Spending one week every summer in Wildwood, New Jersey has become a family tradition. It is where I’ve spent a part of every summer for the past seven years. Traditions are a blessing and a curse. On one hand, we indulge in the nostalgia of rituals, but they also mark the unforgiving passage of time.
I have three sons. They’ve each spent a part of every summer of their lives in Wildwood. The anticipation of the Jersey Shore is a lively subject every year in my household beginning in February. But my oldest is also now less interested in running around the beach and more about roller coaster rides and pointing out pictures of women in bikinis.
It was great to find out the Wildwood Sports Cards, Toys, Comics & Collectibles Show would be taking place while I was visiting. I kept this a secret from my wife until our last night in town, which was also the show's first day.
The previous day had been tough. My boys had been bothering each other all day. When my oldest would hum or sing, my middle one would tell him to stop. He’d sing anyway, and my middle one would say, You’re ugly!
“How much time are you going to need?” my wife asked me with a bit of annoyance.
Maybe just an hour and a half, I said. She seemed relieved and gave me the okay.
I entered the Wildwood Convention Center about one hour after the show opened. It was busy. There were trading cards and a good number of tables selling stacks and stacks of comic books and Pokemon. There was so much Pokemon.
I admit, I buy from dealers who greet me - unless they have something I really want. I passed through a few tables, glancing at their inventory, always trying to show that I liked their stuff.
But if no one so much as looks at me, then I have no interest in buying from them. It’s a psychological thing. At a store in the mall, I want to be left alone. But at a card show, I’m like, ‘C’mon man, where’s the hobby love?’
One dealer was really cool. He asked me what I was looking for, and even though he didn't have it, he pointed me toward some dealers he knew did.
I bought two 1970 Topps football cards from him with a sticker price of $7. Without me even asking, he told me to take both for just $5.
Are you sure? I asked.
Yea, he said. We’re just borrowing them anyway. I’ve held them long enough, and now it’s your turn.
Summer vibes, man.
I got to another table. At first, the guy didn’t say much to me. But I stuck around a bit longer, giving him another minute to say hi because he had some stuff I wanted. Sure enough, he said hello, wanting to know if there were any cards I wanted to see.
Can I take a look at that stack of 1970 Topps football? I asked.
I picked through the stack, taking out a Claude Humphrey rookie card and a Ray Nitschke in good shape. He wanted $50 for the Humphrey.
I’ll take the Nitschke, I said. But I don’t know how much this Claude Humphrey should go for, I told him. Is $50 a good price?
Oh yea, it’s a good price. It’s his rookie card, he said.
I took him at his word. Summer vibes, I thought. So I bought the Humprhey, Nitschke, and a Warren Moon rookie from him for $70. He didn’t offer any discounts, and I didn’t ask him for any.
I should’ve checked for comps, but I was in a bit of a rush. My time was nearly up and I had to get back to my family. I also wanted to stay within my budget.
As I walked back to my car I checked eBay comps for similar Claude Humphrey rookie cards. I found a slightly better-centered card with the same corner condition for $35.
For a few moments, I was angry, feeling betrayed. I trusted that dealer to give me a fair price or to at least cut me a few bucks, and he didn’t.
But then I passed a giant lobster hanging over the entrance of a restaurant. I reminded myself nothing takes advantage of me like a Jersey Shore boardwalk. I spent $40 so my kids could kick a few soccer balls into just slightly larger holes for the chance to win - a soccer ball?
Nobody won anything.
I drove back to our rental, enjoying the novelty of happily stopping for pedestrians because this would never happen in Staten Island.
Luckily, the hard feelings didn’t last. New, happy memories flooded my mind – of floating in the ocean and staring at the sky, building sand castles with my kids, and hearing their laughter on carnival rides. Oh, and the time I bought my 1970 Topps Claude Humphrey.
Another summer was coming to an end. My mood was relaxed.