There’s are few places in this world that are too trashy or too creepy for me to want to go. As a Fresno survivor and a frequent traveler to Mexico, I’ve seen a lot. I may have met my match, ladies and gentlemen. I’m talking about the Bins. What are the bins? Its where reject thrift store items go to die-for $1.50 a pound. Its a mass of all the trash, broken and unwanted items that could not sell at the regular thrift store. This means not only is there soiled, broken, unusable merchandise mixed in with an occasional useable gem there is trash and even the occasional syringe as well. Yes, I said syringes. There are warning signs everywhere that among many various sharps that could be lurking, syringes are listed as a possibility. All this hodge-podge is loaded into gigantic troughs in rows as far as the eye can see, hence the name ‘the bins’. Every few minutes or so, workers wheel out carts of new crap and dump it out randomly, creating huge piles of shit to sift through. Sometimes, if people see a particularly choice item in one of these worker’s carts, they will sprint, push, and fight each other to be the first one to get it. This indeed is the “UFC fighting” version of thrifting. You do not come here to mess around. Its almost like being on some sort of sick, reality TV show for hoarders.
So why in the fuck would anyone come here? Like I mentioned before, the items are priced at $1.50 a pound. You can literally fill a shopping cart heaping full of stuff and pay $10. Why would anyone want a cart full of the shit I just described? Because 90% of it is stuff rats make nests out of, the other 10% is amazing. What kind of amazing? Like designer vintage pieces in perfect condition, amazing mirrors and paintings, cut crystal glassware, shelving and other home improvement items, yards and yards of furniture, so many shoes and boots (if you’re tenacious enough to find a pair that matches), etc. All you have to do is have the stomach enough to dig for it.
On this recent visit, I took my friend Kyle who has just moved to town. I figured his Portland residency wasn’t official until we made this pilgrimage. Since my friend is also from Fresno, I knew he could probably handle it but I mentally prepared him anyway. Our first stop: to get protective gloves.
Gloves are not a recommendation for the bins, it’s required unless you are a crazy asshole. My very first trip, I did not know this information. I went not prepared for anything. Whilst digging through a pile of debris, I suddenly realized my bare hands were gripping a pair of very dirty underwear. That moment not only concluded my first trip to the bins but also taught me what will become lesson one.
We arrived on a Monday afternoon, which is a perfect bin day. Do not ever, ever attempt going on a weekend. I won’t go into why. Let’s just say if a week-day trip is like UFC thrifting, the weekend is like a post-apocalyptic universe in which the only rule is survival. We will refer to this as lesson number two. As we donned our gloves Kyle gave me a “is this really necessary” look. I just smiled knowing that in five minutes time he will be relieved I had made him put them on. We entered and he instantly began gagging a little from the strong scent of urine. We could not come to an agreement on whether it was human, cat, or perhaps a third unknown mammal’s piss. I grabbed our cart and we began to dig. I could tell he was still feeling a bit awkward about having the gloves on, as we were the only ones. I just shook my head and assured him that those bare-handed people were straight up nuts.
What kind of people go to the bins? I’ll be frank-mostly weirdoes. Today there were homeless, hippies, a very pregnant woman (gloveless) and her 4 kids, a few regular people, shifty-types, depression-era seniors, sketchy-dudes, and for some reason a very small child in a shopping cart that seemed to belong to no-one. My friend was very concerned about the latter but I explained that it’s best to not get involved with the affairs of the ‘bin-folk’. One afore mentioned ‘sketchy-dude’ kept making concentric circles around us, giving us the ‘rapey-eye’ while pushing a cart heaping with broken children’s toys. Again, don’t make eye contact and keep to yourself. Lesson number three.
About twenty minutes into the digging, Kyle stopped dead, a greenish pallor on his face. He looked at me and said “Christine, gloves were an excellent idea”. I went over to him and saw that he had both of his protected hands on a yellow t-shirt smeared with what was distinctly poop.
Thinking Kyle would want to give up, he pushed forward like a brave soldier. The rewards of quelling our queasy stomachs were Christian Dior jackets, cut crystal glassware, vintage dresses, shelving units-to name a few. Our basket was getting nice and full but we were fatigued. The bins are both mentally and physically exhausting. It takes about 3-4 hours to cover it properly. Even though I was finding really good stuff, I was very tired. I was wearily sifting through a bin of crap and found myself clutching an unknown object. I lifted it up in curiosity. It turned out to be a dirty leg cast. A funky, old, plaster full-leg cast. I squealed-groaned and dropped it as my stomach lurched. Lesson number four: never eat before you make a bin trip.
After that, we left. I pushed a heaping cart full of hard-earned treasures. I paid $22 total for a cart worth… Who knows what it was actually worth? Way more. Designer clothes, vintage finds? In Fresno it would have been priced at least twice as much. In Portland it would have been 5 times as much. Either way, a steal. Yes we had to sift through human feces, broken glass, house garbage and needles… Worth it?
I’ll go back. Maybe in like, a year.