Saturday, February 09, 2008

A Fond Farewell to the Flea

If you haven’t already heard, the Flea Market in Santa Cruz, and the old drive in movie theater, have shut their gates for good.*

There were some protests and signatures gathered, but in the end it was no use fighting the change. The land was bought by Sutter hospital, which any citizen with health insurance couldn’t help but admit was a vast improvement of land use. We all learned an important lesson: Seduce every woman in the county with prime rib and champagne after she gives birth, and every joint-replacement patient with doting nurses and unlimited bottles of juice, and people will be butter in your hands when you want to expand your hospital.

We used to go to the flea market quite often on Sunday mornings when we lived closer. The treasure hunt drew us in like a magnet, despite the parking lines, sensory overload, and overall grim environment. It was a source of baubles and trinkets to use in mosaics, old farm tools, unusual household furniture, and other odds and ends. We developed philosophies for the hunt, one being the Murphy's Law of the flea market: If you’re looking for something in particular, you probably won’t find it.

The noise of disparate pounding radios and a noxious haze of cigarette smoke, beer breath, and exhaust fumes perpetually lingered over the market. I’d try to rush through, anxious to be out of the foul air, but Popsey had a higher tolerance, and would insist on walking our whole circuit twice, once to look and buy, and then back through again to pick up the heavy things, or something he hadn’t been sure about buying on the first round. It was always a relief to leave.

As rumors of the flea market’s demise swirled about in the local news, Popsey and I grabbed our backpacks and bartering outfits (Flea Market Rule 17C. Wear nothing too nice or the prices go up) and embarked on our final journey through the market.


The normally jovial atmosphere was gloomy with news of the impending closure. As we headed toward the back end near the screen, our regular starting point, it seemed quieter than other Sundays. Karaoke was usually "performed" somewhere behind the screen. People would wait in a long line for a turn to sing. The speakers were loud and scratchy, and unflattering to the singer, but that never seemed to discourage people who were hankering to belt out a tune to a parking lot full of distracted shoppers on a Sunday morning. But this Sunday there was no line formed, and no tinny, off-key music emitting from the speakers. No one was in the mood to sing.

Early on we spotted some colorful ceramic chili peppers, which lifted our spirits. We agreed they would fit right in with the Southwest theme we have going on downstairs.

I couldn't resist the iris plate, which although not really our style of dishware per se, was cheap enough that one could rationalize hitting it with a hammer and using it in a mosaic (just don't tell the seller that before you buy it).

Not everyone chooses to dress anonymously, and exotic fashion choices abound. From patchwork gowns to faux leopard, the people-watching is always primary entertainment...

Sellers range from collectors and professional tchochke dealers…

…to pack rat entrepreneurs and folks who are just cleaning out the garage or moving.

I will not miss the restroom facilities, which are historically disgusting.

Oh, and what have we here?

Yep, people lining up for nachos with creamy cheese sauce, for breakfast.

Hey, check out this guy!

...That's just Popsey, hauling around Pinnochio, his new marionette. It seemed like a great find, and it certainly caused quite a stir as he continued on. Suddenly it seemed everyone would have bought this marionette if only they'd spotted it first. We probably could have resold it 20 times by the time we were all the way through! Okay...once or twice.

This seller offers something for every taste: a scenic oil painting AND a live rooster:

Popsey regrets not seeing that booth, because he likes the painting.

This is one of the anomalies of the flea market: a large truck with an open back door, and for no visible reason, a huge crowd swarming around it.

If you haven't completely lost your appetite by then, there is a bustling produce section on the way out.

*I may have spoken too soon. As I was looking for a way to tie up this post, I glanced at the headlines in today's SC Sentinel, and you'll never believe the news...the flea market will be returning in March for another year. Hoorah!


  1. There's nothing like a good flea market. So glad you get to enjoy yours for another year.

  2. I was about to say RIP SC flea market, of which I have vague college-era memories of looking for creepy, ironic decor for unsanitary, overpopulated rental housing situations, but looks like what I need to say is, I had better get my hind end out to Santa Cruz this year, so I can go one last time!

    Great post. Enjoyed the pics.