giving it a good rubdown with my fingernails.
My white-and-brown-faced friend stepped in again. I asked Won-ok to shoot a quick video of me with the horses. She pressed “record” and I did a one-take equestrian snippet explaining that some of the great joys of the antiques and collectibles life are the experiences that have little to do with either. Road trips chosen by the wind are the best. “My” horse nibbled on my head, neck and hands while I spoke to the camera but I didn’t lose my concentration. I gave him a kiss on the nose to close the scene.
We could have stayed there all day hugging the horses and staring at the lush green grass that rolled out in every direction. We were in the middle of nowhere under a brilliant blue sky, only the spirits of the dead looking down on us from a hill-side cemetery across the way.
We bid farewell to our ungulate friends and continued our sojourn. We passed the youngest baby cow I have ever seen in person. The calf looked like she couldn’t have been more than weeks old — a spindly-legged ball of black, still-wet fur. She was the cutest thing ever, at least among the bovine kind. Her mom wasn’t amused by our visit, though. She nudged her offspring back a few dozen yards. That moment reminded me of a day two decades ago when a mother moose chased me away from her kids on a bike trail leading out of Anchorage, Alaska.
We intended to keep going in the direction we were traveling but were forced to do a U-turn by a pair of a mammoth cement barricades and a “road closed” sign: A tiny creek in front of us could not be crossed. Won-ok and I made our way to a fork in a country road that indicated we were in Maryland and gave us the choice between two towns we had never heard of.
“It has been my life-long dream to go to Frostburg,” I joked, veering right.
We fell in love with the place the moment we came across a carriage museum, old train depot and a cafe that was flooded with bicyclists. The museum was closed so we didn’t get a chance to soak in some extra knowledge that would help us with our business but we did go for a hike on the crushed stone path of the Allegheny Highlands Trail of Maryland — part of a network of bike trails that run from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We stopped to smell yellow and purple flowers, pose for photos on boulders, climb trees and explore the woods next to the trail. Some trees cheated — their leaves turning brilliant autumn hues of orange and red while the others remained green with envy. Windmills stood atop the mountains in the distance in one direction, a folk art bike welded vertically to a metal pole in the other.
Joggers removed their seemingly invisible earphones to return our hellos as they passed. A pack of 60-year-olds kept each other in stitches as they took a break from their Saturday ride.
It was way too early to head back home on such a spectacular fall day. We hoofed around the town for quite a while, marveling at the fact that an independent bookshop and a theater still existed there. Both beckoned us to make a return trip so that we could take in what they had to offer. We wandered all over the campus of Frostburg State University, home to about 5,000 mighty Bobcats.
The knee-buckling aroma of broasted chicken coming from the Frostburg Trail Inn & Cafe lured us back there. We didn’t know what “broasted” was but quickly learned it meant yummy for our tummies. The biscuits melted in our mouths while a six-piece order of hot wings added just the right compliment to the house speciality.
A young woman next to us asked her friends working at the cafe for the name of the article of clothing that Scarlett O’Hara wore to give her dresses their distinctive shape.
“Hoop skirt,” I said to the Frostburg State student working on a paper for English class.
She thanked me and raised her eyebrows.
“I’m from Atlanta,” I said, explaining why I would know this.
Won-ok and I grew tired as the sun set and opted to head out. The parking lot was full of a group of teenagers sporting tuxedos and brightly colored dresses drawing all kinds of attention from parents with big cameras. Homecoming, we figured.
We learned that the train depot is still used by Western Maryland Scenic Raildroad, which offers brief excursions down its tracks. We’ll be back for that, too, and we’ll bring our bikes. A guidebook and the friendly staff at the inn and cafe told us everything we needed to know for our return.
GPS activated, we used I-68 east to begin making our way back to I-70. Early that morning, we drove right through a cloud as we took the roller coaster ride up and down that route. At 8:30 p.m., we played hide and seek with a full moon that kept sneaking behind the mountaintops before jumping out over the interstate.
I paid half attention to the radio play-by-play of our beloved Baltimore Orioles – “our kids” as Won-ok calls them — pulling into a first-place tie with the Yankees. My mind kept drifting back to the three horses. I wondered if they missed us, too.
A woman pushing 80 years old extended her arms with her palms facing outward as Won-ok and I passed by on a downtown Hagerstown, Maryland sidewalk yesterday. Wearing a flowered hat and matching dress as if she just came from a church social, she was not gingerly asking us to stop. Her gesture was forceful, like a policewoman commanding us to halt.
The woman hooked her left arm into mine so quickly that I didn’t even realize what she was doing until she said to my girlfriend and business partner, “You have a man! Can we share him?”
The woman began pulling me. Hard. Like a tugboat. I couldn’t believe how much strength that old bird had. I actually had to lean the other way and pull to unlock myself from her as she and Won-ok laughed.
The elderly officer had some serious moxie. I wished her a good afternoon and moved along. In retrospect, I wish I had taken the time to speak with her. I bet she had a hell of a life story to tell. She must have grown up during the Great Depression. Maybe she had older brothers who fought in World War II. It wouldn’t have surprised me a lick if she had been a woman ahead of her time — running a company or traveling the country as a stage actress. Maybe she got married in the 1950s — or never met the man who was quite right for her. Perhaps she just loved playing the field.
I have no idea who the woman was and can’t believe I didn’t stop to chat. We had already completed our business for the day by obtaining a Washington County trader’s license to operate our antiques and collectibles booth at the Beaver Creek Antiques Market. I talk to more strangers than anyone I know. It’s a Southern thing, I guess, and a writer thing. I’ve always been fascinated by people and love interviewing them … even when it’s just a conversation and no story is on the horizon. I don’t know why I didn’t stop. Maybe I was just thrown off by the near octogenarian kidnapping.
I learned a few steps later that feisty women are common in these parts: A historical marker on the side of building told the Civil War story of Margaret Greenawalt. She stood on its second-floor porch one day and taunted Confederate troops as they retreated through the city. Greenawalt pointed Union flags at them and calling them traitors.
“Get back in here, Maggie,” her sister Myra McDade implored. “They’ll shoot you! They’ll shoot you they will!”
I’m sure the man-swipin’ Miss Daisy outside her door yesterday would have been mighty proud.