Iconic enough that anyone “in the know” needn’t elaborate with excessive descriptors. For those uninformed, it refers to the name and number of the Highway that stretches from Michigan down to Alabama and (more specifically) the 690 miles that are home to the “World’s Largest Yard Sale.” The annual event began in ’87 as an homage of sorts to the older Highway vs. Interstate transit corridor and traditionally kicks off the first Thursday-Sunday every August, although vendors are known to begin peddling sometimes upwards of a week in advance. Describe the weekend sales to any rookie and they’ll inevitably respond “Oh that sounds fun, we should go together,” but seasoned veterans know better: this ain’t your Nana’s yardsale. Or maybe it is, depending on how your nana spends her weekends. A veritable plunderland of any imaginable item you’d never known you needed, the HWY 127 yard sales serve as a pathway to the Pilgrims of Pickin’. It doesn’t facilitate the casual absent-minded browser so much as those hellbent with intent. It isn’t enough just to hope that you might find something of interest, you’ve got to NEED that final missing piece to your matching set of Care Bear’s drinking glasses… need it more than life. More than the overbearing August humidity, more than the stifling crowds, more than the cramps from that questionable hot dog you ate at the gas station 10 miles back. Entering yard sale territory is like entering Hogwart’s Room of Requirement: what you’re looking for is in there someplace, but it only reveals itself once the need is required.
The Kentucky portion of the highway starts just south of Cincinnati. 127 curves downward towards the Commonwealth’s Capitol in Frankfort along a road of slow moving stop-n-go traffic all too eager to brake at any neon indication of a “YARD SALE” sign. The yardsalers are legion, they flock by the thousands from across the country with specific intent to meticulously turn over each and every individual American Greeting’s figurine, gently used baby romper, and harlequin romance novel.
The price tag says $10, they say “Would ya take $5?”
Their parking lots are the precarious roadside ditches overgrown thick with blue cornflowers and Queen Anne’s Lace, common all along each gorgeous historic borough you’ll pass through as you continue south. Lawrenceburg. Harrodsburg. Danville. Littered along the path are countless suburban inlets whose yards are pocked with makeshift tables stacked for sale with junk only your mother would love. There are dilapidated barns with dirt floors that house forgotten antiquities and countless sundries merchandised amidst horse stables and tobacco sticks, quilts and leather goods draped across the rafters. Occasionally between the garage sales and makeshift antique stores, large expanses of multiple vendors will appear sprawled across a stretch of grassy County Fairgrounds. Need a dry-rotted bowling bag from the 70’s? They’ve got it… it smells like mildew and it’s filled with mouse poop, but it’s yours for $1. Looking for an antique wash basin stand like the one your grandmother had before your cousin stole it and sold it to pay for his drug addiction? Saw one this morning. Want a Skipper doll like the kind you had whenever you were a child? Here’s one, but there’s no way I’m paying THAT for it.
Somewhere south of Junction City, my favorite section of the highway corridor eases into view. The land quietly begins to undulate into slowly rolling hills as you enter the horseshoe shaped “Knobs” region of Kentucky’s Appalachia. Before long you’ve reached Casey County: God’s Country (quite literally, as you may recall recent national headlines concerning their stance on Marriage Equality). Aside from that, it’s a quaint area with a surprising Amish-Mennonite population. Their travels along highway roads may be largely confined to horse and buggy, but that hasn’t stopped them from equal participation in the festivities. Makeshift outdoor kitchens arise beneath tents where dozens of Mennonite women and girls work in an assembly line fashion to churn out fried apple pies made from scratch. In the background, a mule walks on a peculiar treadmill that makes slow churned ice cream. You’ll oogle boxes of rustic tools for sale and barter amidst poultry and rabbits, the charm of quaint country life so endearingly appealing, all the while wondering why the Amish are selling VHS copies of Hope Floats & Dante’s Peak at 50 cents apiece.
Seasoned yardsalers will have come prepared at this point armed with a fanny pack care package of bottled water for hydration, a stack of cash for purchase ease, and a peanut butter cracker/beef jerky combo for sustenance that allows convenience yet doesn’t cut into precious browsing time. For the amateur, however, it’s at this point that you’d do well to break for lunch… from here on out the finds start getting interesting. Last year along the 127, it was a park bench with a life-sized Ronald McDonald sculpture seated to one side, a pair of taxidermy coyote molds minus the fur, a glass coffee table with a base in the shape of the Pyramids of Giza. Imagine Pee-Wee’s playhouse having an “everything must go!” sale set against a rural country backdrop and you’ll get the gist. It’s everything you never imagined you’d wanted, and everything that’ll haunt your dreams if you’re foolish enough to let it slip away. It’s the Room of Requirement. You didn’t know you’d need a 5 foot long hand-carved wooden Amazonian spear (which I purchased for $15 on 127 last year) and yet… there it is, suddenly revealing itself to you just when you needed it most.
After all, it isn’t a question as to whether or not they’ll have it, it’s a matter of whether or not you’re willing to look for it.