I am a huge fan of the History Channel’s Pawn Stars. It has wit, familial relations, historical trivia, old stuff and weird stuff. Rick Harrison is the owner of the pawn shop located in Las Vegas, and the show’s popularity has meant they have added thousands of square feet to the store and hired an additional thirty employees. They used to have about 100 customers per day; they now have over a thousand.
Harrison has an interesting background. He suffered from grand mal seizures as a child which made him think he wouldn’t live to adulthood and provided a justification in his mind for just being a reprobate. He was constantly in trouble, but he was also extremely bright. Testing off the charts in math and a constant reader, school was exceedingly boring and lacked challenge so after the ninth grade he just decided he didn’t need it any more. Nobody could figure me out. I was a tenth-grade dropout who read and studied more than most college students. I could be a raging, partying guy on Friday night and then get up Saturday morning, pack three or four physics books into a backpack, hop on a motorcycle, and drive into the desert. I’d sit on the side of a mountain all day long reading them. No wonder nobody knew what to make of me. I wasn’t always sure, either. He drops hints of interesting history and physics books. (I've already added them to my collection.)
I knew very little about how pawn shops operate, and was startled to learn that 25% of the population does not qualify for a bank account so pawn shops operate as a no questions asked source of cash. One very hard working man made his living for comparing prices at various pawn shops, buying and then pawning and redeeming assorted items, the difference in prices being his income. He raised six children this way. Another tidbit: 80-90% of pawns (depending on the economy) are ultimately redeemed, a much higher figure than I would have imagined. People like their stuff.
Scattered amidst Rick’s observations are chapters by Old Man (a thorough curmudgeon if there ever was one), Corey (he had a terrible time with crystal meth as a teenager but credits his dad with not enabling and forcing him to get off of it which he did with sterling will power and cheeseburgers with bacon) and Chumlee (no where near as dumb as portrayed on the show and quite the entrepreneur himself.) Rick never judges; it would be the death of his business, nor does he harbor any sentimentality toward “stuff,” a refreshing attitude. As he notes, a sociologist could learn a great deal working the night window. Another tidbit, Pimps buy a lot of jewelry from me, and the bigger the better. It’s not fake, either. They insist on real gold and they’re willing to pay a good amount for it. And here’s why: If they get arrested, the cops will confiscate their cash but not their jewelry. They can give their jewelry to one of their girls, and she’ll take it directly to the pawn shop to get money for bail. It makes perfect sense if you look at it from their perspective. The jewelry is not just an accessory.
One little tidbit about the effect of the show. Rick, his dad, Corey and Chumlee can no longer work the counter because with all the tourists snapping pictures, a pawn; confidentiality would be compromised, something that’s illegal. Besides, I had never watched a reality show until I was starring in one. When people ask me what I think about all this attention, I tell them the same thing every time: We’ll ride this horse till it dies, and then we’ll cut a steak off its ass.
The book itself is not a literary masterpiece. He writes much the way he talks on the show and you can hear his incessant laughter and delight in what he finds behind every sentence. BTW, he delights in his use of the word, “fuck,” so those who can’t bear to see that in print will probably want to avoid the book. Their loss.