Thursday, June 14, 2012

Would You...?

Would you work an auction? How about if you knew it was going to be like this?

 Working an auction is fun. Usually, anyway. I like being up above the action or deep in the middle of it, seeing who bids on what, occasionally making my own bids, occasionally winning those bids.

Saturday turned out to be different. First, it overachieved in the temperature department, climbing over the forecast 90 degrees. We had shade, sort of, being located at the Anoka County Fairgrounds in one of their large buildings. However, to get air through, the large overhead doors had to be opened, and they were all located on the east side. This meant that the sun started pouring through the doors well before the 10:00 start, warming the building nicely. There were high windows on the west side and fans suspended from the rafters, though for some reason nobody ever explained those were turned off around noon, while we were there until after 4:00. I know it wasn't a noise issue. The PA system was one of the few things without any hitches that day. I could hear everything from back in my corner.

Yep, back in my corner. No view of whatever was going on. Things started going wrong - besides the heat that is - well before the auction began. We had a different crew. The usual folks are out on the road with the carnivals. Lots of overlap there. Some of the fill-ins are great, like our second auctioneer and his wife. She came for the show, wound up working. My job.

Steve and I showed up at 8:30. Doug requested 9:00, and we didn't want to be late. Plus, there were some end tables we wanted to look at, see if we wanted to go for them if the price was right. They were granite topped, and wound up going for about $200 over my budget, so they didn't go home with us. There were other things of interest. When not everything gets pictured on line, that's often the case. The first thing that caught my eye was a green couch, a three-seater with recliners on both ends. I tried it out for comfort, and found out not only was it too deep but the footrest on the side where I was sitting was reluctant to pop up, and a bit crooked once it had. Likely a cause-and-effect thing going on there.

Having discovered that, my attention was drawn to the other couch, white with green and pink - just the colors to go with one of my Persian rugs. The comfort test was passed with flying colors, being neither too deep to support the back nor sagging down so far it kills the knees to climb back out of it. It's as firm as a hide-a-bed, just without the bed part.

On further examination of the room, I found a single bar stool that would be perfect for in the kitchen in Arizona. We can perch on it over the stove, or over the sink while doing dishes. On the way over that morning Steve and I had been discussing my lack of foresight in disposing of a set of barstools I'd previously owned, believing there would never be a use for them.  Against one wall was an inflated air bed, perfect for the trip when we move down and bring along a family crew of helpers. Oh yeah, and a good air pump. And then there were the boxes of fireworks. LOTS and LOTS of fireworks. With that many I knew the prices would quickly come down, and we could get a box for a song and share it around among grandkids. Each held about a gross and a half of sparklers plus some packs of small, mixed fireworks.

Of course, I didn't get to see what was being bid on when, so I wrote up a list for Steve, prices I was willing to pay, and made sure he knew where each one was. He was working the table with the coins and other tiny items on it, but paid enough attention to what was happening that he managed to be present for bidding on the important stuff, including some of his own choices.

Even before the auction the problems with consignors started. One was supposed to bring in some 4-wheelers, and couldn't be bothered to show up. I got several questions about where they were and when they would be sold. Sorry. Another consignor had several generators on the floor, and when they weren't sold at the point in the auction when he thought they should be, he flew into a snit and pulled them out of the auction. Steve had been hoping to acquire one of them for his son, who will be setting up a fireworks booth in Pine City in the WalMart parking lot for the 4th of July season and needs electricity for lights and a cash register. I don't look for either consignor to be back.

Doug's daughter was to show up an hour ahead with a friend of hers, to run check in/check out, but she managed to get there only 15 minutes ahead of start, or what had been scheduled start. Our usual 10 minutes late turned into a half hour late. There were 104 bidders, and while all were not present at the start, it still took a long time to check them in. Many were new to Brown Auction, so it took even longer to scan drivers licenses, get phone numbers, briefly go over the rules like 10% buyer's premium, sales tax, 4% extra if credit card used to pay, etc. Doug was annoyed with her from the start.

