While reading some recent store report posts on another collecting site, I noticed some disturbing comments. Someone had failed to find what he was searching for in a toy aisle, but he noticed another man in the section with multiples of the figures he wanted in his cart. He asked the other fellow if he could have one of them, and his request was denied. Another collector responded by saying he would have simply taken what he wanted and dared the guy to “hit” him. To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, So uncivilized. This deteriorated into the usual anti-”scalper” ranting, coupled with more Internet Tough Guy bravado. Another insisted he would have initiated a confrontation with the “scalper” so his child could get the toy instead. I’d imagine setting a good example for that child would be a more worthwhile gift, but perhaps that’s unreasonable of me. The sense of entitlement was so thick you could cut it with a knife. I always believed people were supposed to grow out of, “It should be mine here and now just because I want it,” before entering adulthood, but it seems to be a permanent frame of mind all too often these days. As I was reading this nonsense, I couldn’t help feeling a sense of appreciation for the “scalpers” in this hobby.
On our way home from work on August 3, my girlfriend and I got stuck in traffic on the interstate. There was a wall of brake lights, and everyone had come to a complete stop. The driver of the work van behind me never noticed that, so he didn’t slow down at all. He drove the van straight into the back of my car at full speed. Other than the car being totalled (R.I.P. Bat-Fit I), there was no permanent damage. It’s nothing anyone would want to experience, but we were very fortunate. I had no vehicle to get around a city that’s seriously lacking in the public transportation department, though, and I began having near-paralyzing muscle spasms in my back around lunchtime the following day. I missed three days of work, my first unscheduled absences since February of 2005. I’d never really been immobilized by an injury, but just getting off the couch was a real struggle for the first few days. This was despite the glorious bottles of hydrocodone and muscle relaxers prescribed by my physician.
Needless to say, I wasn’t really in a hurry to go toy shopping in Big Box retail stores. I was still walking with a nasty limp when I bought a new car nine days later, and even after I was over the limp in another week or so, the tightness in my back lingered a few weeks longer. But the hobby must go on, to paraphrase an old cliché. While all this was happening, three new waves of what’s become one of my favorite lines, STAR WARS: The Clone Wars, were shipping to online retailers and brick and mortar stores alike. I was in no mood – and no condition, for that matter – to start scouring the city for these new toys. I could have ordered from one of my usual e-tailers, but since I wasn’t interested in everything from each wave, ordering sets or full cases would have meant paying for a number of figures I didn’t want. It quickly became obvious that the most efficient path to Clone Wars goodness was to win auctions for the figures I wanted from the same eBay seller, and win them I did. Four days later, I had every figure I really wanted from the three waves, leaving only a couple to buy if I happened to see them. Even though I paid more than retail, he cut a great deal on the combined shipping, did a marvelous job packing them, and even tossed in some of the new Star Cases at no extra charge. Consider me one very satisfied customer.
While this was an unusual situation for me, I’m not a fan of driving from shopping center to shopping center to look for toys in general. Even at my healthiest, there’s no shortage of things I’d rather do with my time than navigate my way through a crowded Walmart. It’s also a reminder that some people simply cannot actively seek out toys at traditional retailers, whether due to physical limitations or other reasons. I couldn’t possibly care less about “the hunt” (“chase,” whatever) described here by my pal Ryan. Even if I was interested in the concept, my idea of a “hunt” wouldn’t involve recently mass produced plastic in Walmart, anyway. I just like the actual toys, so having them delivered to my front door is a wonderfully convenient method of adding to my collection. I often purchase from online retailers like Big Bad Toy Store and Entertainment Earth, but I’m more than happy to buy from the dreaded eBay “scalper” when it makes sense to do so. Never mind the gas and wear and tear on Bat-Fit II; not spending my free time driving to the suburbs to wander through Target or Kmart is worth the few extra dollars per item. That time is worth considerably more, and I am perfectly happy to pay a “scalper” for services rendered: tracking down the toys, listing the auction, packing my purchases, and getting them shipped. That all requires time and effort, and I don’t expect anyone to work for free.
Instead of going into a fit of hobbyist indignation about how the evil “scalper” had robbed me blind, I sent him an email to express my gratitude. Despite how others feel, the reseller isn’t my enemy. If wasting time in retail stores isn’t your cup of tea, perhaps he’s not yours, either. Frustration was more understandable when a few guys could clean out an entire area and there was no online alternative to their flea market booth, but the internet has left the anti-”scalper” rhetoric of the ’90s archaic and obsolete. Now that eBay has provided collectors with access to so much inventory, a global marketplace is available to everyone. Like it or not, someone who lists the most recent collectibles on eBay is providing a valuable service to me and others who feel the same way. And if you prefer not to buy online because “the hunt” is more important to you than the toys themselves, what kind of “hunt” is it without competition? Wouldn’t that just be shopping?
Personally, I’m appreciative of everyone who’s saved me wasted trips to jam-packed stores and unstocked action figure aisles by doing the legwork for me.