Historians who have studied such things tell us that human civilization began thousands of years ago when small groups of people began gathering on the shore of some ancient river to spend a day or two trading different items. In addition to trade, they would also tell stories about the lands they had traveled to. This got our ancestors interested in travel to different places, so it was also the beginning of the travel and tourism industry.
But I digress.
We’re told that at these early riverside meetings a tribe that fished and had lots of dried fish left over, for example, would trade its surplus with someone who had olive oil or wheat. Don’t hold me to the details here. I’m not implying I’m an expert on such things since I’m not a historian. If I were, I’d state with certainty – the way historians always do – exactly what items those ancient people traded. I just know that starting a long time ago humans began getting together to trade something they had a lot of for something they didn’t have enough of.
How such seemingly innocent activity eventually led to the likes of the Maine Mall, Wal-Mart and Home Depot and maxed out credit cards and debt counselors I’ll never know, but that’s a topic for another time.
I was reminded of trade and barter recently when I was asked by a local furniture dealer if I’d be interested in writing and recording some commercials for him in exchange for a few nice pieces of furniture. As it turned out, I was interested and the whole thing worked out well. The furniture store owner got his commercials and I got a nice futon and two tables that I had delivered up to camp.
As the son of a Maine dentist I learned all about the concept of barter. My father’s patients often would want to trade things like carpentry work, house painting, firewood or even boats for something like a set of uppers or lowers. The first car I ever owned was a 1963 Chevy Powerglide, given to me by my father who took it in trade from a little old lady who needed a new full set. When father asked her how she’d get along without her car she said, “First things first, Doc. Right now I feel I need some teeth more than I need that car.”
Back in the 1970s when I started working for a small radio station Down East, I was reintroduced to trade and barter. The station owner would take goods or services from some local business in exchange for commercials on the radio. There’s an old story in radio about the sales rep who got mugged out in front of the station. He called the police and an officer arrived on the scene to take down all the information. When the officer asked the sales rep if the mugger got anything the rep said: “He sure did! He got $100 in cash and $200 in trade.”
Maine’s radio stations used to be small local businesses and station owners used to do a lot of trading The owner of the Down East station I worked for used to trade commercials for a new car every year. You were likely to hear an ad for the dealership a few dozen times if you listened to the station a few hours a day. When the owner’s house needed new siding, it wouldn’t be long before we’d start running spots from a local lumber yard, and every year before the station’s Christmas party, we’d have spots from a caterer in town.
But, like most anything else, sometimes trade deals workout well and sometimes they don’t.
One June the station owner’s only daughter got married and he traded for the flowers, the gown, the food and limo – everything. He had to run so many spots to pay for that wedding that the marriage ended before the ad schedule did.
But you know, that siding on his house still looks as good as new.
Maine storyteller John McDonald is the author of several bestselling books, including his latest, “Moose Memoirs and Lobster Tails,” which is a sequel to “A Moose and a Lobster.” John also entertains throughout New England, telling his Maine stories at banquets, conventions, conferences and other special events. Contact him at 207-899-1868 or firstname.lastname@example.org.