I’m all the time watching people, and the scene at the traffic light corner of the H-E-B parking lot got my attention. Really, it was the lack of definition of the arrangement that caused my interest.
Flat out in the corner of the parking lot was a single young man, sitting in a folding chair with a card table opened and little if anything on the table to define its purpose.
Turns out that I had no use for it at all, but the scene took me back to 1959 when a really special person to me came to Sam Houston State Teachers College. To a freshman, the world was big, and rough, and tumble as far as she could see, and matters of high finance were of huge importance to her.
When I finally caught the right angle to see the sign attached to the affair, I could clearly see that a young entrepreneur had set up shop to exercise his right to a competitive market — on textbooks. How this particular enterprise caused my 1959 revere was this.
There was only one bookstore in town. Every book that SHSTC required could be bought at only one store. It hurt.
As the semesters drew to an end, books had to be sold in order to buy for the next semester. The discriminating student hoped he could find a used book because they were cheaper. Students couldn’t always find used books, and were compelled to buy the much more expensive new copies.
The rub came when student after student would sell a $20 book (really, you could buy a book for $20 in 1959) back to the one and only bookstore, get $3 for it, while the next student came along a week and a half later and paid $18 for it.
It’s what free market trade is, and it was legal. We often gathered when I came along six years later, and cussed and discussed the situation. But, we did nothing. We had no ability to organize and come up with a plan to fight the inequities that we thought existed in 1965.
My friend, who was so traumatized by the situation, was never to be consoled, and I have often wondered why I was able to handle it differently, and that each and every student handled it is his or her own way.
I’ve come to a carefully considered conclusion. My friend understood the system, knew why it was the way it was, and was in some manner personally humiliated that even though selling the books at such an insulting price was what the market would bear, she had to have that money even if it was a devastatingly pitiful amount.
To the interest of absolutely nobody on planet earth, I honked and waved an encouraging wave to the young man who was trying to make a difference for his classmates.
He probably didn’t know why I did what I did, but it just seemed right to encourage someone for standing up — even in a small way.
Suffice to say, many things are out there each and every day that impact the young collegians when they get to our campus each semester. They’ll be back in a couple of weeks to start the cycle over, and small things that they face time after time either encourage them or discourage them to the extent that they drop out — or pull out a card table on South Sam Houston Avenue and be part of the solution.
You know what? Maybe I was that student who was so humiliated about finances that I had to accept $3 for a $20 book. Maybe it was 1965, and maybe I’ve held on to that memory for too long.
That young man I saw was facing up to the problem. His is the mentality that finds solutions.
If I thought too deeply about what he was doing, oh well. Maybe he was generating funds for a beer party at the rock quarry.
Or maybe it’s just me.