The thermometer hangs in the shade. It reads 100 degrees. The humidity pastes the t-shirt to your back. Water condenses on the outside of your water bottle and little is inside. It is 11:00 and the rescue squad arrives on their third trip and you wonder if they are here for you.
Why do people shop at flea markets?
Malls are air conditioned but malls are boring. Strip malls imitate flea markets. Abandoned stores hang brown paper on the windows and trade in cell phone minutes and move their merchandise onto the sidewalk.
But for the true experience you have to go to a flea market.
You can smoke while shopping at a flea market. If you want to kill yourself slowly and irritate others, smoke here. No one will say a word. Nobody cares.
You can drink beer while you mosey around. Many flea markets encourage drinking. They serve beer at concessions stands. You can carry out. Has your spouse ever complained about your attitude while shopping? Have a beer.
Have you ever walked through the mall eating a bar-b-que sandwich and dripping sauce on the floor and attempting to balance the sandwich and your beer? You have not. But nobody at a flea market will call security. There is no security.
Have you bought something too big to carry? Drive up and have it loaded into your trunk. Have you bought too much? Ask the merchant to hold your purchases. You will come back later. Don’t forget where your stuff is. If you don’t pick it up they will sell it again tomorrow.
Can you maneuver your oxygen tank through the aisles in the Gap? Not a problem at a flea market. The aisles are wide and the roads paved and there is room to trailer a wagon, an IV, or your oxygen. But stay away from the smokers.
The government proclaims the mall is wheelchair accessible. Try to get through the aisles of any clothing store. Where is the merchandise? Can you reach the merchandise? At a flea market in a motorized wheelchair you own the right of way. The merchandise is on the ground. You can see it. Somebody will pick it up for you. (Speaking of service – have you ever tried to track down help at a mall? The teen-aged twirps look condescendingly and turn to go on break.) At the flea market one merchant attends every stall. Sometimes two merchants. They want to help you. They want you to buy their stuff. Unless they are arguing. Remember, they’ve been stuck here in the heat for seven hours already.
The vendors will deal. The vendors want to deal. The vendors don’t want to take stuff home. Most of them don’t have a home. Have you ever tried to bargain at Radio Shak?
Bring your pets. Bring one or bring all. Put them on a leash, or let them ride on your cart, or on your back, or in a sack, or let them roam free. They can drool, whine, shed, or puke. Most other shoppers or vendors will think your pet is cute and want to talk about it. Try this at JC Penny.
Bring your kids. Bring one or bring all. Put them on a leash, or let them ride on your cart, or on your back, or in a sack, or let them roam free. They can drool, whine, shed, or puke. Most other shoppers or vendors will think your kid is cute and want to talk about it. Try this at JC Penny.
Come as you are. Wear your distressed jeans or t-shirts. Haven’t done the laundry in a few weeks? Come on over. You will not stay clean here, anyway. You can make a statement with your clothing – not a fashion statement, just a statement. Wear your t-shirt proclaiming, “They’re Real” or “Paradise Islands.” Flea markets encourage literacy and opinion.
Who are you? Be yourself. Tired of those disdainful glances from the well manicured at Victoria’s Secret? Not at a flea market. Acceptance is the norm.
Free stuff. At the end of the day at the mall the clerks go home. But they lock up the merchandise. At the flea market many vendors abandon their merchandise. Organized looting breaks out. It’s like Baghdad without the gunfire. Be quick or other vendors will get there first. Where do you think they get their merchandise?
Heat, humidity, food, pets, beer, and t-shirts to admire: flea markets have it all. Wander about with a glazed expression. Remember: motorized wheelchairs and rescue squads have the right of way.
And if you find yourself staring up at a guy and a girl in matching shirts and if they look concerned and if they start an IV…they came for you.
The author sold junk from his garage for years at the Ramona Flea Market in Jacksonville, Florida. He loved rows Q and S.