Apr 20, 2009

No good deed goes unpunished

Things are about to get very busy down on the farm and not just because farmers market season starts this week. With heartfelt thanks to the ElderHomes organization, we're about to have a great deal of renovation done to our house and property to get it up to code. One of the tasks before them is demolishing the old workshop because of its dilapidated condition and proximity to the house. This workshop was chock full of stuff when we bought our farm - vintage car radios, nuts and bolts, milk glass, light fixtures, you name it. Me, I hate waste and I didn't want to see potentially useful objects razed by a bulldozer and scooped into a dumpster. To that end, I posted a "freesale" on Freecycle and Craiglists. For those who may not be familiar, Freecycle is an internet community to give thing away or find things for free and a freesale is like a yard sale but everything is free (stop me if I'm going too fast). We had done this once previously with the old barn down by the street, which has been crammed floor-to-ceiling by the hoarders we bought the property from, and that had been a rousing, and easily managed, success.

The freesale was set to start at noon on Sunday and run until six o'clock. People began arriving at ten and were promptly turned away while my husband, who is having his fourth spinal surgery the day after the demolition and construction work begin, worked hurriedly to get our belongings out of the workshop. A number of items were too large or heavy for us to move, so I labelled them with signs that read "Sorry, this stays. We just didn't get it moved in time," including but not limited to my husband's air compressor, rolling toolbox, and the deconstructed engine of a 1963 Ford Galaxy 500.

At 11:40 or so, my father-in-law popped by for a visit and warned me that a crowd had developed at the bottom of our 200 foot long driveway and was growing in size to the point that one man had appointed himself to direct traffic. A few minutes later, my sister arrived with her children, all of whom have been staying with us while she does vital repairs to the house she just bought. She told me she had to shout "I live here!" at the people to get by. The thought of that crowd growing anxious and seeing two cars go past them and not immediately return began to make me nervous. It put me in mind of the 1979 Who concert in Cincinnati where 11 people were trampled to death when people at the back of the crowd mistook roadies tuning the sound system for the concert starting and surged towards the two unlocked doors.

Ten minutes before the opening time, the crowd began to advance up my driveway, twenty abreast, like an army, a mighty phalanx of freecyclers and craigslisters. Here is a picture of half the crowd.
It doubled as soon as I carried one more armful of tools to the storage box. When the clock hit noon or near enough, I approached the crowd to make a basic announcement and they began to move forward, encroaching on me like "Dawn of the Dead" (the original, not the zombies-can-run-now remake). I barely held them back long enough to tell them where they would be scavenging. No sooner did I yell "Merry Christmas, y'all" but they nearly broke out in a run. Remember a few years back when Henrico sold their surplus iBooks and a stampede ensued? I sure did (though I can't find a clip on YouTube for some reason). "Calm down!" I yelled. "I don't want to be on the internet for this. That's not the kind of fame I'm looking for."

Despite having pointed to the workshop and described the workshop, some joker ran immediately over to the patio of my house and started snatching decorative items from around my door. Thankfully, my sister-in-law Dani, a no-nonsense Latina, had just arrived, too late to schlep and carry but just in time to be a most effective bouncer and guard our home.

It was pandemonium. People were rushing everywhere, grabbing things and hot-footing it back to their cars. If there was a couple, one had to stand guard over the pile of stuff because anything unguarded would be snatched by someone else. A number of people had toddlers and babes-in-arms with them, which I directed over to look at the goats and chickens to keep them out of harm's way. Bear in mind that the workshop has no electricity, not everyone brought flashlights as instructed, there's broken things and about-to-be-broken things on every inch of floor and now there's twenty to thirty people elbowing their way through to find broken lamps and old junk with no conceivable use to anyone.

A woman coming out of the workshop very early on in the proceedings warned me that people were moving my signs, so I rushed inside. Sure enough, there's a man digging through my husband's tools. Do we look rich enough to cast perfectly good socket wrenches before swine? I stuck two more signs on that corner and posted my husband in the workshop for crowd control. Poor Kevin was already well in pain but at least it was dim in there and he likes that - he'd live in a cave if I'd let him.

We would learn later that one woman got knocked down and another woman was standing on her leg, refusing to move until she's gotten what she wanted. There was also reportedly a fist-fight down at the street while people were waiting. It's any wonder my neighbors didn't call the constabulary. At one point we heard someone screaming blue murder down by the old barn, which people were also offered to dig through. I rushed down to find out what was going on, only to have it be that someone took a picture frame off an old woman's pile. "It was obviously my pile!" she insisted, which is patently ludicrous. How could anyone tell a pile of junk made fifty years ago by the previous owners from a pile of junk made today, let along that that pile "belonged" to someone? I had to stand by her pile went she went to get her truck just to make her quiet.

The peak of activity ebbed and I went inside to check the time, expecting the freesale to be half over. It had only been an hour and a half! We were already exhausted. Everything not nailed down, and a number of things that had to be pried up, had been taken. The savages even stole our newspaper!

