Laurelhurst Neighborhood Garage Sale 2014

vintage travel case with bottles

June in Portland is Neighborhood Garage Sale month. (I'd prefer July instead because June risks rain and can be chilly, but since Portlanders think 70 degrees is hot, July has been ruled out.) So Saturday, while getting up at almost my usual too-early work time to be ready for the Maywood Park Garage Sale up near the airport, a little googling during breakfast revealed that the Laurelhurst 29th Annual Neighborhood Garage Sale would be held the same weekend as the City of Maywood Park 27th Annual Garage Sale, only bigger, like 131 participating houses versus 40-50. (Tiny Maywood Park has a population of just 850, while Laurelhurst's numbers are nearing 5,000.) So I went with bigger and changed plans, but bigger is not always better.

Optimistic on finding treasure, I took my old-lady shopping cart, which created minor hassles on curbs, stairs, and the bus but saved on shoulder strain. (I'd wished I'd had such a cart last year in Eastmoreland during the infamous pelt-and-pouf haul.) The cart also meant I could easily take my big camera, though I didn't take many pictures at this sale, which says quite a lot.

pink Laurelhurst house with lawn ornaments

The houses in Laurelhurst, a white middle-class family neighborhood between I-84 and SE Stark and SE 32nd and SE 44th, are typical Portland bungalows like those seen in Portlandia, some bigger than others. You can find Laurelhurst by driving up SE Glisan till you come to a pink-and-purple house with striped awnings whose yard is packed with lawn ornaments of saints and angels and gnomes and such, a house not representative of Laurelhurst in any way but remarkable, quirky, the only quirk I saw in Laurelhurst, actually. (A seller across the street said guests never have trouble finding his house.) Or you can go up or down SE 39th until you come to the roundabout with its gold Joan of Arc statue, roundabouts having recently been proved by Mythbusters as superior to four-way stops at processing traffic. Either way, you're in Laurelhurst.

Joan of Arc statue, Laurelhurst roundabout, Portland, Oregon

My thrifting friend Jeff and I met up near the roundabout. I'd already snagged a map from one of the map-station houses. But Laurelhurst's free "map" was only a list of houses in no geographical order and with no actual map and so pretty much useless. It wasn't even double-sided. So I gave it away after a few hours to a couple suckers whom I'd overheard asking for a map at one of the map houses, only to be told they'd run out. The only people I saw with a map had printed theirs off at home themselves. I was using my phone because the Laurelhurst Yard Sale organizers did at least link to a nice BatchGeo feature that tracked my progress via satellite around the sale with a blue dot, which would have been perfect if I could have made notes within the program or closed bubbles or otherwise mark where I'd already been. Maybe that's asking too much, but that's what paper maps can do, people.
I also really needed to use the restroom from hour one. I'd heard of the existence of publicly available Porta Potties apocryphally from one of the sellers—"Go ask my neighbor. She's been doing it for 30 years. She'll know."—but only saw a few single honey buckets perched on sidewalks outside houses being remodeled. One of those lone toilets was roped off by a painter or builder while I was waiting for Jeff to return from down the block to watch my cart so I could use the smelly thing, though three other people had used the facilities before me. Rude! It's not like people were graffiti-ing the blue plastic box or smearing feces on the walls or anything. Sheesh. How about sharing, guys?

50-cent brownies, Laurelhurst Garage Sale

I'll admit I was cranky during the first couple hours of the sale, being a tad cold, peeing just a tiny bit every time I sneezed from seasonal allergies, and not seeing anything I was willing to pay for. A cute hetero couple were chowing on brownies from a food stand at one house, so I asked if they were good brownies; they said yes, so I bought a chocolate fix even before lunchtime. The handsome young kid manning the stand with effective budding entrepreneurial skills said, "They're 50 cents each or you could get a brownie and a lemonade for a dollar . . . or you could get two brownies." Me: "I'll take two brownies, thanks." They were indeed good brownies, and I ate both like a pig since Jeff isn't a big fan of sweets. On the other hand, we did walk for at least six hours, so there's that. And we also didn't get rained on, which was nice, though I did keep having to switch off between my thin jacket hood and my sun hat as the fickle clouds passed over.

hot dog stand, Laurelhurst Garage Sale 2014

Later, after yet more walking, I was tempted by a "Breakfast Burrito" sign and the savory smells at a stand selling hot dogs, especially because some teenager was playing guitar nearby, which at that moment felt very impromptu-picnic and summer-in-the-park. But I resisted and kept moving.

sample Laurelhurst yard sale

There almost seemed as many cookie and lemonade stands as garages. And strangely enough, a lot of sellers didn't have much on offer in their driveways. Why sacrifice an entire Saturday to make just a few bucks? For people watching? That doesn't make sense. If people can afford these houses, better use of their time would be dropping off their junk at Goodwill and a consignment store. But nobody asked me.

