Saturday, May 31, 2008

road test report!

picked up the "smart" car yesterday down at the buckhead dealership in atlanta...

the goofy little thing is actually kind of a blast to drive, as possible with a 3-cylinder 70-hp engine...the autoshifting tranny takes some getting used to, but with paddle shifters can be fun; the thing even has a little bit of an old mg type sports car sound, and it really does handle highway speeds well...seventy mph on i-85/i-75 at rush hour was no big deal, and this thing gets more looks and questions from people than anything i've driven in a while, and that includes some pretty cool rides.

so, anyway, the ebay auction starts actual cost including sales tax, etc. was around 15,500 and the most recent ebay sales have been about 3k over that, so looks like i'll make a buck and that's a good thing.

i may go ahead and put in an order for another'll take another year to get it, and by then maybe the motorhome can come back out of mothballs and we'll use the smart as a dinghy...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

free money...

about a year ago i read about a mercedes-built minicar that has been running around the streets of europe for several years and that they were prepping for the US market...

ordinarily, a car not much bigger than a golf cart wouldn't have me looking twice due to the inherent safety issues...but this mercedes designed "smart" car was built like a roll cage with multiple airbags, etc., and tested very well by the crash-safety folks...and it comes loaded with a/c, cd player, skid-control, and a lot of other equipment not usually found on a minicar small enough to park sideways in a standard parking space...and with a 3-cylinder engine that pushes it up to 90 mph while still getting mileage in the forties, it looked like a good prospect to pull behind our motorhome; most cars with automatic trans. have to be pulled on a trailer or dolly, but this one was designed to be pulled with all four wheels on the ground.

the program called for placing a $99 deposit, ordering the car the way you want it, and when they're available, they contact since the deposit was refundable if i changed my mind, i ordered one...and i admit that the prospect of something new and different (think new beetle and mini-cooper) generating a profit due to supply/demand did occur to me.

well, then the price of gas started shooting up instead of just climbing, and we've about decided not to use the motorhome this summer for a long trip as holds about seventy gallons, and with the ford v-10 engine gets seven or eight mpg...every hundred miles would cost about $60 in gas alone...yikes.

so when the dealer in atlanta contacted us last week to let us know our all-black smart car was being delivered, i checked out ebay to see if the prius crowd et al would pay a premium to get the little car now instead of getting on the year-plus waiting list.

turns out it should bring 2500-3000 over our actual cost after including everything, so what the hell, instead of cancelling my order and getting my $99 back (and letting somebody else buy the car), i'm driving up this week to pick it up and flip it on ebay to make a buck...

i've never been one to leave free money on the table, and if i decide i want a smart for myself i can wait till the fever dies down bringing the price down with it as the supply catches the meantime, i wish i'd of reserved a dozen of 'em...i'll take all those yuppies' dollars that i can get!

Monday, May 26, 2008

thank you...

on this memorial day 2008, my humblest most heartfelt thank you to all who serve and have served and have saved and continue to save the world from those who would destroy it and us...may God bless you, us, the USA, and the world...

Monday, May 12, 2008

i got a "free" gun today...

i'm looking at a nice little surprise sitting next to me right now...a smith and wesson sigma sw9f pistol...and it was free!

well, not really...about seven years ago on 8/27/01, the day before my 47th birthday and two weeks before the 9/11 attacks, i took this pistol and a couple of cameras into pawn for $400; the customer, a setup contractor for mobile homes, had a 60 day option to buy his stuff back or extend the option. he had done some business with me in the past, buying tools, a necklace for his wife, and had done a few other pawns to pay his help, etc., and he always got his stuff back when he collected on a contract...routine transactions, a good customer, i had many like him.

but this time, with just a few days before his buyback option would expire, i hadn't heard from him...then i got a call from the local agent of the florida department of law enforcement, the fdle. it seems my gentle customer was pretty involved in a smuggling ring on the side; he was in custody and wouldn't be getting out jon at fdle was an acquaintance, so this was not adversarial at all, but jon had gotten notice through the detailed info that pawnshops file with law enforcement that the customer had pawned the pistol...and they could add a felony charge by showing that the guy was in possession of a functioning pistol, so they needed to take the gun and test fire it. so on 10/26/01 i was given a property receipt stating the gun would be returned to me when it was no longer needed as evidence. included with the gun when i got it back is a plastic zip bag holding two shell casings and marked "test fire, 10/28/01", and jons initials. then there is a receipt dated 10/30/01 turning the everything over to the feds (they sent two atf guys over 100 miles from west palm beach to pick it up) as evidence.

