Thursday, August 12, 2010

In Vegas, Pawns Are Kings

Pawn shops have a reputation as being somewhat shady places. Maybe this is because of the frequent use of fluorescent words painted on the windows. It could be because to some they are considered to be in the same circle as loan sharks.

For a long time I thought pawn shops were nothing more than indoor garage sales. If you go into a pawn shop, and aren’t trying to put up your security for a cash loan paid back at a set interest rate, there usually isn’t much to choose from for that special person in your life. There might be a hidden gem buried somewhere in the store, but for the most part we’re talking about tools, lawn furniture, or cheap jewelry. As a result, I was skeptical of going to one.

Sure part of it might have to do with what happened in Pulp Fiction to Butch and Marsellus at Zed’s, but if I made it a rule not to go somewhere because a couple of people were balled and gagged in front of a leather-clad gimp, how would I get to hang out with my Republican National Committee friends in Los Angeles?

However, like Jules Winfield after some time in Brett’s apartment, I have seen the light. And I didn’t need to get shot at multiple times to see it. All I needed to do was watch the History Channel’s Pawn Stars.

Pawn Stars shows the day to day activities of operating a pawn shop in Las Vegas. The store, Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, has four primary employees.

The Old Man co-owns the store with his son Rick. It takes a lot of trust for a father to let the fruit of his labor be shared with his son. As the son of a successful self-employed man, it’s a pretty safe bet my dad would rather let Mr. Kruger run his business than turn it over to me. Although I am pretty good at chair-spins.

Rick’s son Cory who they call Big Hoss because, well because he’s a big dude with a lot of tattoos, also works in the store. As does his friend known as Chumlee. It’s not entirely clear how Chumlee got that nickname. And like the truth about Area 51, it’s probably best we never find out.

What makes this pawn shop different from Zed’s and every other pawn shop is the amount of legitimately valuable material it sells and people bring in to sell. An autographed Chuck Berry Fender guitar, an 1861 Civil War cavalry saber, a 1950s Coke machine, a 1970s Indian racing mini motorcycle, and a 1901 Edison phonograph are just a sample of the items that pass in and out of the store. The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop can give the Smithsonian a run for its money on some days.

While good old cash is always accepted, the main currency at the store seems to be a handshake. No matter if a sale is made or not, if the peddler brought in something fake or stolen, Rick and the guys always close with a handshake and not even a glimpse of Purell anywhere to be seen.

The merchandise and nostalgia that comes through the store is the best part of the show, but a close second is the amount of experts the crew knows. Every single thing that is brought in for sale, there’s an expert for it. Fortunately for the show, Las Vegas is home to not only an abundance of black jack dealers, strippers and cab drivers, but also experts in any given field.

You name it and the guys always know “a guy”. You’d think their last name was Antonelli. Need that old barbershop chair restored – they know a guy. Or perhaps that cannon needs to be tested – they just call up their artillery expert. Need to find out how accurate that 17th century parchment is – well why didn’t you say so? In all the episodes I’ve seen there hasn’t been anything too obscure for the guys not to know someone to verify its value. Since the show takes place in Vegas, I’m waiting for the day someone brings in an antique sex toy only to have Rick say “it just so happens my buddy Chris is an expert in pocket pussies.”

And after sitting through an episode of Pawn Stars, you will be too.

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