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Kai Ryssdal: Tens of thousands of people are expected to invade San Diego this week for the pop-culture extravaganza known as Comic Con. It was just a gathering of comic book fans when it started 40 years ago. Now you'll find devotees of graphic novels, television shows, video games and big-budget motion pictures as well. But not commentator Gustavo Arellano.
GUSTAVO ARELLANO: My idea of a vacation isn't quite a no-tell, motel bed shared with my two cousins, my best friend, and three of our pals. They, on the other hand, have made the pilgrimage to Comic Con for the past five years, always returning with bags of collectibles worth thousands of dollars and tales of missed romance. What can I say? They're nerds.
This year, one of those guys returns on a bittersweet note. I'll call him, Senor X. Through hard work and scrupulous savings, Senor X made a small fortune selling his Comic-Con finds. The proceeds afforded him a two-bedroom condo in a nice part of Orange County, and steak nights with us boyos. The good life. In addition to what he bought and sold, Senor X maintained a room packed with his treasures. Simpsons statues. X men. Rare comic books. Anime dolls. Hundreds of them, arranged with the care of a museum exhibit, a testament to his entrepreneurial wits.
Two years ago, Senor X decided to turn legit. He bought a fast-food franchise. I won't name names, but let's just say their toasty sandwiches aren't like torpedoes. His savings went into building the restaurant, paying construction workers, hiring employees. But it opened in 2007, at the start of our Great Recession, and closed within months.
Senor X did everything possible to pay the bills. He rented out the condo. Moved in with relatives. Got another job. Anything to stave off bankruptcy. But it wasn't enough, and the inevitable happened. Senor X had to sell his collection. It's value? Tens of thousands of dollars. It saved my friend. Real-life superheroes, indeed!
It's easy to snicker at Comic Con attendees, but here's the interesting point. If, Senor X hadn't spent so much money on figurines, he probably would've invested all that cash in his failed eatery. Instead, each Bart and Wolverine, Pokemon and vintage Batman turned into fiscal sanity, a fall back against our tough times; even better insurance than the markets or savings. Hmm...maybe I should become a pop dweeb after all, safer than buying a home.
ARELLANO: Gustavo Arellano is a staff writer at the OC Weekly. He writes the syndicated column Ask a Mexican.