a couple of times i've had the local police or sheriff's office pick up a firearm for test firing and i had them back in a few days, but the state and fed involvement was different; i expected them to take longer, so no big thing. but after six months i called with the case number and they said we're still working on it...then after another six months i got the same answer...and after another year the same, so i'm figuring the gun is lost, stolen, or in some agent's collection. then when i gave up my ffl in 2003 and turned in my records to atf, i came across the receipt again and just tossed it; my gun records showed the dated disposition to fdle.

now i don't know if there's any connection between how this case was handled and 9/11, nor do i know if my ffl records got reviewed and the atf followed up with fdle, all i do know is that last week clint, who bought my pawn shop in '06 and kept the same phone number, got a call from the current local fdle agent who said they had concluded their use of the pistol, and how could they reach me to have me pick it up?

so friday i called and talked to the agent (a new guy; jon retired a few years ago)who was very likable, we talked about the crazy amount of time (he thinks the bad guy was getting out of prison, and that caused a review of the files and evidence), and the fact that if they couldn't reach me, the pistol would go to the sheriff's office evidence unit to be melted into manhole covers as is required by florida law. i told him my old friend tom is head of csi at the s.o. and he would have seen my name and tried to contact me before melting day. i also related that tom had told me the stories of transporting van loads of guns to the smelting plant in south florida where he had to personally watch unclaimed guns, which he said were mostly junkers but had also included fine colts, brownings, etc, as they went up the conveyor and into the furnace. the fdle guy said sarcastically how those inanimate objects had to be put to death so they couldn't hurt anybody...damn, he's one of us, which by the way, many of the cops i dealt with over the years were.

so the guy said he would be out of the office on monday, but he would give the gun and necessary papers to the secretary to give to me when i came in on monday. about two in the afternoon i drove to the local fdle office, showed my id to the lady there, signed the property receipt, and left with my little blue plastic box, still sealed with fdle i didn't really remember much about the gun, actually i had thought it was a ruger p89, so imagine my surprise when i peeled off the tape, opened the box, and found the little smith in perfect condition; it even looked like they had oiled it and wiped it down when it was sealed...which by the way, as marked on the tamperproof tape, was in 2003; probably after the trial. the original owner's manual, 16rd magazine, and chamber safety plug were even there.

so why in the hell did it take almost five additional years for them to contact me about returning the gun? who knows, it's just indicative of how efficient our cj system is, i guess...but i had written this off as a loss long ago, had even forgotten about it, so to me this is a free gun! ...but this is s&w's version of a glock, and i'm not real fond of the plastics i wish this was a nice 686 or some such...but you know what, i've been wanting one of those new ruger .380 keltec copies, so i'm gonna take this sigma to clint and have him sell it; that should bring me enough for the ruger (those things are still scarce to find at the wholesalers).

so hey, a new free gun, (kind of)...all's well that ends well, yes?


Sunday, May 4, 2008

in pawn...

in 1978 i left my job of five years near lake okeechobee, where i was a sugar mill worker since i was 18...the crew of about a hundred men would refurbish and rebuild the giant mill during the summer, and my job was to help replace, refit, and repair huge steam lines, tanks, pumps, and other equipment...then in november the sugar cane crop starts rolling in and the crew doubles and switches to six months of 24/7 operation of everything from the railroad yard carrying thirty tons of cane per railcar at a clip of 25-30 per hour, to conveyors, giant steam-turbine operated grinding mills (that was my job), with the resulting juice going to evaporator tanks, filters, and pressure cooking pans the size of flying saucers. the thick black granular liquid was then cured in stirring vats, and spun in a bank of centrifugals to seperate the molasses from the dry raw sugar crystals that went straight into boxcars to the refinery or into warehouses where the mountains of golden sugar resembled a moonscape...the waste, or bagasse of the cane stalks was conveyed into and burned in triple boilers that generated steam for all operations plus a power plant with the capacity to run a small town.

this was a union job, and from age 18 till 24 i probably made at least the average yearly income of a four-year college grad...good money to provide for my wife and two daughters which i had by age twenty. but the problem was, this was a pretty coarse bunch of guys, and the bad habits and attitudes were infectious...we are very much products of our environment, and this product wasn't one my wife much cared for. and of course wifey and i were still just 24 and and had already been married 7 years; maybe we needed to see what else there was to the world.

