World’s Widest Yard Sale

Evidently girth matters. Or so we were led to believe by the promoters of the “World’s Widest Yard Sale,” held this past weekend along U.S. Highway 80 all the way from Phenix City to Cuba. It’s not the world’s longest yard sale – the annual sale along the 127 corridor has claimed that sobriquet. That event goes from Michigan to Anniston, boasting almost 700 miles of stuff. This local and much newer event was organized by the Alabama Rural Development Office and the Black Belt Commission’s Marketing and Tourism Committee. From what we could tell looking at the advance list the website provided, vendors included established shops (the “Hillbillie Mall”) as well as entrepreneurs. It assured us that although the site provided no maps, once we got to a sale on the route any vendor would be able to guide us and provide navigational support.

Mid-morning on Saturday we hopped into the car, listening to the new Daft Punk album like everyone in the world is right now, and headed east. Our plan was to take 85 over to Notasulga, then head down to Tuskeegee and go back to Montgomery through Shorter and Pike Road. Even on the way out of town, we saw three yard sales. None of these had “world’s widest” branding, so it was hard to tell if they were the usual Saturday fare or were planned to coincide with the big event. We took the exit for Notasulga and headed north. On our right, we saw the first “World’s Widest” sign in red and white. It flagged a sale in front of a small home adjoining an abandoned gas station. The proprietor seemed a bit bemused by the larger event, though happy that he’d seen some business so far. He seemed to think it was a good thing and told us he wanted to do more yard selling, but his job was getting in the way right now. It was interesting to reconcile this with the week’s economic news.

Most of his goods were still in the box. We were most struck by the popcorn bowl with Authentic Clip-On Replica Basketball Hoop. That attached to one side of the bowl, while on the other was a popcorn-sized catapult. While this seemed like it might add whimsy to our popcorn-eating experience, we were more compelled by the mystery of its journey to the sale. Why was it still in the box? It’s not as if it was a collectible figurine. How had this man and the silent, sweating woman behind him come to possess several of these boxed items?

Up the road a little bit, we found two enterprising women sipping giant insulated cups. From their lawn chairs, they presided over a dozen or so folding tables displaying piles of objects curated to more or less successful effect. The clothes were singularly unappealing, largely mushed together and humid to the touch. A number of plus-sized dresses and a prom dress in a Dillard’s bag hung from a rack kept level by a large rock. A round table held some gadgets and metallic objects, the usual collection of giant fake pearls and plastic hoop earrings, and an old lighter that fascinated one of our fellow shoppers. He flicked it repeatedly, muttering to anyone who would listen that he could probably fix it with some flints and lighter fluid he had back home. We bought our first item here, a plate claiming to be made of bamboo and featuring a giant marauding robot movie poster ($.75) The ladies gave us some change and advised us to drive on up the road to “Not As Ugly.”

When we got there, it was clear that the enterprising citizens of Notasulga as well as their extended families had decided to go all in for this event. Stores that looked as if they were probably closed up the rest of the year had been opened and stocked with couches, brass framed mirrors, metal objects of obscure purpose, the usual frilly Auburn-or-Alabama handicrafts, piles of shoes with worn-down heels, paperbacks, and just about everything else you knew you didn’t need. There were also sidewalk vendors (“Need a serving tray? How about a clock?”) and folks putting tailgating tents to good use on downtown’s perimeter. Here we met some nice folks who had driven down from Illinois to visit family and sell some things. We bought some comics from them, including paying a dollar for one that the Internet claims is worth $80. At another stand, we got a little confused about mutual bargaining tactics and ended up getting talked into buying a “flaming pumpkin.” That’s right. It hangs up and, battery powered, glows into whispery paper flaming from its top ($5.00). Looks like real fire! boasts the box. Because the flaming pumpkin is totally a thing which demands verisimilitude. It will grace our sunroom. If it is anything like our other Halloween decorations, it will live there year-round.

After Notasulga, we headed off the grid for a little while. Not seeing any yard sales, we decided to return from whence we’d come and head down to Tuskegee. Although we had a nice drive through the campus, we didn’t see a yard sale at all until we got back on 80 down there. By this time, we’d developed some unspoken but totally agreed-upon criteria for when to stop or not. Neither of us were looking for clothes, so that ruled out a lot of the content at many sales. We weren’t going into compounds where the chainlink was decorated with frilly dresses and coats on hangers. Some sales seemed just a little weird, or like they might have been a sale on the previous day but had evolved into an excuse for neighbors to have lunch outside under a tent with a few old board games lying around. We did stop at a fire station hosting a sale. There we bought two old blue Bell jars ($10.00 each) and a ridiculously good piece of chocolate cake ($1.00) which we ate from the wrapper, being careful not to touch it with yard saling hands. We did not buy the surprisingly tiny coffee cup advertising that someone with one of our names was a “coffee hound,” accentuating the point with a picture of a dog.

Along 80 around Shorter, we found a church that has evidently been converted into a thrift store. Presumably for the occasion, the grounds were occupied by other sellers boasting rainbows of flower vases, partially chewed plastic toys, boxes of metal parts, and (as everywhere we went) a startling array of the collected works of Danielle Steele.

We didn’t see anything in Pike Road, but by then we’d wandered off the 80 route a little bit. When we tried to get back on, we found ourselves back on 85 heading home. We saw a sign for something called “Amy’s Antiques” on 231 and figured we’d stop there to see if they were participating in the festivities. There wasn’t any indication of the “World’s Widest” at Amy’s, but we did find a nice shop with reasonable prices that lacks some of Eastbrook’s often-overwhelming clutter. We bought a cool six-pot plant stand ($9.99), a set of four tiki mugs ($4.00) an old Alabama history textbook ($7.00) and two first-edition Stephen King books ($4.00 each). So much bounty!

We decided to call it a day. It was hot, and given that most of the sales we’d been to seemed both picked over and just about done, we figured it wouldn’t be worth it to go on to Selma. Like any yard sale adventure, you’re probably best getting out on the first day and early on. We did have a good time, and the sellers seemed like they were enjoying themselves too. It’s a nice idea to encourage folks to check out some parts of Alabama they might not otherwise drive to, and we hope it continues. Next year they really should think about some maps or a little bit more systematization, but we did appreciate the chaos of it all. It felt a little bit homemade, honestly, but so was our best purchase of the day – the dollar slice of firehouse chocolate cake.

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