For the past 11 years, there's been a yard sale in the United States like no other. For one weekend each spring, it runs for 808 kilometers – 807.71800 to be exact – starting in the southern state of Mississippi, winding through Alabama and Tennessee all the way up to the mid-Atlantic state of Virginia along US Highway 11. Erika Celeste takes us on a road trip through a small section of what has become known as Antique Alley.
It's a perfect spring day with blue skies, sunshine and the sweet smell of freshly mowed grass in the air. I have a full tank of gas and nothing but the open road ahead of me. Well, 808 kilometers of yard sales along that open road, to be precise.
This annual event, known as Antique Alley, is always held in mid-May. It winds along the back roads of Appalachia through places with names like Bull's Gap, Friend's Station, and Rising Fawn. The very first stop on the southern end of this enormous yard sale is one of the permanent stores along the route: Nan Cascirao's antique shop, Mississippi Made.
"It becomes an obsession," she tells me. "You just get on the road and you stay all day just looking for that one find." There are already lots of things to find in Nan's shop. It is crammed to the gills with 30 antiques stalls, along with candles, soaps and scented oils.
Eager to see what's in the other year-round shops along Highway 11, as well as the tents set up this weekend in between, Nan offers to join me on the road. As we leave, she tells me about some of the people who've stopped by her shop as they explore Antique Alley. "We had people from Arizona, I had one couple from California, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida. They come from everywhere."
Each of the hundreds of towns along Antique Alley plans its own events for this weekend, such as festivals, antique sales, yard sales, and even school reunions. It doesn't take us long to reach a makeshift market of tents set up in a field.
We head toward a cage of birds displayed in the bed of a truck. "What kind of birds are those?" Nan wonders, and Ben, a stocky, 13-year-old with sandy hair, tells us they're homing pigeons. "They're good to have because they (lay) eggs and you can eat them eggs. Plus they're good for other pigeons. They go off and come back."
The smell of roasting meat mingles with pungent tobacco and that 'just after the rain' scent. A downpour the first day made sales slow. Mud and standing water are everywhere, but haven't stopped visitors from coming out to explore what's inside the tents.
A woman with bright red hair stops to ask me if I know what a wonder horse is. I don't, so she tells me. "Back in the day, like 31 years ago, it was called a rocking horse, but the name brand was Wonder Horse. So I just had a lady take my daughter's Wonder Horse and the antique lamp pole and make a carousel out of it. I just wanted to save it." She says she's selling it now because she just got married, "and we have to unclutter."
Up the road a bit, Nan and I find sellers with even more interesting artifacts. There's a man who makes license plates into bird houses, numerous people selling old record players and 45s, whole collections of bikes and antique chairs, lamps, paintings, just about anything you can imagine. Nan sees a black cast iron wood cradle. "He's selling those for $500," she whispers, "he could get $800!"
As we prepare to head back home, I ask Nan why she shops Antique Alley every year. "If you come back with one thing that you really love," she says, "it was worth what you spent and the time you spent getting it." Based on the traffic along Highway 11, a lot of people seem to feel that way.
As we return to the car, a vendor offers me a sample of trail mix. Then someone excitedly tells me there are plans to extend the annual sale another 260 kilometers, all the way to the southern coast.