It's 8:30 in the morning and I'm in the passenger seat of a gold 1985 Honda Civic. We're puttering down I-75 while I listen to the story of an addict. We're getting ready to score a fix.
His name is Dan Greenberg and he's in the driver's seat. He's a 29-year-old teacher in Sylvania, a new father, and a high school buddy of mine. I want to understand him. I ask him to explain the adrenaline rush that keeps him hooked ... on garage sales.
"There's a feeling I'll get when I go to a good garage sale," Dan says. "The sense of possibility. My eyes go wide. I want to buy the place out."
It started when he was in college, looking for beer signs and records, and later, every young man's dream - an arcade video game, preferably Root Beer Tapper. Later, his wife, Nicki, got into it, too. A couple of years ago, they would set off nearly every summer weekend in search of good garage sales. Sometimes they came home with a car overflowing with so much stuff, some of it had to be strapped to the roof.
"It was our weekly routine," Nicki said. "We would have a lot of fun together."
Like every addict, Dan's had his share of bad trips. There was the foosball table he bought that never worked quite right and still sits in his in-laws' garage. Still, that only set him back $10.
But this isn't going to be one of those bad trips. I'm sure of it.
Our planning was too careful, too meticulous. It began the night before, when Dan and I sat at his home computer to go through his routine of searching through the newspaper's classified ads online. He looked for good neighborhoods, affluent ones like Sylvania and Ottawa Hills that might have good stuff.
There were a couple of promising sales, and he ranked them as he searched, locating each on a map and plotting a route for the next morning. Multiple-family sales were good, as were those with toys that might suit Dan's 4-year-old nephew. We limited ourselves to sales beginning the day of our quest, so they wouldn't be picked over before we got there.
As we were finishing our preparations, Dan noticed a neighborhood sale in the Carrington Woods subdivision in Perrysburg, where ads indicated houses were on the market for more than $500,000. This got him excited.
"Now we're changing [the]order!" he shouted. "We'll do this one first."
The sale starts at 9 a.m., which is why we're on the road at 8:30, armed with bottles of water, a wallet full of small bills, maps and addresses, and an old beloved car that can haul potential purchases.
Dan's plan was to get there before it opened so we would have first pick, but there are already six or seven cars parked in the street and people hovering over tables in the first driveway.
Our first several stops in this nice Perrysburg neighborhood provide some unusual sights among the expected piles of clothing, books, and knickknacks, but nothing tempting enough: a string of pig-shaped party lights ($2), a toilet ($25), a ViewMaster with pictures of sand dunes (free), a "never used" unicycle ($10).
More desirable is a leather baseball glove. Dan tries it on. He likes it, but ...
"Then again, my wife gets in my head," he said. "What do you need that for?" he says, imitating her voice.
Not that going to garage sales is just about filling needs. Far from it. They're the kinds of places you can dare to dream for just a buck. But you do need somewhere to put things, and a lack of space has cut down on Dan's impulse buying of late.
Like now, as he picks up a gigantic squirt gun priced at $15.
"What would Nicki say?" he mumbles, then puts down the gun.
This sale in particular seems to trouble Dan.
"Interesting stuff, but no deals," he says as he walks away.
The tables are full of cool things - stereos, a guitar, the squirt gun - but all of them overpriced for the garage-sale crowd looking for real bargains, not just decent prices. As we pass the house again, his frustration resurfaces. "That sale irks me," he says.
Then things improve, thanks to an 11-year-old named Praveen Kamarsu, who seems to be manning his family's garage sale alone.
"You want a computer monitor? It's in perfect working order," the budding salesman says. "You want a lava lamp? You want a TV?"
"I've got seven," Dan teases.
"Why not eight?"
Ultimately, he and Praveen agree on a deal for two bookshelves and a pack of sparklers for $9.
"Now I've broken the seal," Dan says, smiling. "It's about getting into the garage sale zone."
Oh, we're in the zone all right, and I'm hooked.