I like history but I've never wanted to be an archeologist. I prefer artifacts that you don't have to extricate from the soil with a horse hair brush. The kind that you find in other people's attics and curbside piles of furniture and picture frames. The stuff they're about to give to goodwill or set next to the dumpster. Precious relics in disguise. The kind that end up in soggy cardboard boxes and trash trucks. They're so much more affordable.
For low cost acquisition of genuine artifacts from 21st century American life, I recommend Riverside Salvage on Hall Street.
If you've never been to a self service junkyard, you're overdue. Whether or not you are in the market for used auto parts is inconsequential. It's about exploring.
The junkyard is the only place I know where you can pay a dollar, get your hand stamped, and rifle through the glove boxes of the dead.
Cars come to the junkyard in one of two ways.
The first way: A car breaks down. When the owner looks into having it fixed the cost of the repair is more than they are willing to spend. So they take their sunglasses out of the center console, get the road atlas out of the seat back pocket and sell it to the junkyard. The owner gets two hundred bucks from the junkyard and the junkyard gets a 1991 Acura Legend with a bad transmission. Great news for you if you happen to own a 1991-1995 Acura Legend and came to the junkyard looking for a passenger side window.
The second way: A drunk wraps his car around a traffic light. He goes to the hospital, the morgue or jail. His car goes to the junkyard, beer cans still littering the floor.
Experiencing the junkyard for the first time is revealing. It's equal parts playground, workshop, museum and cemetery. Well worth the dollar you placed in the filthy hand of the man sitting in the shack by the entrance. He's been all through every one of these cars, but feel free to look through his leftovers. The really good stuff is already at his place.
Your dollar buys access to a world of broken automobiles and lax supervision. Drinking beer is decidedly not frowned upon. You're going to get dirty. I'd advise against white sneakers.
Hand stamped, walking away from the gate you wade into a moderately sized lake of cars. The ground underfoot is slimy with fluids and spiked with small shards of automobile. Your head is just above the roof line. All kinds of cars stacked in rows, hoods mostly up, interiors wet from rain. Cigarettes still in the ashtray, religious pamphlets in the trunk, liquor bottles, a plastic baggie of captain crunch. Distributor caps, side view mirrors, trans-axles. All gathered for inspection.
Take the time to look inside the cars. Notice the steering wheel cover and the Bill Withers tape. This is somebody's car. Its full of their stuff. Their fast food trash, their gym bag, their yellow pages. Sometimes the airbags are deployed. Other times there's been a fire. These cars lived in the real world, get inside one and you can almost go where it's been. In an hour in the junkyard you can go a lot of places.
Nobody will mind if you take a souvenir. I've got a box of them.