I consider myself a pretty savvy consumer. I don't fall for name-brand bullshit unless we're talking cereal, and even then, I don't pay full price. I shop around, balancing my budget with my commitment to shopping local. I belong to Thread Coffee's local coffee CSA, keeping my Starbucks money in the pockets of our friendly neighborhood anarchists-unless that other chain's running a special for Bonus Starpoints or something. I just signed up for the local flower CSA so I can treat my sweetheart to affordable indoor summertime color without the high delivery prices and pesticide soups of the big guys. I clip coupons from the Saturday paper (sometimes) and check for sales at the chain supermarkets before I head out to shop, if only because I get a rush from seeing the percentage I've saved on the receipt at the end, all because I'm in The Club.
And there's the rub-I'm addicted to the feeling of saving, and it has made me an easy mark. I'm wide open for that phenomenon everybody else seems to have gotten over, if LivingSocial's earning numbers are suggestive of anything: the social coupon. I mean, I'm always saving at least 50 percent on stuff I wouldn't have spent a penny on if it hadn't been for the coupon. I've spent half-price for horseback-riding lessons, private swim lessons, historical tours by kayak, drum lessons, and I'm currently getting taken for a ride by the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Columbia, because good lord, those cheap promo lessons have got me hooked on the foxtrot. For as much time as I spend being critical of capitalism, I sure shell out a lot of money for faux-bargains, especially if you count all the expired coupons that clog up an email folder I've labeled Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time.
I don't have a car and my regular driver was quite insistent that hell would have to get mighty chilly before she'd be willing to drive me out to a crafts fair, so my bike and I shared a Sunday Light Rail car out to Timonium. Sunday public transit is a lonely affair, and this afternoon train was pretty much empty, except for a woman taking the train home from her job as train-ticket taker, a couple of women heading to the Whole Foods in Mount Washington, and a few glum faces that got off at the Lutherville stop, home of some pretty glum shopping. The ride from the station to the fairgrounds was its own adventure in commuting-that whole share-the-road ethos hasn't exactly made it out to York Road yet. I took the sidewalk like a renegade, made a left into the fair parking lots, and headed toward the 4H barns to partake in crafts, crafts, and more crafts.
I quickly learned that labeling something a "craft" is a local decision. It used to be that making tin cans was a craft in East Baltimore, before machines took over and another craft union shut down. According to my first turn around the exhibit halls, the meaning of "craft" is pretty flexible these days: sugary roasted nuts, wall hangings made out of pressed metal, hand-carved wooden spoons, some kind of mix that turns wine into slushies, spice blends from Towson, oh so much jewelry, and something called "wearable art." So that's where they get those outfits, I thought to myself, making a mental note to return to the fair if Chico's goes out of business before I age into this fashion style.
On the second turn around the fair, I started to get comfortable, to find myself amidst the local and handmade. If you're going to drop a wad of cash on stuff you don't need, why not let it be stuff you don't need made by creative folks whipping up salt scrubs in their own kitchens instead of some giant factory in some far-off land where workers are paid pennies to manufacture products whose value isn't artistic but economic? I joined the crowds congregating near stands that offered food crafts: rows and rows of samples of dips and dressings and chocolates. I made myself a bit sick at the jellies-and-jams table before forking over a couple of bucks for some handcrafted peanut butter cookies to enjoy as I took a rest along the wall to the easy-listening musical stylings of Chris Wilson. His booth was a mini stage, his name in lights behind him as he played his guitar and sang the greatest hits of yesterday to a lightly appreciative audience. He was one of the finalists of MTV's short-lived singing contest show The Cut and now he travels the craft-show circuit, selling CDs out of cases as he serenades between hand-painted leather shoes and high-class papier-mâché elephants. At first there was something a little bit sad about the whole scene-this couldn't have been his dream-but as I sat and listened, swaying to Wilson's soft version of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors," watching folks wander by with bags stuffed full of someone else's good idea, I was just happy that amidst the ever-tightening stranglehold of monopoly capitalism, there's still this. And at half-price, it can't be beat, except maybe by Baltimore's local shows, but that's for another field trip.