In the cutthroat world of the yard sale, early birds are the hardcore scavengers who show up at the crack of dawn or even earlier, determined to get the best bargains and rarest finds. Experienced yard salers will know enough to place the warning “No Early Birds” in their ads…not that those words are any guarantee against the determined collector, resaler or pack rat.
This is the world filmmakers Michæl Bayer and Stan Steen infiltrate with their new documentary. And while the yard sale subculture undoubtedly exists in one form or another throughout the world, “No Early Birds” focuses on Austin, Texas – specifically on Roxanne and Dale, two of the most die-hard examples of the breed. They’re in the game for different reasons – Roxanne owns a second-hand shop called Curiosa?, while Dale is a laid-back free spirit of the genus “Slacker” (an increasingly endangered species in today’s dot-com crazed Austin). While Roxanne tears through red lights and nearly plows over pedestrians in her frenzied crosstown shopping sprees, Dale leisurely pedals his bike in the pre-dawn light, hoping to be first in line to haggle for a used welding torch or battered six-string.
As they make their way from sale to sale, Dale and Roxanne dispense hard-won wisdom derived from their years of experience. For instance, group sales are bad. They attract more people and the good deals disappear early. Signs should always be dated, as they tend to stay up for days or even weeks after a sale has ended. EBay is the enemy, and the Citywide Garage Sale is for suckers. Oh, and you should never buy second-hand underwear. (Okay, that one we could probably have figured out for ourselves.)
Along the way we meet various other oddballs and hangers-on, among them an elderly lady who haunts the estate sale of her deceased neighbor for days, hoping to reclaim a clock she had given as a gift many years earlier, and a self-described packrat whose every inch of living space is jammed up with knick-knacks, geegaws, and flat-out junk. But Bayer and Steen never condescend to their admittedly off-kilter subjects. Like “Hands on a Hard Body,” “No Early Birds” is a joyous and often hilarious celebration of the Texas eccentric.