Can Someone Get Me A Caddy?

Posted by admin on June 10, 2013 in Growing Up |

I went shopping a few weeks ago. Yes, this is a rarity for me, as I don’t typically like to shop in an environment where I may actually buy something. Send me to a local mall on a shopping mission and I will come home empty handed.

Send me to a junk or antique shop and who knows what will happen?

This is certainly the case in Snohomish, Washington. About a half hour northeast of my domicile, Snohomish is a mecca for shopping. There appears to be more antique shops and boutiques per square foot than any other place on earth. So many, in fact, that you quickly lose track of which store you’re in, the entrances and exits melding into an endless maze of aisles and aisles of delights for the eyes that mesmerize you mercilessly.

I know this because the first store took me three hours to go through. This wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary for some, but I am a scanner. I don’t need to touch everything, or anything, usually. I can scan the aisles, editing all the items, zeroing in on just the ones I have intense interest in. It’s only then that I will spend a lingering moment. I may still not feel the need to touch. The description, price or condition may be enough for me to filter even further.

This is how I roll when I shop. Scanning entire retail spaces quickly and efficiently. This doesn’t mean that I miss any true treasures. I can spot a really good item or deal from a mile away. I just don’t need to touch anything.

So you can imagine how big this place was. Five floors to cover, me scanning thousands of items like a Cylon. All that was missing was the read light going back and forth.

It was only after spending three hours in this one mall that I came to realize that Snohomish was not a one-day adventure. Another day, two, maybe three would be required to cover all the real estate.

On my second trip, I actually made it to 2nd Street, the historic district that lines the Snohomish River. I can’t even tell you how many antiques I saw that day, largely because I was on shopping overload and eventually my eyes glossed over and everything started to look the same. I was overdosing.

Then I came upon a familiar item. Most shoppers would simply pass it by. It was pretty nondescript; a black suitcase-like case with some advertising on the side and two luggage latches on the top.

I knew in an instant that it something from my past. It was a tube caddy. If your father wasn’t a TV repairman you probably wouldn’t even know what it was if I told you. Oh, I just did. A tube caddy was like a doctor’s bag in the TV repair business, loaded with vacuum tubes of all shapes and sizes.

Remember vacuum tubes? Or even TVs that needed vacuum tubes? Today, everything runs on transistors and microprocessors, but back in the day, you could actually fix your television if you knew which tube needed to be replaced.

My dad was your TV’s doctor. He would swoop in with his odd collection of surgical tools: a mystical ring of wire and electrical tape that would de-gauze your picture tube to restore its beautiful color, some screwdrivers and pliers, and the ever-present tube caddy.

I couldn’t resist opening the caddy in the antique store. I still swear that as I opened it, streams of light poured out from it, as if I was looking into the Ark of the Covenant. My face didn’t melt, but I was transported 40 years back into my youth as I remembered carrying a similar case on service calls with my dad.

Vacuum tubes are highly prized today. They don’t make them anymore. Some on go for $50 apiece. Without these now rare treasures, the electronics collector’s prizes – old TVs, radios, shortwaves and such – would go silent.

This particular case was still filled with vacuum tubes, most in their original boxes. A treasure trove of wonders. Each called out its function in now indecipherable code: X103, M220L, S1015. I tortured for several minutes as to whether I should buy it or not. It was a steal, just $99. I could sell a dozen tubes from the collection and quickly make my money back. And as a bonus, I would get the case.

As I stood there, torturing over my purchasing decision, memories flooded back to the days when my dad owned his shop on Sunset Boulevard in Renton. The pop machine at the front, which we would liberally help ourselves to, sucking down bottles of Canada Dry pop, including my favorites, orange and strawberry. The new TVs lined up in a row in the showroom, the always chaotic and downright messy repair room in the back. The rumble of the trains on the track behind the shop that shook the TVs so bad they would all need to be readjusted. The tube tester where customers would check the quality of their tubes and buy replacements. And the tube caddy, always at the ready for a service call to one of my dad’s customer’s homes.

The tube caddy was indeed tempting. It was a cash cow in terms of resale, and as I said, I would get the case, which could be fashioned into any number of amazing things as a bonus. All for a measly $99.

It is still there, though I profess that I don’t know quite where there is in the sea of antique shops of Snohomish. I can picture right where it is within the shop, but not the location of the shop.

The tube caddy will have to wait. Perhaps some other son of a TV repairman will see it in the days to come and his memories of the time he spent with his dad will come rushing back as he opens the case and sets his eyes on the wonders inside.

Time travel may never be possible, but I now know there’s a time machine. It’s a seemingly ordinary black case in Snohomish that allowed me to return to a simpler time, a wonderful time, one where my father was bigger than life, and tubes were the highest of high tech.

In the Emerald City, wondering which high-tech goodies in my house will be the next antique.

– Robb

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