I did spot a little mid-century end table at the map house I'd first been to, sellers who were moving their family to Thailand to teach English. Jeff ended up buying the table for just $3, figuring he can resell it at Hawthorne Vintage for $30. The woman said she'd found quite a few things for her house over at Lounge Lizard, while the owner of Lounge Lizard had ended up buying some of his stuff back from her at rock-bottom prices during this garage sale since she needed to sell almost everything in the house within a month to limit storage fees. While Jeff was off getting his Jeep and trailer, she and I chatted a little about teaching English overseas. She and her artist husband also ended up throwing in a free cobwebby old trunk full of scrap wood. Jeff will probably pass along most of the scrap wood but can clean up and sell the trunk as a coffee table, maybe putting casters on it like that other one. I wished them luck in Thailand.

Another house had a commercial set of attached padded black Eames armchairs and a couple pretty red (vintage?) Vespas for sale by a youngish hipster couple, but those were all way out of budget, and the sign on the chairs wasn't exactly welcoming: "You sit—you buy!" (for $750). So we moved right along.

vintage commercial Eames armchairs, Laurelhurst Garage Sale

red Vespas, Laurelhurst Garage Sale

But the worst temptation at such sales is buying something you don't really love just because you've spent all day walking around wishing that the thing you did love, the alligator-green vintage "made in Japan" beaded evening clutch, hadn't been ridiculously overpriced at $15. The seller, when asked, said she was selling it for a friend and had already reduced it down from $32. (!) Since she wouldn't budge on the price, I passed but kept thinking about that clutch the rest of the day, ultimately not able to justify spending that much on something I'd rarely, if ever, use. (Plus, I already own a beautiful vintage beaded black one.)

vintage alligator-green Japanese beaded evening clutch
Instead, I ended up buying a painting, just the stretched canvas, towards the end of the sale, a smeary painting of Walnut Creek, California, where I used to work, regretting it as soon as I'd gotten home. I maybe should have bought a different vintage painting seen earlier in the day, one of the back of a girl carrying a yellow umbrella, though I hadn't liked the carved "Hecho en Mexico" frame. But the chance is gone, for both the umbrella painting and the vintage clutch. Such is life. Jeff's going to try selling the canvas for me at one of his shops. It was an error in judgment but only a five-dollar error. (I should probably take a moment here to review my own garage-sale rules, especially the one about only buying what I love.) Jeff ended up scoring better at Laurelhurst than I did, though (ahem) I guess it wasn't a competition.

Like Portland itself, the best thing about the Laurelhurst sale (other than the brownies), was the people—sellers and customers alike. The brownie boy seemed like a good kid. The nice woman moving to Thailand had a lovely family. And I even coincidentally ran into a work acquaintance, a sweet round older lady with white hair who teaches first grade and has the whole summer off (for which I'm jealous). Plus, an old gray-haired fellow commiserated with Jeff about city government, specifically about the Arts Tax and the name of SE 39th having been changed to Cesar Chavez with significant signage-change cost to taxpayers—which I tend to agree with for reasons of logic in a city with a numbered grid system, even though I believe Chavez an admirable man who, having fought for workers' rights, deserves streets named after him. (But why pick one of the numbered streets?!) Being an introvert, I am not the friendliest person, but still I managed to have several pleasant interactions with strangers over the course of many hours, which makes the day a social win in my book.

pink rose, Laurelhurst neighborhood

However, if you attend just one or two yearly neighborhood yard sales in Portland, feel free to skip Laurelhurst's with no guilt. I don't regret going but doubt I'll attend the Laurelhurst sale again. Eastmoreland, for example, has public toilets, more diverse geography, bigger houses, and more loot. Maybe I'll see you at the Eastmoreland Yard Sale next Saturday or the Irvington Yard Sale the last Saturday in June? I'm planning for both.

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