The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

As I mentioned yesterday, Tampa International Airport this morning had their auction of items abandoned at the airport. My friends all decided to take a pass on it, but I went anyway, driven by curiosity.

I didn't come away with anything; I didn't even place a bid, and was barely tempted. Most of the items were crap or suspected crap. The most interesting items were the computer equipment (notebook computers, Game Boys, CD players) and mobile phones (including my new phone, the LG VX6000. The auctioning took place rather haphazardly, mainly because they were overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up: They typically get 50-100 people, but because this one was announced in the newspapers and on the radio, about 300-400 people wound up participating. I heard a lot of bitching from folks who were frustrated, although I'm not sure anyone really got overlooked during the biddings.

The way most of the stuff went up for bid was interesting. They would bring out a bunch of items in lots, and then conduct a "high bidder's choice". Basically, people would bid for the right to come up and take their pick of the items in the lot, and pay the amount of the winning bid for each one of them. After the winner was done selecting the item or items they wanted, the person who had the second-highest bid would then get the option of picking through the rest of the lot and buying any s/he wanted, at the price of the winning bid. After that, if there were any items left over--and there always was--they would start the bidding again, and the same process would repeat itself.

After the third or fourth re-bidding, the auctioneer would then put the next bid session under a minimum number-of-items purchase; so the winning bidder would have to buy, say, at least three of the items in the lot, each one for the price of the winning bid. The idea at that point was to move the merchandise quicker. Actually, this wasn't a particularly popular way to bid, and the auctioneer did it only a couple of times.

The more popular way to clear a lot off quickly, after a handful of high bidder's choice rounds, was to put the whole lot up for sale for a single bid price. This is the more traditional auction process. You'd think you'd be getting a deal by waiting for this, but considering that the earlier rounds of bidding resulted in the best stuff getting cherry-picked away, it was very likely that by the end, what was left over was pure junk.

As I said, the whole thing was run a bit haphazardly. There wasn't a riot or anything, but one thing I noticed was that, after the runner-up bidder had his choice of stuff, the auctioneer allowed everyone else to come up and pick out items to buy at the bid price. I'm not sure this was exactly what he was supposed to do, but in the interest of getting the stuff out of there, he allowed it.

Not all items went that way. They did had a lot of things in unbreakable lots, just boxes of stuff like lower-grade cellphones and medical equipment and the like. This stuff was disposed of in the familiar high-bid-takes-it method.

The famed mystery luggage lots were put up for bid close to the end, just a couple of items before the jewelry, which was the true big-ticket item. The luggage lots were the most sought-after, it seems: There were about three or four of them, and they all went for bid of between $350-550. Way too rich for my blood. If there were diamonds in any of those bags, I guess the winning bidders are laughing all the way to the bank by now.

The venue was the outside of a warehouse adjacent to the airport. It was held outside under a tent, so the heat and humidity helped make most of the people there cranky. An ice cream truck appeared about halfway through the thing, and I'm sure the driver made like a bandit from all the people getting their cones and popsicles.

The crowd was kind of a mix of rednecks, white trash, retirees and miscellaneous. I think a fair number were curiosity seekers, like me. There was a certain creepiness factor all around. One guy directly behind me was on his phone just before the auction started, talking about the selection of digital cameras and videocams available. As he was describing this stuff, in a surprisingly high-pitched voice (didn't match his physical appearance at all), he alternately was asking about a "floater" who turned up in a swimming pool, and if the person at the other end of the line had touched the body. He later moved to another part of the tent, for which I was grateful.

Chick report: I saw only two girls who looked good, and I didn't get a chance to maneuver close enough to either to talk to them. One of them was a hot little mommy--literally, with a baby stroller in tow--decked out in a tight Abercrombie-bought outfit and wearing some funky glasses that, somehow, made her look that much cuter (the second time in as many days that I've seen that effect). The other girl had a "Bahama Mamma" t-shirt on, accentuating her nice chest; blond, kind of pale skin and a nice smile. Honorable mention goes to a black woman with a great rack, but an unappealing tattoo on half of her chest and a general look that she had a lot of mileage on her.

I snapped about 12 photos of some of the lots of items, and of the crowd scenes, on my camera phone. Unfortunately, I don't have a quick way to transfer the photos to my computer, from where I can upload them for use here (I ordered a data cable for the phone earlier this week, and hopefully it'll arrive soon). As soon as I get those photos online, I'll present them here, along with some details on them that I didn't go over in this post. They appear to have come out decently enough, although I'll have to see how they look off the mobile phone display and on a computer monitor.

That's just about it for now. I don't know that going to this was a total waste of time. I mainly went just to see what it was like. I was a little disappointed that there were no truly weird items there, the sort that would make you think, "Why on earth would anyone leave something like that behind at an airport? And then not go back to get it?" I would have loved to have seen an artificial limb or something. Maybe next year.