My first thought when thinking about this month’s column was that I should write something spiritual and more serious in recognition of the holiday season and world events. But I have always tried to keep my column lighthearted and entertaining. So I am going to write about a more frivolous activity many of us enjoy during the holidays — shopping!
On our road trip this year, we stopped at a little-known shopping emporium in far-off Alabama. We first heard of the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, years ago but we had never been close enough for a visit. Having now been there, I would say it would be worth a visit or at least a detour if you are ever back in that area.
Ever since I heard of the place, it has been on my bucket list. The Center started in the late 1970s when a man from Scottsboro bought all the unclaimed suitcases and freight from airlines. He opened a little store and it grew into a 40,000 square-foot warehouse full of lost treasures.
As most women know, men hate to shop. My husband is very good at reminding me of this basic male fact. His favorite line is, “Can’t we just go in, get what we want and leave?” Can you believe doing that?
I had a bit of a struggle getting Philip to go to Scottsboro. Yes, he took me there but told me he was going to sit in the car while I went in for a quick look. It turned out to be a warm day, so he had to go in just to get out of the hot car.
It never fails. Philip resists in the beginning, but ends up buying out the store and finding wonderful things that he didn’t know he needed or wanted. I often find nothing. It has become a standing joke between us.
We arrived in Scottsboro midmorning, after driving down from Nashville, Tennessee. As we followed our GPS instructions, the road into town took us through a pretty tired industrial area. When we arrived, the Unclaimed Baggage Center looked like a big warehouse with no windows. It did have a nice entrance and the parking lot was full, which is always a good sign.
As we walked inside, we were dazzled by the brightly lit and well organized departments devoted to every imaginable (and some you wouldn’t imagine) items that had been left on an airplane. There were rows and rows of racks of every possible kind of clothing and display cases as far as the eye could see. All the clothing items were freshly cleaned, ironed and hung on a hanger, hooks or shelves. It looked like an upscale consignment shop. I couldn’t wait to be let loose.
The receptionist could not believe that we had driven from California to see their store, so they gave us a free coupon for lunch in their deli. Again, Philip mentioned we were not staying for lunch we were only staying for a few minutes. I was hardly listening to him. I was planning my attack.
Philip thought that, since he was there, he might as well visit the sporting goods room. I wandered among the women’s departments. There were racks and racks of dresses, slacks, shorts, tops, sweaters, purses, hats, and belts. Clothes from other countries had their own special area next to household linens. We all buy clothing on vacations and most of them never seem to work when we are home. However; these did not even get out of the airport. Passengers just probably forgot they bought them.
Small household appliances had their own, area, too, which seemed strange. Not many people travel with appliances in their luggage. When I was flying in the 1960s, I remember a young couple from India who brought a two-burner hot plate on the plane. I helped them put it in the overhead rack. Maybe it was part of their religion to eat certain foods at certain times. They remembered to carry it off the plane.
Next, I spent time in the fur room. There was a large variety of fur coats and hats. Evening gowns and shoes were included in this room behind glass doors. When I was a stewardess, I certainly never had a female passenger forget her fur.
After an hour or two, I thought I should check up on Philip. He was still in the sports department speaking with a sales clerk. He had piles of things on the counter. He excitedly showed me all the neat things that he had found and was going to buy. He was having a grand time. I decided to leave him alone and find something special for myself.
My suitcase was already packed to the gills, I couldn’t get one more thing it in. And I didn’t feel like trying on clothes. So what does a female do? She heads to the jewelry department. Jewelry is so much easier to pack or wear. Jewelry has often been my reward for surviving all those Harley rides.
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There were many wonderful pieces in the glass cases for sale. It was hard to believe that people would not pack their valuables in their carry-on suitcases or purses. The clerk told me that everything was certified by their jeweler. I saw diamonds and precious stones, mounted in gold and silver. In the men’s cabinet, there were well- known brand-name watches, rings and bracelets, too. I put a few items on hold.
To get to the children’s department, I had to go through the large men’s clothing department. There were well- known brands of shirts, sweaters, slacks and suits. Hundreds of baseball caps from nearly every college and sports team in the country (and a few from other countries) were displayed on hat racks.
The first floor of this building had toys, new and old. Downstairs were children’s clothing on racks in all sizes, plus boxes and boxes of diapers. Suddenly, something special caught my eye across the room for our 6-year-old granddaughter, Samantha.
It was the most glamorous little girl dress in the world and just her size.
The skirt looked like a flamenco dancer’s with tiers of black net ruffles to the floor. It had a halter top with thick black velvet material. On the velvet were hundreds of shining diamond stones in different shapes.
Sami is a real girlie girl. She loves to dance, takes ballet and her favorite colors are pink and lavender. I was seriously thinking this would be fun for dress-up, wearing around the house, a Halloween costume or even a magnificent Christmas gift.
As I was pondering this big $12 purchase, a friendly lady came over to me. In her strong Southern accent, she told me that this dress was probably designed and custom made for a candidate in the Junior Miss America contest.
Well, that clinched the deal and I paid for it and we stuffed it into a garbage bag. I had to find Philip and show it to him. I finally found him in the electronics department, as he had moved from the sports department. As a non-shopper, he was wandering throughout the whole place.
It was lunch time, so we took a break to use the free lunch certificate. To our surprise, the little cafe served a wonderful lunch.
After lunch, we decided it was time to check out and pay for our purchases. Suddenly, there was an announcement on the public address system: “Come watch the show. We are going to open up a suitcase.”
Twice a day, a new suitcase is opened. An employee with the assistance of a shopper takes things out one at a time with gloved hands. She holds up an item and we vote if it was to be sold or thrown away. I could not believe all the odd items jammed between personal items. There was hardly anything of value. Most of the items were tossed out but it was a fun 45 minutes with lots of giggles and laughter.
My husband admitted that he enjoyed his shopping experience. And I thought it was one of the best days on our seven-week road trip.
I hope your Christmas shopping is as successful as our day at the Unclaimed Baggage Center.
May your holidays be joyous and happy.