On Collections

The Solano Stroll in Berkeley is an annual event where the entire stretch of Solano Street is closed. Local businesses and residents would participate in turning the street into a street festival. The firefighter departments of Berkeley and Albany would come with a fire truck where kids could sit in the driver seat and understand what it could feel like to be the firefighter driver. Restaurants would bring out their grills and serve some street food. Clothing stores would try to give discounts for their end of season sales.

It was there, over fifteen years ago, where I started a collection of business cards. At the stroll, the street is littered with booths from local businesses, artists, specialists, and because it’s Berkeley, radicals. Each one of these booths had business cards there for the taking, so I ran up and down the two and half mile stretch to collect them all. Besides the booths, there were people on the streets handing out their own personal business cards next to their signs. One guy in particular was an artist trying to sell his ceramic pieces and made custom jewelry.

A normal response when someone receives a business card would be to commit to an action to it or, more likely, throw it away in the trash. I decided to keep the cards in a box, serving as a container for the Solano Stroll experience. But it expanded beyond the event. I found myself taking business cards from restaurants, gift shops, travel agencies, community boards, and other businesses. I collected the punch cards you would receive at sandwich shops. I collected the strange, square shaped ones. I collected the last one on the business card tray. One time, I entered a photo store, and as I was taking a card next to the register, the store clerk looked at me sternly and asked, “Why are you taking a business card?” Flustered, I scurried off, clenching the business card in hand.

On family vacations, I would fill the pocket of my suitcases with business cards from the various places we went. The cards transformed from words with contact information to personal stored memories. I have this particularly strange one from Taiwan that introduced me to their calendar system. 93? Whoa! Sometimes other paraphernalia would find its way into my collection, like tickets from the movies, plane rides, and the theater. One in particular comes in recent memory. I have this ticket stub from the Alcazar, a theater in Pattaya, Thailand that ran shows every night of their most beautiful lady boys.

Over the years, I’ve asked the central question to this collection. Why keep this up? As I said, most sane people would throw them away. A day before the planes hit 9/11, my grandmother visited the World Trade Center. She bought a bouncy ball from the gift shop that glowed after impact. When she came home, she gave this to me as a gift. I couldn’t see the ball more than just a reminder of the tragedy that hit this nation. A month or two after she gave me the gift, I lost it as I threw it on the school grounds. It rolled underneath the bungalow of my classroom and I felt devastated. The ball had this history I only knew about. That’s what these cards mean to me now, memories that remind me of specific moments of my life.