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Rawlins Gilliland: God Bless eBay

The national economy remains challenging with unemployment over eight percent.  But commentator Rawlins Gilliland says he knows how some American manage when jobs are few.

From the beginning of this century, I’ve been an avid eBay addict.  It’s rare I buy clothing, decoratives or music elsewhere.  But my loyalty to this trailblazing company goes beyond the obvious.  A few years ago, eBay saved my life.  As it does today for millions of others navigating uncertain economic times.  By offering equal opportunity access to self-employment, eBay has taken the empowering Internet to a higher power.  As in power to the people whose income earning options are otherwise very few.

Before the Twin Towers fell in 2001, shopping online was a new-age novelty. After that tragedy, I succumbed to compulsive eBay retail-therapy until my living room became a cavalcade of unfortunate purchases.  The most stunning package being a life-size fiberglass dolphin with matching soap dish set that made my bathroom resemble a restroom in a squalid seafood restaurant. I resold those regrettable choices on eBay before beginning in earnest to unclutter my life, listing things I’d inherited or no longer needed.  With PayPal cash from the proceeds, I completed a dinner service in weeks that I’d spent decades rarely finding in flea markets and antique shops; bidding on auction items I could have never afforded elsewhere or even known existed.

Eventually, 9-11’s reality check ripple effects came home to roost, bringing American commerce to its knees.  Watching my consultant accounts cancel one by one in panic, my health coverage become a collateral casualty. With this stage set, I suffered a terrible accident, unable to work outside the home, sinking into isolated indebtedness. In the ensuing four determined years, I paid off six-figure medical bills and tax liens selling primarily vintage clothing found in thrift stores or garage sales.  How, in life before eBay’s global marketplace, could I have managed to recuperate at home, making ends meet while paying off debts eclipsing my home’s original mortgage?

As with countless eBay professionals, I delivered dedicated work-ethic customer care however unpredictable the transaction. Who could not be charmed seeing positive feedback posted in Mandarin after my sister Ann’s collection of beaded gowns sold to drag queens throughout Hong Kong?  There was the terminally ill woman in Canada who bought the red fur jacket and pink leather skirt to wear in the casket, explaining that she wanted to be buried ‘dressed in colorful style’.  Poignantly packing her merchandise in bright red tissue, I added a jewel-toned scarf I believed she’d enjoy.

Over the eBay years, I’ve acquired vintage art from Russia, suits from movie stylists in London and custom western boots from singer John Denver’s estate.  But the commanding thing I acquired from eBay was the self-reliant pride it offers legions of frightened people struggling to buy gas or food or pay the rent.  Knowing firsthand how this website enables entrepreneurial enterprise at its 21st century best, I believe myriad Americans and others worldwide would join me toasting "God bless eBay," cheering what might be their only survivalist game in town.

I’m just glad I was able to unload that fiberglass dolphin.

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas. 

Views expressed in this commentary are those of the writer. KERA airs commentaries to reflect multiple perspectives and voices in the community.  We welcome your feedback at