Trading World Cup stickers among Miami’s most ruthless collectors
Corey Bennett: Miriti, what’d you think about our trip to El Arepazo, one of Miami’s Panini trading hotspots?
Miriti Murungi: My head is still spinning. I thought it was going to be a relaxing trip to a fine restaurant-gas station combination, not an exhausting trip to go haggle for stickers. I knew about the stickers, but I didn’t realize how serious people took trading, and how bad we would be at it.
CB: Definitely not a Michelin star environment. Rather, it was like kicking a soccer ball through a nostalgia shop in 90-degree heat. There are so many things worth mentioning, but I have to start by noting the common thread that ran through the entire experience: that unmistakable exhilaration that builds in the month before the World Cup.
MM: Also, it’s uncommon to see men, women, and children all sharing a common experience with equal enthusiasm. Especially an activity that, in theory, is as mundane as sticker trading. But as we both quickly found out, there is nothing boring about big-time Panini wheeling and dealing. It was exhausting, but I had a blast. What surprised you most about the experience?
CB: That everyone was respectful and organized. It was much more a gathering of collectors than hard-nosed negotiators. We heard about an informal “honor system” from multiple people and everything I saw seemed to confirm its existence. And yet we saw genuine frustration and confusion over our ignorance of the Panini Code, a fancy term I’ve just invented to describe generally accepted practices. What about you?
MM: On the respect thing, I definitely noticed that every single kid I met was the most polite child I had ever met. Based on that alone, I have to recommend the Panini experience to everyone with children. If all kids acted like the way these kids acted, white, red, blue, and orange collar crime rates would all go down. The informal honor system was definitely cool. We had our stickers laid out on the table, faces up, and almost as soon as traffic picked up, there were hands grasping at the various stacks of stickers. People were telling us which ones they were going to take, and others just picked up cards, showed them to me, and then walked away. It was around that point that I realized we were doing something wrong. We were only supposed to have our duplicates out, but we had every sticker on the table. Nevertheless, even after it became chaotic, people would always come back with the stickers and offer trades. Except for the grown man who took a sticker he needed and came back and gave me an unopened pack of Panini stickers. I looked confused. I still am.
CB: That was an odd move. His last few cards could’ve been in that unopened pack. Unless he pillaged our stash when we weren’t paying attention and his “gift” was simply him dealing with a guilty conscience. What was your experience trying to trade with the man who spoke no English?
MM: It was another “I don’t know what I’m doing” lesson. The guy basically walked up and asked if I was trading. I understood and proudly, yet sadly, responded with an emphatic “Si!” So he pulled out three sheets of paper covered in hand-written Panini sticker numbers. He started reading them out like we were playing bingo. I was still onboard with my remedial Spanish. Then he very comfortably started taking the cards he wanted, and that was when I realized, AGAIN, that I was doing something wrong. You saw the confusion on my face, didn’t you? I didn’t know if that was how business was done or if we were dealing with a hard man who was about to strong arm us for our Panini stickers.
CB: In fairness, he had taken more than a dozen stickers without offering any in return. And he didn’t seem to have been blessed with a sense of humor. Last question. Are you going to live the Panini dream and try to complete your own album in 2018, or was this a one-off for you?
MM: I’m going to spend the next four years Panini training in Siberia. And when I return in 2018, I am going to show no mercy. So, to answer your question, yes, I have a new hobby.