And she didn't bring her friend, who was supposed to sit next to her at "my" computer and do data entry on the auction while I was in the thick of things documenting everything on paper. The building is too big to set up with a high platform on one end to clerk and auctioneer from, so it's a wandering team, located where the center of the action is, with a runner to bring filled-in sheets back to the desk with the computer so everything gets collated and can be printed out as buyers check out. Nobody else could do the data entry, so there I sat, off in the corner, behind a desk where everybody walked by, thinking they could check in/out with me, "needing" to talk to me abut things I had no control over or information on, and generally grumbling over how long the process took and how much in a hurry they were. The paper part got taken care of by the wife of the fill-in auctioneer, recruited on the spot for the job. Fortunately, she wasn't bad. The runner turned out to be much more interested in conversation than keeping an eagle eye on how full the sheets were getting.

The one thing they were right about was it being slow. The info on the sheets is in a different order and format than on the screen, and I needed to keep one finger marking my spot on the page while I used the right  hand to type it all in. As if that weren't slow enough, the computer was flaking out. Doug's margin of profit is anything from low to negative, and one way he keeps his overhead down is to continue reusing an old laptop with a dead internal fan. It didn't start that way, but is that way now. Within about 30 minutes of being turned on, it overheats. The first time it happened, the computer died and the auction got shut down for several minutes while we converted to a paper auction. That was months back. We "solved" that by setting it up off the table on whatever is handy, blocks of wood or whatever, so air could flow underneath, and turning a little table fan on to run air across the top and under it.

While it prevented the laptop from shutting down completely, it didn't keep it from acting up. A single "enter" could skip it three jumps forward, so when you thought you were putting "buyer number" data in, it was throwing it into the "quantity purchased" field instead. Buyer 32 was not amused when it happened to him and I didn't catch it. Trying to catch it was really slowing me down, and that was not the only glitch. In the field where you type in the description of what was being bid on, the first letter of the word often was kicked to the end of the word and the rest filled in behind it. Box became oxb, for example, and I know it wasn't my typo, especially when it happened over and over. Everybody standing in line heard me grumbling to the computer, though I kept the language choices mild.

Once a sheet was filled in, I sat and waited for the next sheet to be brought to me for data entry. With 18 items per sheet, it could be a bit. With my runner deep in conversations, it could be even longer before she walked over with it.

Doug's daughter found every excuse imaginable to leave her post. Some of them were even legit. However, it left me getting interruptions from people needing her services or needing questions answered. Having her there eased up on me so I could go back to grumbling at my laptop, but in exchange I was treated to a barrage of language that would do a sailor proud. I'm sure a few of the customers managed to be treated to it as well.

Steve and I planned on being mobile for the auction, and packed the back of my car with both scooters, in broken-down form. Assembly is easy enough: we'd certainly gotten enough practice on the trip last February. Steve used his, but I was suddenly not so mobile. There was room for a single metal folding chair at my spot behind the table. Had I known, I'd have brought the padded office chair on wheels with an extra cushion which I bring to auctions where I spend it perched up on a stage. Most of the time those metal chairs just wick the body heat right out of you. That day, it was so hot the chair was temperature neutral. I could have used a good wicking. I went through a bottle of Cherry Coke Zero and two of water without needing to run across the grounds to the ladies room for the whole auction, and was glad I saved a fourth bottle of water for afterwards.

Oh wait, I remember now. A good share of bottle three wound up outside me, not in. It felt so-o-o-o good!

On the positive side, I wound up next to the only fan in the place. If I tipped my head way forward, I could catch a breeze across my face.

So. Knowing now what the day was like, would you have worked that auction? Would you do it for that couch? How about if we threw in the airbed? Or the barstool? How about for a box of fireworks? Would you do it if you knew that the boss was going to look over your sheet of purchases and refuse your check, marking it all "paid"? How about if he threw another $40 in your direction, and made arrangements to bring your new couch - the only thing that wouldn't fit in the back of the car with the scooters - over to your house on Friday when he's going to be out this way anyway, no charge? Would you do it then?

I did.

I would again.

I might, however, try to persuade him to leave his daughter home.

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