© St. Petersburg Times, published September 27, 2002
SATURDAY. Tampa Convention Center. We wait in a line of thousands, snaked around steel barricades. The announcer pleads for the safety of children. Then he begins the countdown.
Five . . . Four . . . Three . . .
In the seconds that follow, a rumble arises. My accomplice, one Stefanie Boyar, sees a man brandishing a fly swatter and wonders if she should have brought a stun gun. It's too late. The gates have opened.
"Oh, my God," she marvels, listening. "You can hear their feet."
THEIR FEET are our feet, the feet of hungry shoppers. We follow the mob, picking up speed.
Elsewhere this day, others race for a cure. Here, at the Junior League's annual Trinkets and Treasures Thrift Sale, we race for bargains.
When the dust clears, I have my arm around two bolts of decorator fabric for $5 and Stefanie clutches a small, brown, squarish handbag, $1.
"Either I've found a bargain," she says, "or I've just robbed someone."
THE THRIFT SALE is Tampa's annual running of the bulls.
Picture the Gasparilla Distance Classic pureed with a thousand garage sales.
Treasures are cheap if you ache for a bath mat with no rubber backing, a coffee cup with someone else's monogram or maybe a dusty old cassette.
"Chicago 17!" Stefanie shrieks.
YOU THINK YOU know someone, then you see her pay $1 for a deflated Scooby Doo basketball.
Stefanie's best score: a Coach attache, $6, nicely broken in.
Mine: a floral wreath for the front door, $15, but brand new.
She finds a weekend bag for $3; a newish Circulon saucepan for a buck; and a virtual library of singles angst books, including Bridget Jones's Diary, eight bits apiece and going fast in a room full of blond highlights.
PEOPLE convert baby strollers into shopping carts, suggesting legions of innocents abandoned on sidewalks, a ground swell of rejected parenthood.
The theory finds support when Stefanie returns from the book aisle and reports the sighting of "about 600" discarded copies of What to Expect When You're Expecting.
Meanwhile, the kids' aisle finds few takers for toy vacuum cleaners and Little Tykes lawn mowers. If children are the future, the future is slovenly.
"Mom, this is worth the money," a boy calls out from the electronics aisle.
"No, it isn't," comes the response.
STEFANIE wants to visit the boutique, a segregated area of gifts, jewelry and high-end clothes. No Scooby Doo basketballs allowed inside.
"Okay," she says solemnly. "I'm going in."
I volunteer to guard her stash, finding a seat on a piece of exercise equipment with foot rests frighteningly reminiscent of the doctor's office.
As I sit, I ponder ways to make the Coach bag my own.
MAN TO WOMAN, near the stair climber machine: "You need the exercise."
Woman to man, a tad edgy: "You're the one who needs the exercise."
JUNIOR LEAGUE volunteers in aprons poke their manicures at calculators.
We find our way down the convention center escalator, descending into the Photo-
shopWorld 2002 conference on the main floor. Computer geeks eye the frumpy parade of brown coffee pots and faded comforters.
Back home in Palma Ceia, the city's N.E.A.T. trucks have come and gone.
In an act of global balance, our driveways have been cleared of last year's treasure.
Just in time for next year's trash.
- Tampa's Kennedy Boulevard was once called Grand Central. Now Grand Central is a weekly City Times column. Writer Patty Ryan can be reached at 226-3382 or firstname.lastname@example.org.