Friday, April 29, 2005

So Why Ain't I Rich?

I'm in shopping mode right now. It's how I deal with bad times. It does me good to get out of my usual environment and see what the rest of the world is up to. Today I met with an old friend for lunch in Round Rock (about 30 minutes away from the office); indulged in an overlong lunch; then stopped at the Barnes & Noble on my way back to the office. (Hey, I work my butt off most of the time. I deserve to screw around some once in awhile.)

I've never met a bookstore I didn't like and I know when I walk in the door that I will be spending money. It's not a question of if, but on what. About 25 minutes later I walked out $100 poorer, but I've got some good books to put on the waiting list to read. Which is neither here nor there as pertains to the title of this piece, but I'm setting the scene.

As is my habit, I wandered over to the crafts and hobbies section to take a gander at what new books there might be for knitters. I don't have time to knit much anymore, but I still like to keep my education up for someday in the future when I do have time (ha, ha). Today there were four shelves worth of books on knitting and crocheting and most of them were books I didn't own. It suddenly hit me that I've missed the boat once again.

I have a unique knack for getting interested in a subject years before it becomes really popular and people start making a passle of money catering to that audience. It was quite a few years prior to the Barnes & Noble/Starbucks alliance when I played with the idea of opening a book store where there would be comfy chairs around where someone could sit and pass the time among the wonderful world of books and that would have a coffee center in the corner where you could get a good cup of coffee to drink while you were sitting. And who's making a bundle now with my idea?

I fell in love with Colorado about 18 years ago, before the movie stars found it and started running up the real estate prices to a point where a real person can't afford to buy a vacation spot there. If I had had the foresight to buy a few acres around Ouray, Gunnison, Salida or Durango back in 1987, I might be able to resell it now for quite a tidy profit.

I've been involved in genealogy since 1968, back when you had to dig, dig, and dig some more to get even a tiny babystep further back in your research. I read everything I could get my hands on to teach me techniques to find missing dead people, and there wasn't much to read. A pitiful magazine that I subscribed to for several years and a few antiquated "how to" books. Now I subscribe to four wonderfully helpful genealogical magazines, have access to census record images via the Internet through Ancestry, and have the bountiful data online that has been assembled by a network of volunteers through the US Genweb. It seems like at least 2-3 new books on various aspects of genealogy are on the shelf everytime I hit a bookstore. And most of them don't teach me anything that I didn't learn the hard way 20 years ago. But did I have the gumption to write a how-to book myself?

Another hobby that is on slow simmer at the present is dollhouse miniatures. I backed into the hobby in the early 1970s and spent several years constructing and decorating dollhouses and vignettes. Back in those prehistoric days, manufactured miniatures were virtually nonexistent. You learned to look at every scrap of metal in a hardware store with an eye toward what it could be made to look like in a 1/12th scale world. Nowadays you can find just about everything in miniature version, thanks to an explosion of interest about a decade ago in dioramas and the need for things to put in antique printer trays to produce an interesting decorative piece for your wall. It is still a very focused market, but with the Internet you can make a decent living selling miniatures to nut cases like me. And there's a lot like me out there - some even nuttier. Folks like Brooke Tucker have turned themselves into professional miniaturists and charge around $500 per student for workshops where they learn to build quality vignettes and roomboxes. Another missed opportunity.

And now knitting. I have long dreamed of owning a good yarn store, where there would be natural fiber yarns, classes, local fiber artist showings and the like. I squashed the idea many years back because it was a dying art. Yes there were the faithful, like me, who still loved to work with quality yarn (not that acrylic crap you find at Walmart). But times were bad when I got the idea (mid 1980s), and small businesses were dying at a frightening pace. People weren't interested in costly, luxury items. But now, with Julia Roberts and Darryl Hannah and tons of other stars carrying around their scarves in progress, novelty and speciality yarns are hitting the shelves and going home with people in large quantities. Book after book is being published not only with how-tos and patterns, but on the philosophy of knitting. For the record, I haven't totally given up my dream, but once again, I was on the cutting edge and didn't even know it.

I can cite other examples. I loved the basics of homemaking skills long before Martha Stewart came on the scene. I was baking bread and creating sourdough starter and learning to spin when she was still a stockbroker. I quite often get interested or tired of a product or service several months before the rest of the world follows. I guess I missed my true calling as a trend-spotter.

Which gives me hope about the state of our government. I've been calling George W. Bush a preppie jerk from the time he strode into the Texas governor's office. Surely, it will be any minute when the rest of the world catches on. But I digress.

I guess it takes vision to act on your impulses and guts to trust your instincts. Too bad I never realize that I'm on to something until it's too late for me to grab hold of the train and get on board. But I'm here to tell you, Barnes & Noble and Starbucks should cough up some money. That was my idea.


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