One bright spot in all of this was a family group who came out hoping to find scrap metal to help support themselves - one of the brothers had recently been laid off and he had a wife and two kids, with another on the way. Not only did they find a lot in the workshop and old barn, but we took them around the property to caches of old appliances and engine parts, which have been the bane of my existence every winter for nine years when the leaves die off and they reappear. These folks made three trips yesterday with their pick-up truck and trailer piled to the limits of reason and they plan to come out again today. They're even taking the walls and ceiling of the workshop itself and the old VW Beetle out in the woods (that we could never figure out how they got it there because its completely surrounded by trees). The sub-contractor hired to bulldoze the workshop Tuesday should be pleased to find a lot of the work done for him already.

If you've got vast cubic yards of stuff to get rid of, a freesale can be a good idea. But next time, I'm hiring armed security.


Karen said...

Wow. Thanks for the heads-up. I was considering doing one of these myself (I live in the west end) but I think I'll continue to freecycle one or two items at a time.

I hope your family has recovered!

Dennis O said...

Thanks for sharing. I believe the smaller freecycle community would have (for the most part) behaved. The craigslist makes it a free for all. There have been reports of near riots in other communities that posted free giveaways on Craigslist. Freecycle people have to join and create an identity traceable to them. Craigslist - anyone can read and arrive at a posted address. Hope all is well with your family and your husband

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I saw your post of the freesale and just assumed there would be some order to your freesale. I didn't have any needs so I didn't make it and glad too. I held a freesale where a previous tenant lived. After his family claimed all of his belongings they left a huge mess. My husband and I cleaned up all the trash, organized the items to be freecycled, posted the freesale info and when I arrived people were parked in the driveway going through the trash. I had to honk the horn and yell out my car window to get them to stop before they made a huge mess. I was then able to let everyone into the property and things went very smoothly from there. So if anyone is going to do a freesale it has to be organized and you do need to have a few people in place to ensure everything goes smoothly, otherwise don't put yourself through what might be agony.

Tracy said...

Gosh, Mary, I'm always sorry to hear that people can't behave themselves. We must have arrived long after that mess, around 12:20, and things seemed pretty calm. Thanks for the opportunity to let us come find stuff; we found some wire and metal things to use for fencing at our CSA organic garden: growingcommunity.net. Best, Tracy

centella said...

The wild hogs down at the barn took a few things home with them that they didn't want: ticks. I was down there and picked up a basket for my deep fryer and as I walked away, this witch was screaming, I guess at me, about some picture frame. I was waitng for her to confront me. I was gonna light a fire under her loud mouth nasty behind.

Anonymous said...

One woman took just the glass top off a perfectly usable octagon table, thus turning it into a useless piece of junk.
I would hate to think that all those people were freecyclers. Freecyclers just don't act that way.

Charity said...

So sorry things went poorly. People are unimaginable sometimes. My husband and I came by and left immediately. My husband was laid off a week and half ago and thought it would be good to get out of the house. I fell your pain, people were a little butty when we got there.

It is a still a generous thing for you to do, it nice that you helped out the people you did.

If you do it again, I would enlist volunteers.

Thanks for trying.

Anonymous said...

I would like to clarify a few things. I had never been to a "Freesale" so I decided to come see what it was all about. Flashlight in tow, I arrived early (11:30 and was 3rd in line) people began arriving and lining up behind. One loud mouthed man decided to be the 'spokesperson' of this small group at the mouth of the driveway. He was obnoxious, loud and rude, giving the air of "I've done these things before so bow down to me cuz I am an expert". I sat in my car and read my book. If it hadn't been for his periodic loud musings "oh look, here comes a flatbed trailer"... "oh look, here's your big truck"...etc.. I'd have not been 'in the know' (although I still did not know what was going on, as I like to stay behind the scenes) Now, since I was 3rd in line, by rights I should've been 3rd car in line up the driveway. (thankfully leaving my car in the spot, I decided to walk up the hill, a challenge for a handicapped person but we won't go there)but no... a million other people behind decided they were going to traipse up there way before opening time..which is Rude. There is a reason the time was posted to 12:00. So not to be left out, I decided at about five minutes till, to walk up there myself. One poor lady in a van needed to go to work, and that rude crowd actually BLOCKED her descent down the driveway!! Whether blocked by vehicles or blocked by humans... I'm sure she was late to work. tsk tsk.
I felt bad for Mary, these human scavengers appeared to be ready for battle, and not even she would be able to stop them...I get tired just thinking about that mess on Sunday. Kudos to Mary and her family for doing this but wow... I honestly do not know if I could be man (or woman) enough to do one of these things.

A few suggestions for someone thinking about doing one of these.. tell people NOT to bring their babies and children, leave their weapons at home.. and have someone posted at the entrance (rope the area off if you have to) and hand out cards with numbers.

I was 3rd in line, but I came away with nothing. Unless you want to count my headache. :)

Anonymous said...

even when I freecycle items, I never meet people at my house. I meet them in a parking lot at a store. it is just too risky. I'm sorry your experience was like that.

JJ said...


Thank you for the head's up. i had been considering doing something like this in my front yard... (less likely to have things disappear...) but if I go through the trouble of setting up tables I may as well have a yard sale. I will definitely take your experience in mind when i plan whatever it is I end up doing.

deliarose said...

I did not attend, though I did read the postings. I am sorry that this happened to you. Sadly not everyone is as generous, kind or considerate of others. I hope you receive many blessings because of your giving nature.

Carrie said...

Wow, some people are idiots, but I can't complain b/c people like that loadmouth pay my mortgage.