From Dead Head To Pinhead

I managed to pull off what I’m calling the biggest trade this great city has seen since Brian Burke managed to get both of the Sedin twins in the 1999 NHL Draft.

Shaun White can have his Olympic gold medal. I made my own score of top-of-the-podium proportions yesterday.

I traded a USA Hockey Olympic pin for, get this, a Grateful Dead pin produced by the San Francisco Fire Department’s Haight Street division.

I’ll pause a moment to give everyone ample opportunity to collectively say “whoop-di-doo,” but for me this is a bigger deal than a Canadian Zamboni driver finding a Loonie buried at center ice, only a lot rarer.

I know what people will say: what does the Grateful Dead have to do with the Olympics? Other than the fact that they played the Dead’s “I Need A Miracle” while showing highlights of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team on the Jumbotron at Hockey Canada Place, not much.

The point is, that’s the cool thing about pin collecting. Beauty, and perceived value, is in the eye of the beholder. For some it’s all about the joy of collecting. For others, it’s all about the buck.

I’ve run into both kinds on the streets of Vancouver. My trading partner yesterday was a woman named Margie from Missouri. Bad hip and all, she packs up her pins every morning and makes the commute into the city to set up shop at the corner of Burrard and Cordova to trade pins. For her, it’s all about the people she meets, the stories they share and the thrill of the deal. She has been to both summer and winter Olympics, but has never seen an event. Still, she has enough Olympic spirit to fill a room.

Then there’s the wheeler-dealer who took time off from his used car business to trade me a St. Patrick’s Day Olympic pin. I offered up a USA Hockey pin, which he took after huddling with a fellow pinhead. After launching into a lengthy soliloquy about the rarity of this St. Paddy’s pin, he demanded two USA Hockey pins for trade. He said they had a book value of half the St. Paddy’s pin.

That part I just don’t get. How does a pin that is making its debut on the streets of Vancouver already have a book value? Is there a guy sitting in a dark room on the second floor overlooking Robson Square in contact with someone in Geneva who has a line on the futures’ market?

Pins are in many ways the currency of the Olympics. Someone does something nice, you give him or her a pin. You need extra towels in your room, give the maid a pin. All the doormen at my hotel are sporting USA Hockey pins, but only after they swore their allegiance to the red, white and blue.

It’s amazing what you can get some people to do for an Olympic pin. There’s a story in USA Hockey lore that says one experienced international traveler has even been upgraded to first class on an international flight because he gave the right airline worker a pin.

Like all forms of collecting, value is the in the eye of the beholder. Whether it’s hockey cards, decorative spoons or Olympic pins, it comes down to what floats your boat.

For me it’s my new Grateful Dead pin. And I won’t be trading that one any time soon.

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