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By Jerilyn Watson
Broadcast: August 23, 2004
Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English. I'm Steve Ember.
And I'm Faith Lapidus. This week, come along as we look at yard sales and flea markets in the United States.
An event called the World's Longest Yard Sale took place this month in the southeastern part of the country. The yearly sale extends for a distance of seven hundred twenty kilometers. It goes from Gadsden, Alabama, to Covington, Kentucky.
Thousands of sellers are stationed along the side of the road. They sell almost anything imaginable. Some collectors drive the full length in search of things to buy.
The World's Longest Yard Sale began eighteen years ago. Last year organizers extended it from four days to nine days. The Kentucky Post says one village in Covington thought nine days was too long and withdrew this year. But the sale is popular; the governor of Alabama named it one of the top ten events in the state.
Yard sales do not have to be huge. One family, or even one person, can hold a yard sale. People simply collect some things they no longer want and put them in the yard outside their home. They might also place handmade signs on nearby streets to direct people to the sale. And, as simple as that, they have a yard sale -- or a garage sale or a moving sale.
Whatever people call it, the activity is the same. Such sales are based on the idea that an object that is useless, broken or ugly to one person can be a bargain to another.
Over the years, homes can fill up with objects: Books no one wants anymore. Baby clothes for the child who is now a university student.
These objects are no longer useful to their owner. Yet it seems wasteful to throw them away. Often, people must make a decision about things when they move to a different house. "Let's have a yard sale," they say. That way, they do not have to move the things they do not use anymore. And at the same time they make a little money.
They might pay for an announcement in a local newspaper to tell when and where the yard sale will take place. They might list some of the things to be sold. Around Washington, D.C., for example, almost two hundred yard sales are listed on some weekends. The warmer months like now are the most popular times.
Early in the morning, all the things to be sold are carried out of the house. Then they sit for hours in the sunlight -- like tired guests at a party -- waiting for someone to take them home.
Just about anything can be sold at a yard sale. Sometimes, there are more clothes than anything else. Cooking equipment is also popular. So are old toys, tools, books, tables and chairs. Then there are objects known as "white elephants." These are things that, for whatever reason, no one really wants, least of all the present owners.
It may be an electric light shaped like a fish. Perhaps you received it for a wedding gift. But you feel a sharp pain whenever you look at it. To someone else, however, it might be a thing of beauty and joy.
Usually, the seller puts a price on each object at a yard sale. Usually, that price can be negotiated. A table, for example, might be marked twenty dollars. But the seller will probably accept a little less. By the end of the day, if the table has not been sold, the seller will probably accept a lot less. Sometimes, the seller might just say "take it!" There is no better price than that.
Just like sellers, serious buyers also spend time getting ready for yard sales. They look through newspapers and mark the sales they want to visit. Some use maps to plan their trip. They want to get to as many sales as possible. Some people go sailing on water; others go "yard sailing."
Yard sales are a good way for people without much money to find things for their family. But even people with a lot of money like to look around. Why pay one hundred dollars for something in a store when you might find it for twenty at a yard sale? That is, if you can find it.
Professional dealers might also go to yard sales. If they find something valuable at a low price, they can re-sell it for more.
Still other people go to yard sales because they enjoy the hunt. They like to find beautiful or unusual things that are being sold for less than the value. For example, they may find a piece of old furniture that is worth a lot of money after it is repaired.
Sometimes people find an unexpected treasure at a yard sale. Or at least they hope so. They need the opinion of an expert. There is a popular television program called "Antiques Roadshow." People go on the show with an object for experts to examine.
Sometimes the experts say the object is worth a lot of money. When that happens, the owner may shout "wow!" But sometimes the experts say the object is worthless. Then the owner may feel like shouting something else.
Some people go to yard sales to find a special thing that they collect. They might look for things like stamps, dolls, old money, bottles, baseball cards, toys or advertising signs. Yard sales can also provide people with a new computer or sound system ... new to them, at least.
Or there might be some exercise equipment that looks new because no one ever really used it. People never know what they might find. They might even find a snake skin -- the perfect gift for a science teacher.
People who go to yard sales often are not looking for anything special. They are simply looking for something that appeals to them. Or they might enjoy negotiating over prices. Later, if necessary, they can hold their own yard sale to sell all the things they have bought.
There is an organized event similar to a yard sale, only bigger. The French name is "market with fleas"; Americans call it a flea market. Fleas are small, wingless insects that jump onto animals and people. Fleas bite. Some people might worry about fleas at a such a market. But mostly they worry that they will not find anything good to buy.
Some flea markets are community events. Many families bring things to sell. The event may be held at a school or in a park. Most flea markets take place in the open air on weekends during the spring, summer and fall. Some organizations hold a flea market once a year to earn money for special projects.
Professional dealers also hold flea markets. Sellers usually must have a business permit from the local government. And they usually must collect sales tax on everything they sell.
Some people earn all their money by selling goods at flea markets. Others have jobs and earn extra money this way.
Some dealers at a flea market sell lots of different things. Others sell just one kind of thing -- glass objects, for example. Still others might only sell things that are at least one hundred years old.
One of the largest flea markets in the world takes place on the second Sunday of every month. It happens rain or shine at the Rose Bowl, the big sports center in Pasadena, California. More than two thousand sellers gather for the Rose Bowl Flea Market. Only a few kinds of items are restricted. These include food, animals and guns.
To some people, flea markets and yard sales are a sign that Americans think too much about material possessions. But to other people, yard sales are simply a way to have fun. In some communities, ten or twenty families may have a yard sale on the same weekend. These are important social gatherings. Still other people say yard sales help the environment. Old things find new homes, so they are not thrown away. At least not yet.
Our program was written by Shelley Gollust and Jerilyn Watson. I'm Faith Lapidus.
And I'm Steve Ember. We close with a note about our program two weeks ago on baseball in American culture. We told you about the old Mills Commission report that declared Abner Doubleday the inventor of baseball. We should have made clear that the Mills report was disputed. As we said, no one knows for sure who invented the modern game.
Who knows, maybe the answer lies hidden somewhere in a yard sale. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA, in VOA Special English.