People Defy Expectations

Our client Ralph Oko is a lifelong treasure hunter and collectibles dealer. Here's a story from his memoir, which we share with his permission.

Rosemont is a town in Illinois, a stone’s throw from O’Hare airport. It is home to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center, where trade shows of all sizes and types are held, from Comic Con to Pampered Chef to quilt festivals to jewelry shows. And to sports memorabilia shows, one of the mainstays of my professional trading life.

On a typically cold and gloomy November day in the mid-1990s, I had a 10 X 10 booth at the Convention Center. It was situated in the way I liked—in a corner, so I could see foot traffic coming from all directions.

Early in the show, we watched a man who looked exactly like Doc Brown in the “Back to the Future” movies make his way from booth to booth. He didn’t stay long at any of them; in addition to his crazy hair, he was dressed like a bum and none of the traders made spoke to him or even made eye contact. After a few seconds, he would shamble away.

He approached my booth. I looked at him and said "hi"; nothing effusive, just “hi." The man pointed to a baseball card and asked “How much is that?” I told him it was $600. He reached into his overcoat, pulled out a huge wad of bills, and peeled off six crisp hundred dollar bills. It was my biggest single sale of the day. I knew then and I know now that appearances can be deceiving.

The police cars in Rosemont were painted with roses. I always think of that when I think of that old guy with the wad of bills. Don’t let appearances fool you—the cops will be as tough as they need to be even though there are flowers on their cars, and someone who looks like they couldn’t buy a cup of coffee may be able to buy and sell you any day of the week.

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