so anyway, even though we lived well, had new cars, and were building a nice house, she left my ass and went back to south georgia for a while. i knew it would be traumatic, but i wanted a change, too; i could look around at guys who had worked for u.s. sugar corp for thirty and forty years, and they were pretty much living the same life as i was, just waiting to retire...not a bad life, but not what you want forever for yourself, your wife, or your kids, really. so i loaded up my tools, cancelled the house (even made some money on that; this was the height of the inflationary boom of the 70s and i flipped the contract for a profit) and i moved to beverly...oh, wait that was jed, i loaded up the truck and moved to wpb, west palm beach, that is, just thirty miles and a whole continent away from the rural agricultural region of palm beach county...swimmin' pools, yep, even movie stars, and lots of flashin' lights.

reflecting on a life change as radical as i could handle, i took a duplex apartment that was big enough for the family that i was sure would be back to me in a short time, and answered a couple of help wanted ads in the palm beach was for diebold, the safe and security company that installs bank equipment...hoisting and installing bigass heavy equipment was something i already knew how to do, and they offered a company truck and pretty good wages and benefits; i planned to start the next monday.

but i had noticed another ad, too; for a manager of a pawn shop...and remembered it was on the main road leading into downtown; i drove that way and saw the store, but it didn't look too impressive; i didn't know anything about pawnshops except what most people think they know, which is usually nothing good. plus i already had a good job offer, so i continued through downtown and then over the bridge and across the intracoastal waterway and into palm...beach...proper.

oceanside mansions featuring kennedys, vanderbilts, lots of other old-money names, and even the ultimate new-money name of trump. then a right turn onto the avenue...worth avenue, that runs from the ocean back to the intracoastal, lined with rolls royces, etc.; tiffany, cartier, and all their buds are there, culminating at the end with private yacht clubs with 100ft toys bobbing in the salty breeze...but i digress.

i had planned to drive north along the ocean from palm beach up to the lake worth beach and pier...a great place for bikini watching, and hey, i was single at least for a while...but for some reason, instead i headed back across the intracoastal and past the pawnshop, but this time i pulled in...the pawnshop was nothing like worth avenue, in fact it seemed pretty low-rent to me; but just as i was about to leave, it struck me that the "decor" was by design...shelves might have been cluttered, but over behind the counter was an antique restored slot machine that i knew was valuable; a closer look through the scratched glass of the front showcases revealed not one or two, but at least a dozen rolex watches from $1000 to $5000 (those 5k watches are 20k now)...then a bit further back, four showcases of handguns, all the usual lowend suspects were there, but a whole row of old colts and breakback smiths, the whole line of colt 45's, a dozen or so wood presentation cases holding custom engraved revolvers, and even a set of browning gold-plated renaissance presentation models from the .25 to the mighty hi-power, all with matching the back rack among the obligatory cheap .22's and old sears pumps, was a parker double, an anschutz competition rifle, and the first sliding-stock colt ar i had seen in a store...damn...

so i called the number in the ad, and the lady arranged for the owner, she, and i to meet for lunch at a hotel down the road...what unusual people; she a cool, chic, razorsharp jewish american princess who drove a 'vette and was an interior designer...and dick? not the seedy looking little elf i kind of expected but a tall, slim guy with long hair and beard, meticulously groomed, and with penetrating eyes...and only in his thirties. turns out dick had bought out his father-in-law harry (hence d&h pawn) who along with his own father and brothers had been in the pawn business since the 1920's in new york and palm beach...dick had been exposed to and studied and learned from some of the very best dealers, appraisers and collectors in the world of fine jewelry, firearms, coins, paintings and other valuable art and collectibles...there was little that dick didn't know about ancient roman coins, the history and value of fine guns, even 18th century silversmith proofmarks that can make the difference in a set of silver of thousands of dollars.

but dick didn't like to stay in the store...for one thing, he was best at visiting, talking, and consulting with other dealers, including the hotshots in three-piece suits on worth avenue who listened to and respected dick's opinion, and more, they partnered with him on the purchase of large old-money estates, and traded inventory with him so that he had items from these fabulous estates in the unassuming showcase at d&h, and they had access to his knowledge (and money) for big purchases, and also access to his sometimes amazing pawnshop acquisitions...yeah the store was taking tv's, tools, and bicycles in pawn and helping out the little guy till payday...while dick was putting up thousands against the worldly jewels of asset-rich but cash-strapped palm beach socialites with names like kidding, the dodge, more on that later.

and so it was that i took the job as manager of dick bergeron's pawnshop in west palm beach at age 24, having spent the five years prior working in the sugar mill just a short distance but worlds away...and the course was set for what would become my life's work in an industry that few understand and even fewer would believe...jtc