In a town about a half-day's ride north of here lives Sam Hugh, one of a few hundred people in the area who listed 'salvage' as their occupation on the last census.
As in any industry, specialization emerges naturally as individuals gradually earn reputations for knowing more about something than everyone else.
Sam specialized in metal pipes.
A typical salvage job would involve hitching up his horse to his trailer and riding out to one of the abandoned malls.
He would park the trailer near the front doors, which had invariably been smashed open during the panic of '53 when people looted every store for every bit of food they could find.
Sam would hitch the horse on a very long tether so she could reach all the tufts of grass growing in the cracks of the parking lot.
Usually, most of the copper wiring would have been already stripped, as that's the easiest waste material to transport and yields the highest payment.
Plumbing tends to be heavy, and since a pipe is mostly air, quite bulky to transport.
And as such, it is normally left behind in buildings by the copper-specialists.
Sam would first survey the location, just to see if any caches of copper or aluminum remained, then went to work on the restrooms.
Ideally the building would have dropped ceilings and a full-access basement; that way he didn't have to demolish the tiled walls to get to the pipes.
Demo work was a lot of labor for a man with just a medium-sized sledgehammer.
Once in the wall, Sam would get to work with his wrenches, removing the pipe piece-by-piece.
Sometimes when he opened a wall he would find small treasure troves of tools (and often the mummified remains of bagged lunches) left behind by the men who had built these buildings so many decades before.
But those finds were seldom and it wasn't worth knocking down a wall just for the small chance that he might discover an ancient pair of pliers or trowel.
However, as he had learned, some architectural designs placed the wiring conduits in the same pockets as the plumbing, so taking down the wall might yield copper and aluminum wiring conduit.
The wires themselves had usually been pulled through, but the conduit sometimes was left behind.
When the trailer was full, Sam would return home and eat and spend time with the farmers next door, and sort the pipes in his shed the next morning.
Once a month or so, Sam would take full inventory of his stock then gather samples and ride to the bazaar downtown in the old city where people gathered to trade.
The first smell, when approaching the bazaar, was of the latrines, but the next was of the grilled chicken and herbs or of the brewery.
Todd Simms had taken over one of the fancy brewpubs downtown and made a good living selling beer practically at his doorstep.
Sam had once provided a number of pipe lengths to Todd in exchange for several cases of beer, and often delivered barley from his neighbors to Todd when making trips there.
But beer was a luxury Sam didn't need today, and he carried his pipes to the hardware section of the market, looked to see whether one of his usual spots was empty, and roll out his tarp.
Selling pipes wasn't like selling chicken or bread, with low profit and high volume, instead it involved a lot of waiting.
Fortunately, with his specialized inventory he had no competition.
Sam felt sorry for the two paper-merchants selling next to each other; they had to lower their prices so much to stay competitive with each other that neither made much money.
They had struck an agreement to take alternate weeks, but obviously there had been confusion and both were in their tents today.
Often there would be no buyers at all for Sam's pipes, but when there were they were usually willing to pay in cash.
Paper money wasn't accepted by (or even available to) most people, but the small durable coins of the early 21st century were standard currency everywhere.
On this day, Todd came over to Sam in the late morning, before the afternoon surge in his beer business and asked if Sam could replace one of the pipes on one of his tanks that had cracked.
Todd, like many successful businessmen, was even willing to pay for the installation of the pipe rather than do it himself.
He offered beer in exchange, but Sam asked for cash, knowing Todd could pay, and he agreed.
They came to a fair price and Sam got to work, using one of the pipes he had in stock, which he had polished clean that morning.
Plumbing work was lucrative, though infrequent, but it seemed someday he might make a better living with that than with pipe salvage.
With a little cash in his pocket, Sam bought some bread and cheese, rare items in his diet, and headed home.
When he got there, he saw that someone was inside.