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The rich man's playground

Published October 19. 2013 09:00AM

For the first time in a few years I took the opportunity to visit the millionaire's playground.

It's the annual fall meet at Hershey that attracts well heeled car collectors from all over the world.

I also visited another one at Carlisle a week earlier. That one was impressive, too. But there's nothing like the one at Chocolate Town, and the real fun is to attend as a spectator. Unless money is no object.

The Hershey car show is a must-do for the top two percent who buy and trade rare automobiles as if they're Tonka toys.

It's officially called the Antique Automobile Club of America Eastern Fall Meet. It's a swap meet advertised as the largest automotive flea market in the world.

But don't get the wrong idea with the term "flea market." Fleas aren't involved in some of the finer things Hershey has to offer.

Even the basics are pricey. Day-only parking on a hilly, grass-covered field costs $12. A hamburger is $5 and up. A soda is at least $2.

That's pocket change compared to the price of some of the cars offered for sale.

One of the first I saw was a fancy blue 1934 Packard. It was classy. It looked as if Greta Garbo should've been sitting behind the divider glass that separated the driver's cabin from the plush rear bench seat.

That particular buggy was on sale for a mere $325,000. The car was so nice that it probably is worth every penny. And that price tag was modest compared to another a few steps away, a Concours quality vehicle priced at over $700,000.

Car corral prices at Hershey were hot enough to boil every vat of chocolate in Milton's factory.

Yes, some cars were cheaper, and some items affordable. But it was easy to see that the crowds were drawn to the upper crust, high-end motorcars. They attracted automotive aristocrats who arrived in luxury Winnebagos as large as a Red Roof Inn.

"Does anyone actually buy these things," I mumbled. The Hershey show is a fantasy and I was a child in a candy shop. I walked around pretending I was Mr. Barrett Jackson. And walk I did.

This year, the car corral extended fully around the Hershey Sports Arena along roads and parking lots. In addition, over 9,000 flea market stands stretched along miles of macadam walkways.

I wore a pedometer. By the time I finished, I'd hiked over 8.5 miles. My legs started to feel like Jell-O and I realized I couldn't continue.

For a time there were three men walking behind, chatting and joking. I'm not sure who they were, probably Donald Trump, Jay Leno and Mitt Romney. As far as I could tell, they didn't buy anything.

Neither did I. The Hershey car show was a rich man's playground and a visit to fantasyland.

Still, it was fun. A real education.

At the end of the day, I came to understand that the AACA event is as sweet as a Hershey's kiss. But when you check the price tags, you realize it's basically a spectator sport.

I learned that a government shutdown doesn't impact the upper two percent. They pursue their antique car hobby unfazed by the current political terrorism provided by lawmakers.

I also learned that you don't really need to have lots of money to attend the Hershey car show.

You only need to have lots of money if you want to buy something.

The $325,000 Packard was still available when I left in the evening.

Donald, Jay and Mitt obviously didn't want it.

Some people just don't know a bargain when they see it.

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