I got out of my car around one in the afternoon and no one spoke as I crossed the Bronx River Parkway towards the arena. The air was unusually warm. Inside, people hugged each other and shook hands...big grins and a whoop here and there: "By God! You old bastard! Good to see you, boy! Damn good...and I mean it!"
In the air conditioned snack bar I met a man from Long Island who said his name was something or other--"but just call me Vito"--and he was here to get it on. "I'm ready for anything, by God! Anything at all. Yeah, what are you drinkin?" I ordered a Pepsi.
"Look." He tapped me on the arm to make sure I was listening. "I know this White Plains crowd, I come here every show, and let me tell you one thing I've learned -- this is no card show to be giving people the impression you're a non-collector. Not in public, anyway. Shit, they'll roll you in a minute, knock you in the head and take every goddam card you have."
"Say," he said, "you look like you might be in the card business...am I right?"
"No," I said. "I'm a writer."
"Oh yeah?" He eyed my ragged book of wantlists with new interest. "Is that what you got there -- notepads? Who you write for?"
"Stale Gum," I said.
He laughed. "Well, goddam! I read that page all the time!" He was laughing wildly. "Hell yes!"
I shook my head and said nothing; just stared at him for a moment, trying to look grim. "There's going to be trouble," I said. "I'm here to cover the story."
I hesitated, twirling the ice in my Pepsi. "On the floor. 2008 Bowman Baseball." I stared at him again. "Don't you read my site?"
The grin on his face had collapsed. "What the hell are you talkin' about?"
"Well...maybe I shouldn't be telling you..." I shrugged. "But hell, everybody else seems to know. Everybody's been ready for weeks. They brought 25 cases. They've warned us -- all the press and bloggers -- to wear helmets and special vests like flak jackets. We were told to expect rioting..."
"No!" he shouted; his hands flew up and hovered momentarily between us, as if to ward off the words he was hearing. Then he whacked his fist on the bar. "Topps! Those sons of bitches! God Almighty! The White Plains Show!" He kept shaking his head. "No! Jesus! That's almost too bad to believe!" Now he seemed to be sagging on the stool, and when he looked up his eyes were misty. "Why? Why here? Don't they respect anything?"
I shrugged again. "It's not just Topps. Beckett says box loads of Celebrity Cuts are coming from Donruss -- to mix with the other wax and attack collector's wallets all at once, from every direction. They'll look like all the other high-end packs. But when the trouble starts...well, that's why I brought this." I then showed him my can of "Chemical Billy."
He sat for a moment, looking hurt and confused and not quite able to digest all this terrible news. Then he cried out: "Oh...Jesus! What in the name of God is happening in this Hobby? Where can you get away from it?"
"Not here," I said, picking up my wantlists. "Thanks for the drink...and good luck."
He grabbed my arm, urging me to have another, but I said I was overdue on the floor and hustled off to get my act together for the awful spectacle.
I went to one table to pick up a box of '08 Upper Deck series two, but the moon-faced young swinger in charge said they didn't have any. "You can't buy one anywhere," he assured me. "It ain't out for another couple a weeks. Besides, our pre-sells have been booked for six weeks."
I leaned closer to him, half-whispering: "Look, I'm from stalegum.com. How would you like to write for a Hobby blog?"
He backed off quickly. "What? Come on, now. What kind of a blog?"
"Never mind," I said. "You just blew it." I swept my wantlist book off the table and went to find some cheap inserts. A man in a gimmicky T-Shirt is a valuable prop in this kind of work; I have lots and the most prominent of all is a very official, navy blue thing that says "Rated Rookie." I bought it from a website somewhere, and they told me how to use it. "Never mention your website until you're sure they've seen you in this shirt first," they said. "Then, when you see them notice it, that's the time to strike. They'll go belly up ever time. This thing is magic, I tell you. Pure magic."
Well...maybe so. I'd used it on the poor geek in the snack bar, and now I felt a little guilty about jangling the poor bugger's brains. But what the hell? Anybody who wanders around the world saying, "Hell yes, I'm from Long Island," deserves whatever happens to him. And he had, after all, come here once again to make a nineteenth-century ass of himself in the midst of some jaded, atavistic waxbox freakout. Early in our chat, Vito had told me that he hadn't missed a White Plains show since 1996. "The little lady won't come anymore," he said. "She grits her teeth and turns me loose for this one. And when I say 'loose' I do mean loose! I toss ten-dollar bills around like they were goin' out of style! Wax, singles, rookies...shit, there's dealers in this building that'll do anything for money."
Why not? Money is a good thing to have in these twisted times. The Hobby, meanwhile, continues its grim slide.
My attorney was unable to accompany me to White Plains. But I remember what he told me before I left.
"As your attorney, I advise you not to buy 2008 Bowman wax. With all the gimmicks and autographed "rookies," it's a junkwax product now. You'll be able to get a box for half-price after the baseball season ends."
My attorney is a very wise man. He's not just some dingbat I found on the Strip. I think he's probably Samoan.
I came for a cardboard riot, and left a bit disappointed. Although 2008 Bowman was live, and in ample supply (Hobbby: $60-$63; HTA: $89-$95), it wasn't selling. In fact, in my three hours at White Plains, I did not witness a single box sold nor did I see a single collector carrying around a purchased box. Maybe card collectors are starting to get hep to Bowman? Either that, or they all have my attorney on retainer.
It wasn't just the Bowman wax. The entire Westchester County Center was a morgue. The last show... The Hobbyists were packed into that place like a Tokyo subway car. Shit, there were so many dealer tables, they had 'em stacked up on the stage! This show... Nothing. No junkwax. No loose packs to review on APAD. No, nothing.
Then again, it probably wasn't a smart idea to schedule the show during the first weekend of Interleague Play. In these parts, The Subway Series is a far, far better thing than the Super Bowl, the Kentucky Derby, and the Lower Oakland Roller Derby Finals all rolled into one. The White Plains show attracts a very special breed, and they were either out at Yankee Stadium, or home watching the game on TV.
I began wandering the aisle looking for something to bust. Leftover boxes of Topps Moments and Milestones for only $69. (Now with a complementary layer of dust!) A box of 2001 Bowman Chrome for $600. Some poor sap is probably dumb enough to buy that box, and he'll probably pull that Albert Pujols redemption card. Sucker. Monster box after monster box of commons and cheap inserts. I looked at those monster boxes and began to think. How would Jefferson Burdick handle the situation?
Panic. It crept up my spine like the first rising vibes of a wax frenzy. All these horrible realities began to dawn on me: Here I was all alone in White Plains, completely twisted and in need of a wax fix, with no attorney, not much cash, and no wax riot story for the blog. How would Jefferson Burdick handle the situation? Shit! I'm not even sure ol' Jeff could handle this.
I wound up purchasing a stack of 2004 Topps Heritage SPs interspersed with 2007 Fleer and Topps Heritage commons for $80. I also spent $40 on a stack of over 50 inserts from a dollar box -- ranging from 1994-2007. I was able to pull a 2001 Roy Oswalt Rookie Diamond King, so I can add that to the 2K1 D'Russ blog.
All in all, a pretty disappointing show.
Total Spent on Cards: $120
Admission and Parking: $11
GRAND TOTAL: $146.70