“See you at Cobb at 1:15. I have brown hair. I will be wearing a green jacket. My phone number is….”
What would normally read as a very impersonal last message on an online dating Web site before an initial meet-up has become a recurring line in my UChicago e-mail’s sent folder. A weekly (or, if I am lucky, daily) endeavor, this is an example of the last e-mail sent before an exchange orchestrated by UChi Marketplace.
Who will it be that I meet in front of Cobb at 1:15 p.m.? My old copy of Flight of the Conchords season one without dust jacket for $6 will find its new home today. Will it go with a mysterious Pritzker student in a lab coat, venturing onto the quad? Perhaps a timid and eager first-year, ahead of her time? It’s always a surprise and a mystery who ends up with your $20 pair of twice-worn moccasins outside of the Reg between 11:20 a.m. and 11:25 a.m.. All you know is their CNet ID—maybe that is all you will ever know. Or maybe the swift and awkward transaction will be the birth of a beautiful friendship.
I always find it strange that we all live very similar lives yet often never talk to each other. We all know where the plugs are in the student cafés, we all flood the quad at 1:20 p.m., and sometimes we experience the silence of its grassy greens at 1:34 p.m.. Almost all of us have had the cottage cheese at the dining halls and almost all of us live in this 10-by-10-block radius of neo-Gothic buildings in the middle of the South Side. Sure, we are different people with different values, and we will probably never know the names of more than 400 or 500 people at this school at a time. But our life experiences, however diverse, become eerily similar during these few years, all circulating around the same patterns of traffic. Places and forums for intersection with someone completely random and unknown are few and far between.
Such is the beauty of Marketplace: It unites us, strips us of our differences. Apple or PC, econ or sociology—Marketplace brings us all together in the basic proletarian need for a $4 pair of salad tongs. Marketplace grabs the hands of those moving into their first apartment and helps pull them up into the ranks of adulthood, equipping them with a “leather couch with a few rips” and, of course, a “lightly used end table.” By using Marketplace, we bypass the expensive and confusing trip to Ikea in Bolingbrook. By using Marketplace, we avoid spending a cool $200 at the Seminary Co-Op, preferring instead a $3 copy of Plato’s Republic that’s helpfully highlighted for us already. By using Marketplace, we subvert!
Not only does Marketplace espouse the revolutionary ideals preached by the 3 R’s—reduce, reuse, recycle—but it also builds community in the least expected places. Marketplace is not for the frivolous; there is no commodity fetishism here. It actively resists that which is bourgeois with its $10 microwaves and free sofas left in mid-June; it proffers only the utilitarian needs we all require within our simple collegiate existence. Labor that was once alienating and estranged becomes a bridge between two individuals with CNet IDs—a reprieve from the constant eye contact avoidance and iPhone distraction that is the modern age.
I could name countless Marketplace memories to date. I still smile at the girl that bought my $11 copy of the Freaks and Geeks box set in April—and she smiles back! We shared a nice three-minute convo about the beauty of the series. Every month or so, I clear out my contacts list in my phone—which I found for free on Marketplace. And as I delete “speakers girl” and “bike dude”, I fondly remember the four minutes we spent together outside Harper, swapping bills for commodities, subverting the system, and spurring the revolution. Viva la Marketplace!
Caitlin Grey is a third-year in the College majoring in comparative human development.