I grew up in a small town in Colorado that is not small any more. When it was small, and so was I, Mom would sometimes let my brother and me ride our bikes downtown. We lived in a fairly typical subdivision about a mile from Main Street with its black, five-globed lampposts, and the shopping center where the grocery store and a variety of other local businesses shared a parking lot.
Once I was sent on an errand, all by myself, to the little vacuum shop to buy some vacuum bags. Mom gave me a signed check with the name of the store already written on the “Pay to the order of” line, and then she taught me how to fill out the little box and write out the price. The man at the vacuum shop was happy to help, too.
What I really liked to do, though, was to ride down to the trading card shop. They also had comic books, but I liked sports cards: baseball and football. I am pretty sure I never bought anything, I just liked to look. I bought my cards in packs at the grocery store. They were cheaper, and I figured I got more for my money by buying a pack of twenty cards instead of one special card for five bucks or something. I always hoped I would get that special card in my one dollar pack.
So, one time I bought a pack of football cards at the grocery store. I think they were Upper Deck. I carefully broke the seal on the package, removed the stack, and began looking for a special card. Or any Denver Broncos cards. I didn’t know much about football players, but I knew I liked the Broncos.
The pack was pretty disappointing as I began sorting from the top down. No Broncos, and no special cards–until I was nearly at the bottom. And there it was: a special Warren Moon card with a black background. It had a head shot of Mr. Moon on the left and a full body, mid-throw action shot on the right. It probably even said “Special Edition” or something special like that, but it didn’t have to. I knew it was a special card.
My heart skipped several beats. I was not all that lucky in the trading card business. But this card would change that. I became a Warren Moon collector that day. I only had maybe two other Warren Moon cards, but it didn’t matter. I was a collector because I had one of his special cards.
I told the guy at the trading card shop that I collected Warren Moon cards. I figured he would be impressed. He didn’t look very impressed. I had ridden down to the card shop with my Warren Moon in hand, (I didn’t want it to get bent in my pocket) in a protective sleeve. I didn’t have a fancy hard acrylic case, so I had to settle for the flimsy cellophane kind.
My mission that day was to confirm my suspicions: that this Warren Moon card was special, and worth at least a hundred bucks. So, I rode as fast as my little legs could petal to the shop. I ducked in the door, pretended to browse the large selection of cards, and then nonchalantly slid my card onto the counter (which I could barely see over), trying to act as if it was no big deal, as if I had all sorts of special cards at home, and this was just business as usual for a skilled card collector. And, like any skilled card collector would, I asked if he could look up the price of my Warren Moon card in his book. I tried to deepen my voice so I sounded more professional.
The card guy reached under the counter, grabbed the appropriate pricing guide, and he began flipping pages. I held my breath…inconspicuously, of course. My palms were sweaty, so I wiped them on my pants.
“Warren Moon, huh?” said the card guy as his too-slow thumbs fumbled for the right page.
“Yeah, I collect Warren Moon cards,” I croaked.
“That’s good. Okay. Let’s see,” he mumbled as his finger slid down the page searching for the line holding my destiny. “Looks like,” time-stopping pause… “ten cents.”
My body went limp. “Ten cents?” I squeaked when I regained consciousness and could manage a couple weak words.
“Yep, ten cents.”
I think the card guy enjoyed that.
I rode slowly home knowing that I was a failure in the prestigious world of card collecting. I felt like throwing Warren Moon in the trash can, but I didn’t. I did take him out of the protective sleeve, though.
A couple weeks later I opened a pack of baseball cards and discovered a Mickey Mantle reproduction card. It was worth ten dollars. I was back on top. I put Mr. Mantle in the protective sleeve.