The Price is Right
It seems like a lovely show. The concept is fun, even with Bob Barker retired. In fact, way back when I was a weird little child I used to watch game shows. I had my cartoon Jones. But I loved game shows. What can I tell you?
Anyway, think back to when Bob Barker used to yell "Come on down!" And one at a time, four contestants would scream and wave their hands and run down front and begin bidding on the value of various household items to determine who could get closest to the actual price and move to the next step in the game.
Even as a kid I used to wonder how people really felt inside when they bid $699.97 for a nice fridge, and the person next to them subsequently bid $699.98, and the latter bidder won.
The other contestants always maintained smiles on their faces and applauded enthusiastically, win or lose. I always guessed though that if there hadn't been cameras on them some of those contestants would have sworn like sailors and tried to strangle the person next to them who undercut them by a penny or a dollar.
So skip ahead a couple of decades to last week. I had to fill in for the Herald's arts writer on Wednesday. And my job that day was to cover a scheduled bankruptcy auction for a piece of property belonging to a local historic theater. I learned later that day that the theater had come up with the funds the night before and successfully avoided the auction. But that morning I had to sit there and wait till the theater's case number was called...or not.
While I waited I got in some good people watching. First, I noticed the people in the gallery were all a hyper bunch - mostly guys, by a 30-to-1 margin. They'd all either had a lot of coffee or smoked a little crack before coming to the courthouse, 'cause they were all over the place. Second, the whole auction process was fascinating. It was almost like what you'd imagine from campy old cattle auction scenes in the movies. There was an administrative judge announcing each property for sale, and she called out each property in that stereotypical auctioneer's voice - you know, 100 words a second, going once, going twice, three times, sold! That sort of thing.
Some of the auctions were to take over mortgages. Others were to buy properties outright. All of the bids started at $100. And most were still at that price when sold. But in some cases the bidding rose into the thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands.
Here's what really fascinated me: Most of the time the first person to bid got the property. Rarely did anyone try to outdo the first bidder. However, on the few occasions when the bidding went higher, I noticed that people were outbidding each other by as little as $1. Seriously, someone would call out "$1,000," and before they closed their mouth the next person was calling out "$1,001."
And the funny thing is, unlike the Price is Right, people were getting really ticked off. No applause, for sure. But not even the gracious smile. I saw so many red faces and grimaces in that room I thought there was a group heart attack taking place.
Part of me wanted to laugh. But an equal part of me felt the anger of those folks who were being outbid by mere dollars. The combo of emotions drove me to sympathy.
I watched one guy bid, $500,000 for a high condo that had gone into foreclosure. The next guy bid $500,700, I believe. They went back and forth until the second guy finally won at something like $504,002. The first guy was livid and had to stalk out of the room to regain his composure.
These guys would not have made good Price is Right contestants. Sore losers. To be fair to them though? Under the circumstances I'd be a sore loser too. I'd be really, really, pissed off.
Had I been outbid by a dollar, or even $100 on a property I badly wanted I think I might have drop-kicked the person who beat me out of that 9th story window.
If ever I decide to pursue a game show, I think it might have to be Jeopardy, or some other show where only my wits will propel me to the top or sink my ship.