Thursday, January 2, 2020

When wealth stands in the way of success (fiction)

“The thing is” Straeder said “You will all need kits and you will need to practice all the way to the Livingston County border.”

“You need a pack or a basket, or maybe a cart” Staeder said, looking over at Quinn. “And you will need trading goods.”

“What’s in yours?” Wilder asked.

“I don’t mind showing you some of the stuff in mine, but imagine how suspicious it will look if we get checked out and have identical items in our packs. That will set off red-flags, for sure.” Straeder said. “I don’t mind showing you a few things, but it is up to you to figure out the other things to carry.”

“Plastic, zipping bags. You can never have enough of these.” Straeder said. “Everybody needs more and they take up almost no space.”

“Rope or even baling twine. I get most of my along the way. I let customers trade clean, tied hanks of baling twine for other goods.” Steve said.

“Oh, another thing. Don’t take credit. You have no idea when you will be back. It is better to take local items in trade than to extend credit. You might not always come out ahead by trading but you will always lose when you extend credit.” Straeder said.

“But the goal is to always trade up. If you come back with a full pack and the contents are of no greater value than what you left with...well, then you wasted a month of your life. The whole idea of profit is that the pack you return home with is worth more than the one you left home with.” Straeder said.

“I am carrying turnip seeds. The Amish have them cheap. People east of here never heard of them. You have to do a little bit of education. They can plant them anytime between the wheat harvest up until the middle of October. They can eat the greens. They can eat the bulb. It is the one best thing to plant in the fall if you aren’t sure you will have enough food this winter. I sell them by the scoop.” Straeder said.

And then Straeder pulled out an empty .22 Short shell. “I sell them by the very SMALL scoop.”

“What do you get for them?” Wilder wanted to know.

“Depends on the customer” Straeder said. “It depends on the customer and how good of a bargainer you are. You might get a loaf of bread. You might get dinner. You might get a sack of empty brass or bean seeds.”

“Needles and thread. Life is hard on clothing now. Not all the clothing was intended for rough use. Folks can’t just run out to Walmart for another pair of jeans.” Straeder said.

“Keep in mind that you will be trading with five women for every man you meet. You will learn more in half-an-hour of listening to your wife or girlfriend than you will learn drinking at the pub with your buddies.” Straeder said.

"You will fail if you don't listen to your customers." Staeder said. "And you can start practicing your listening by listening to your women-folk."

The men went back to their respective homes and rummaged around looking for a suitable back-pack. Wilder and Chernovsky opted for the frame and laundry hamper that Straeder favored. Miguel chose a traditional back-pack because that is what he had. Quinn asked around the neighborhood and found a garden cart with bicycle wheels.

Then, the men poured their wives, or in the case of Miguel his girlfriend, their favorite libation and asked them “If a peddler showed up at our back-door tomorrow, what would you want him to be carrying?”

The range of suggestions was breathtaking:
  • Mousetraps
  • Diatomaceous earth to control fleas in pets
  • Combs and brushes
  • Soap
  • Small screws
  • Window screen
  • Bread yeast
  • Bug spray
  • Scrub pads
  • Butane lighters
  • Glue
  • Writing paper, pens and pencils
  • Reading glasses or old prescription glasses
  • Batteries
  • Solar anything
  • Candles
  • Salt
  • Spices
  • Seeds
  • Tough cloth for patches, zippers and grommets for laces
  • Shoe laces
  • And many, many more suggestions
Both Chernovsky and Wilder had the ear of Kelly Carney. They put in a rush order for needles. They weren’t pretty, but they worked. The tooling to make grommets from old tin-cans and the tool for installing them would take a month.

The other men assembled their packs as best they could. Wilder offered to finance the other men but Straeder firmly vetoed that idea.

“I know it makes sense on paper but it doesn’t work out on the road.” Straeder said.

“For example: Take Miguel” Straeder said. “If you pay for his grubstake, then he won’t know exactly how hard it is to replace. On the other hand, if he fills his pack with snare-wires, soap his girlfriend made and seeds from Pete’s Store then he will know exactly the minimum price he has to get to replace it when he gets home.”

Wilder accepted Straeder’s advice but had his reservations. He was used to being able to help people out because of his relative wealth. He was getting a sense that previous wealth might be a handicap in this new universe he was about to enter.


  1. "If you pay for his grubstake, then he won’t know exactly how hard it is to replace."

    Same reason you have kids buy their own stuff. Strongly disliked my parents after they made me buy my own clothes after I got my first job. Very grateful now that they did.

  2. I would love to see an extensive list of the most prized trade cargo. High value, low weight and bulk.

    Maybe $24 in beads to purchase Manhattan Island!


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