Fork in the Road (Auction Today!)
EN ROUTE TO ROANOKE, VA.--Most road trips have a starting point and a final destination--addresses that can be punched into MapQuest or Yahoo. But as Michael and I make our way across the nation, you’ll see that sometimes we will explore one place for a few days, and other times, jump from one state to another in an afternoon.
We might drive up a road we just came down, or take one most people would avoid. We’ll probably look lost if you trace us too closely on a map.
But unlike most road trips, we aren’t trying to get somewhere. We’re trying to get everywhere (or at least as many places as two people can go in a summer while stopping to unravel the stories of those who live there). Since little in life travels in a straight line, including the economy's impact, why should we? There are some places we’ve researched and know we must visit, but otherwise, we are depending on the suggestions of strangers, the latest happenings in the news and just plain luck.
If at any time, you think there is someplace we need to see or someone we need to meet, tell us. Tug at the steering wheel. After all, we are making this trip not just so The Post can chronicle what these economic times mean, but so that you get an instant picture of it.
We hope you'll feel you're traveling with us, even if the route is sometimes unpredictable.
Today, you’ll see, Michael and I are driving up the same I-81 we drove down. He saw a sign for a land auction (if you haven’t already figured it out, he’s big on signs), and we’re curious how many bidders will show. The recession is changing not only how people spend money, but also how land passes through their hands.
The first assignment Michael and I ever went on together was a foreclosure auction in Alexandria a few weeks ago. He wanted me to see the tuxedo-clad, bald-head-shining Jeff Johnson, who with exaggerated gestures and high pitch howls, almost makes one forget they are hoping to profit from another’s misfortune. The homes’ pre-valued prices felt familiar: $256,500, $540,000 and $770,000. The starting bids were what felt unreal: $500, $1,000, $5,000.
“A lot of this job is making an inexperienced crowd feel comfortable with the bidding process,” said Johnson, a second-generation auctioneer whom everyone calls "J.J." He added that there is a thrill in bidding. “You’re playing poker against the other people, for sure.”
On that day, Johnson and the other bid assistants downed shots of Red Bull before darting through the aisles, yelping and gesturing on behalf of bidders. Among this pack of howling wolves, Johnson was by far the loudest.
“Thank the Lord,” he boomed when a woman got a $272,000 condo in the District for $115,000. She jumped up and down and later told me it was the highest she could bid. “She’s on fire. She's on fire” Johnson said, pretending to fan her.
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