Monday, January 19, 2009

Chronicles of Craigslist: A Meatspace Adventure, Part I

For those sad few who have never charted the rocky waters of online commerce I suggest that each and every one of you resist the urge to scour the likes of Ebay and take a gander at the darker, dingier analog that is Craigslist.

For those in the know it’s an awesome way to get rid of stuff and acquire everything from Arcane Miscellenea to Unobtainium. All transactions are encouraged to be cash, local and (barring the initial contact) exclusively meatspace transactions.

It’s a great way to meet Shady Characters and to spice up the otherwise mundane task of buying or selling goods and services. Huzzah!

Now I have plenty of fodder for Meatspace Adventures that delve into the seedy secret society that is embodied by the 'list. So for now I will designate this an open ended series to be expanded on and fleshed out as temporal constrictions allow.

My early dealings would not have been possible if not for the computer I acquired during my junior year in college. It was a Dell Dimension 8250.

At the time it had all the latest psychotic gains in silicon technology: 2.66 ghz P4, 512mb of 533 mhz Rambus, 128 mb AGP video card…it beat the unholy shit out of my old laptop. Now computers age like eggs so after a few years and a few upgrades the thing was getting pretty ripe.

Here’s the problem. At the time one of the selling points was the comparatively fast Rambus. Regular old DDR only clocked out at 400 mhz and DDR2 was not yet available. So when I got the box it was cutting edge though the tale of Rambus is one of woe and tragedy. Suffice to say it was crushed by cheap and abundant DDR2 shortly after it’s inception.

I had 4 slots, each with room for 256 megs but only 2 slots were populated. Circa 2006 when I wanted to bump up to a gig it would have cost about 250 bucks JUST for the ram. I was appalled though I didn’t know enough about PC’s yet to risk getting a new mobo and reincarnating my aging PC.

My friend, we’ll call him Kenny, was a network tech for a local company and I confessed my plight to him. He nodded, dragged off his cigarette (one of mine, recently bummed) and smiled.

“I think I have some Rambus in my van.”

Thus 512mb became 768mb and all was happy in the world. Later, once I started my life as a disgruntled IT guy, thoughts turned back to upgrading further. My new boss, we’ll call him Twinkle Toes listened intently as he frowned at my cigarette.

“I think I have some Rambus in my truck.”

Score! 768 mb became 1024 and all was rosy. With a better video card I could now stomach the idea of keeping the 8250 for a while longer.

That all changed the first time I got to play with dual core computer. It was high time to ditch that old beater and get me some quality hardware. As luck would have it the local CompUSA was closing up shop and they had some awesome deals. I scored a mobo and a case with a 500watt PSU for only 80 bucks. Now all I needed was a video card, processor and some new RAM.

A further perk of working in IT is that coworkers always have leftovers. I was able to secure 2 gigs of Dizzle Dizzle Rizzle 2 riz-am on the dizzle lizzle *that's down low.* I had to purchase my dual core Athlon and a decent video card from my favorite online retailer. I also got a hold of another case with a motherboard sans guts.

After the build and a few more parts acquisitions I found myself with a surplus. Having built computers day in and day out for my first 2 weeks with my company I had the confidence to tackle a little Frankenstein work.

The bottleneck was the Rambus of course. I was able to rescue the CPU and video card but had no idea what to do with 4 sticks of low capacity obsolete Ram. And I couldn’t bear to just throw it away. A further stroke of luck was that my soon to be father in law ALSO had a Dimension 8250 so I traded 2 sticks of Rambus for some filial kudos.

Cheeky.

Now on a lark I was checking out Craigslist and noticed that someone had posted a desperate plea for, you guessed it, Rambus. I don’t understand why but the guy I sold it too was willing to drop 100 bucks to pimp out an older P3 system. It was lunacy, for about 300 he could have rocked out a brand new box and wouldn’t have had to continue suffering with Windows 98.

Remember this happened in 2007, he was using a P3 and a decade old OS. But whatever, money is money.

I met the first fellow at 5am in the parking lot of the Red Lobster near Concord Mills Mall. It was freezing and so early I could barely keep my eyes open. Yet once he pulled in with a mid 80’s burb beater I knew that we were go for launch. At this point I did not know what to expect but suddenly I felt like some kind of drug deal was about to go down.

The guy gets out and I nearly shit my pants. He’s almost 70 years old and wearing a really funky looking hat. Check that he’s wearing lumberjack grade hearing protection and orange safety glasses. That’s shooting gear for you gun control types.

“Got my ram?” the guy asks brusquely. He pronounces it 'ray-am' in a thick southern drawl. I nod, wondering if this is prelude to an untimely death. Like I would be up so friggin’ early and forget the Ram. I flopped my hands into my pockets and had another mini heart attack. No ram!

“Must have left it in the car,” I say. I do one of those nervous giggles that’s 3 octaves above helium-addict. The guy just scowls at me.

In order to get the ram I have to turn my back and bend over. I am already keyed up but this ramps the queasy feeling in my gut. Luckily I quickly nab the ram in it’s electrostatic bag and hold it up triumphantly. Two sticks. I hand them over, fully ready to trade them for leaving without gunshot wounds. The guy doesn’t pull a piece or point a sawed off at my head he just takes the ram and scrutinizes.

One, two. Yep, two sticks. He grunts and hands me a was of cash. It’s all 5’s and 10’s but what the hell ever. I do a cursory count and BAIL like OJ on the place. I ride the adrenaline all the way home and duck back into bed for a few hours before work.

Now I got into bed freezing and jittery, wanting to wake up the wife and tell her about it. I leave her alone and when I wake back up my feelings have changed. I just scored 100 bucks for obsolete hardware and all it cost me was 40 cents worth of gas and a few minutes of paranoid terror.

I could get used to that.

My confidence soars as I do a few more deals. I trade a few more parts, a PSU here, a hard drive there. One of my Frankenstein computers goes to my best friend. Another earns me a buck fifty *meaning 150 dollars* and some little girl gets her very own recycled Turing machine. Ain’t life grand.

Now my brisk dealings, while mostly uneventful, quickly deplete my stocks. I still have loads of hardware but whenever I have cases I need PSU’s and whenever I have extra CPU’s I need Mobos and so I generate a list of stuff I need to complete cheap ass PC’s.

Almost any working computer that can run XP would sell for between 100-200 bucks depending on the deficiencies in the hardware. At that cost, since most of my parts came from salvage I could invest a little here and there to fill in inventory gaps and still make a tidy profit.

I was just reevaluating my stock one day when I came across a post for “3x socket 478 mobos, various floppy and CD drives, and some random other parts.” That might sound like geek to you but there was an odd synchrony with my needed parts list. All that stuff would allow me to complete 4 boxes for my next batch. I negotiated with ‘Jerry’ to spend 50 bucks on the lot.

Little did I know that this transaction would lead to one of the single weirdest, most unsettling nights of my adult life thus far. Yes the guy selling it was a complete redneck and it was a little strange that he had so much stuff but lived in some lady’s basement but I gave that little thought.

However the second I stepped foot into the smoky, dim basement that I knew I might not make it out alive.


1 comment:

Matthew said...

I sold a bunch of empty card board boxes on craigs list for $80... and yes, I fully disclosed that they were empty boxes. People love-em some cardboard I guess.