Monday, August 28, 2006

Boring Postcards

I've probably played in a dozen bands in my life. By bands I mean groups of people who agreed on a name for themselves and played music live in front of other people who listened for reasons other than 1. they had nowhere else to wait for the subway 2. they had no ride home other than with a band member.

But I always quit when it got serious. Technically, there's no difference between getting together in some guy's basement every day after work and jamming, and committing in advance to get together in that guy's basement one day after work and "practice." But that's work. When it's work, it's not fun. That's when I quit (after finishing whatever gigs we already had arranged).

Same thing with collecting. I've collected stuff over the course of my life: Coins, stamps, sports cards, old maps, you name it. But always at some point I start to sniff the obsession, and then I go out and sell it all off.

What I've got right now is a stack of old postcards. It started when I was the first of my family in my generation to buy a house. That, and my known interest in historical stuff, prompted my parents to dump all the family white elephants on me. Stuff not worth anything or useful to anyone, but too much a part of the family to simply pitch in a Dumster or sell at a yard sale.

Among it were several albums full of old postcards. Some of them were fascinating. In the "why on earth would anyone make a postcard of this?" way. Not only did someone make it, my family bought it, or got it in the mail, and then hung on to it for 80 years. Like this one:

It seems it's still there, converted to luxury apartments. But that's the kind of thing I almost don't want to know. I want to hold on to this picture, this day in 1929 or whenever, and wonder why my grandmother and her new husband ever moved, briefly, to Cleveland. Why they bought this but never sent it to anyone. Why they kept it.

My favorites were representations of the kind of places I imagine most people want to forget when they travel. Train stations, municipal buildings, grim and spiritless hotels. Like this one:

Later, I dated a girl who collected antique jewelry. She'd haunt the antique malls and flea markets, looking for the perfect find. Rather than follow her like Mary's little lamb from stall to stall, I started flipping through the postcard bins. I decided if I never spent more than 10 cents on any one postcard, and avoided knowing anything about them, it wasn't really collecting.

I've kept that. I still don't know any more about these cards than what they show and tell. I don't specialize in anything except the blandly bizarre. I tend to like the old Atlantic City hotels, but it's not enough of a concentration to amount to a specialty. I couldn't tell you the history of the various printers, or the hallmarks of collectibility. And I love it like that. What they mean to me is between me and them, not some Harry Rinker Guide to Collectible Postcards.

I've been meaning to scan some in and upload them and share them with you, and I finally got around to it this week while I was waiting for the guy to come and put in the new water heater.

Here's the old Hotel Chalfonte in Atlantic City. I'm pretty sure this is where my grandparents stayed when they took summer trips down the Shore in the teens: It had Philadelphia Quaker owners dating back to 1868 and must have been a predictable and placid hotel by the time they established a base there. I've got an old book of matches from the place that I found in my grandfather's cigarette box decades after he died of heart disease.

When gambling came in, the new money tore down the Chalfonte to make a parking lot for the Resorts casino it opened inside the shell of the bigger hotel next door, the former Haddon Hall. Here you can see what the scene looked like when the behemoth and glamorous Haddon replaced the older wooden version (which you can see a bit of in my postcard) in 1929.