It was 2010 and an air of negativity and pessimism permeated my world. I was graduating from law school amidst one of the worst employment markets in decades. The commencement speaker advised us that law was a black hole and we should get out of Dodge.
I wasn’t feeling too chipper about my future or about people in general. After being brusquely no-offered by the white-shoe law firm I had worked for the previous summer, I spent an entire year among anxious and panicked law students who regularly lamented their employment woes. The aura of misery was contagious, turning me jaded and cynical.
My boyfriend (who was working at a startup from home) and I decided we were sick of the East Coast and would make like the pioneers of ole: go westward. “We need a fresh start,” we told ourselves.
We, however, had to deal with our apartment first. It was full of random assortment of thrift store finds, hand-me-downs of mysterious origins, and IKEA furniture, a place one would euphemistically call “eclectic.” We had to unload all of this before we embarked on our 2,000-mile journey from Philadelphia to Colorado.
The solution seemed simple: sell everything on Craigslist.
We devoted two weeks to the task of selling off all of our furniture. I ended up getting far more than I bargained for.
We put our all into salesmanship: staged the furniture for photographs, used a nice camera to take said photos, and wrote thorough descriptions of each item (plus a little flair). Altogether we placed over 30 items on the site, ranging from a pressure cooker to a bistro-style dining set.
Our first prospective buyer was a disappointment.
She was a slender thing with the air of a ballerina accompanied by a young man who was presumably there to help her to move the bed. “The bed is beautiful,” she said, “let’s move it.”
The man stared at the queen-sized bed with towering oak headboard and footboard with disdain. He proceeded to disparage the bed. “It’s ugly and old-fashioned. Why would you want something so big?” he said.
The young woman left, disappointed and sans bed. We wondered if we could ever sell such an unwieldy bed that I had found in a thrift store and thought was gorgeously solid.
Things only got worse.
I got emails lowballing me. One wrote: “$20, only if it is in perfect condition. Otherwise, $10 … maybe” for a great baker’s rack that I had paid $150 for (my going price was $60). Several shady characters popped up, asking us to bring our television and computer monitor to locations deep in Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods. People expressed interest and never showed up for their scheduled pick-up times.
Then things got better. We began selling.
Most of them came and went in a whirl: a young student along with his mother who zipped in and out with our lamps; a tall and muscular man who wanted my desk since he was returning to school after 5 years in the military; and newlyweds who needed the baker’s rack to hold all of their wedding gifts (they paid the $60).
Others stayed for a little while longer and those are the ones I remember the most.
I have to admit to being a bit unnerved when two six-foot-plus and 200-pound boys showed up at my door. Their imposing figures intimidated me immediately. A rotund middle-aged woman popped out from behind them and said, “They’re big, aren’t they? These are my two sons and they’ll help me move the bed!” The two boys turned out to have the gentlest, most considerate handshakes that I’ve ever experienced. Their genuine consideration put me at ease right away.
It turned out that they lived in Northeast Philadelphia, which was rife with crime, coming all the way to the relatively crime-free Center City because one of the boys’s bed kept breaking underneath him. “I want something solid, and your bed looked just like the thing,” his mother told me. We tested out the theory by having him bounce on my bed. It held up beautifully with its solid oak frame and steel support beams. Some old things are really made to last.
As we helped them move the bed and mattress, one of the boys told us that as soon as he graduated from high school, he was going to work for Wal-Mart. “The benefits are good,” he said. “If I make manager, maybe I can get out of the area. I’m sick of being mugged.” We drove away pleased that the bed had found a good home (and we had connected with truly genuine people).
There was a lesbian couple who bought our rugs and bathroom rack while telling us about the commune they were living in and how they were raising their daughter in a woman-empowerment environment. “I’m so excited about raising my girl like this. I wish I had something like it when I was going up,” one of them told me. Their energy was simply infectious and I knew my rugs had gone to the right place.
There was also a first-year medical student who spent several hours talking to us about Philadelphia, graduate school, and life. I gave him recommendations on which restaurants to take his girlfriend for their anniversary. He joined forces with my boyfriend to help a young art school student carry a large, unwieldy room divider back to her dorm. He left with our trash can and computer chair along with a smile.
There were some bizarre ones as well.
A couple with a baby in tow drove over an hour to buy a $15 IKEA coffee table which they could’ve bought for $20 in their nearby IKEA. They tried to bargain us down to $5, but we stayed firm. I couldn’t help but wonder if they had spent more on gas mileage and time than they had saved on our coffee table.
There were two young students who got so lost that we had to direct them over the phone, an enterprise that took nearly 20 minutes. Upon arrival, it turned out that they didn’t know what to do with the computer monitor that they had come for, so my boyfriend had to spend 45 minutes explaining how to hook up the monitor to their laptops. They made some half-hearted efforts at haggling, but paid the full price of $50 for a 6-month-old monitor.
By the end of the two weeks, our apartment was nearly empty, except for a chair that we couldn’t sell. We packed up the rest and shipped it across the country before getting into the car and driving. (The chair ended up with my boyfriend’s parents.) We used the $2,200 from our sales to furnish our next apartment.
On our week-long drive cross-country, it struck me that I was able to really connect — however briefly — with people through Craigslist. Total strangers told me their hopes and dreams. Strangers helped other strangers carry heavy things down the steep, creaky spiral staircases of old colonial row houses. After spending a year surrounded by fear, it was refreshing to meet people who was happy to just get a bed that didn’t break.
The world stopped looking so bleak.
There were outrageous hagglers, flakes, and scammers, but there were also generous and genuine people. My situation somehow seemed less dire as I realized that the world was full of perfectly nice people (with a few bad apples).
With a brighter outlook on people (and the world), I was able to tackle my new and unknown future. Both my boyfriend and I changed career trajectories and are both very happy where we are. Who would have known Craigslist could make life seem a bit better?