Dorian Hargrove 8:30 p.m., Dec. 12
John and Roberta's Swap Meet Adventure
First and firstmost, we are not snobs. Let the record reflect that we formally surrendered all traces of middle class pride during the second Clinton administration when John's aerospace job left San Diego for Denver, then Mexico, and was last seen hovering somewhere over Southeast Asia. Our closets are filled almost exclusively with yard sale and Thrift Store apparel, and we've managed to assemble a stunning array of like new merchandise for the home and family purchased for pennies on the dollar. We regularly pilgrimage to Dollar Tree and .99 City with a devotion bordering on religious fanaticism. Roberta has been working the free sample circuit on the internet for years, and we have no memory of the last time we laid out cold hard cash for such frivolous incidentals as toothpaste, mouthwash, deodorant or shampoo. We've received post card rebate checks from Colgate for as little as $1.50, and are convinced that the only reason they've made it into our mailbox is that no self respecting thief would risk a federal rap for the price of a bag of fries. I would also like to deny the hurtful rumors about a family of moths living in my wallet. They're actually White Flies and we've become very close over the years.
Recently we're finding our ranks swelling, and our Spartan lifestyle has become somewhat fashionable as America learns to watch its pennies to pay for gas and food. As elder statesmen of frugality, we're in fine trim for pre-Obama America, and its nice to be back on the cutting edge of the culture.
Swap meets, yard sales, and Thrift Stores are very revealing snapshots of what popular American culture was focused on approximately ten years befpre. Though second handing it through life stretches your cash, it definately has its drawbacks. At night when I'm asleep, what's dancing through my head are not sugarplumb fairies, but images of aged VHS copies of "Wayne's World" and "Sister Act".
With gas prices temporarily leveling off, at least until after the election, we've attempted to bypass corporate America whenever possible, by patronizing more neighborhood family owned businesses, preferably arriving on foot. Saturday morning we went to the Spring Valley Swap Meet. We hadn't been there for at least ten years, and it seemed a natural place to begin reacquainting ourselves with the neighborhood. We quickly realized that perhaps we were giving these things far too much thought.
In "The Devine Comedy", Dante says there are ten levels of Hell. We're figuring this time out we easily dropped to at least level four. When we arrived we discovered that the Spring Valley Swap Meet has the unique policy of admitting shoppers long before the sellers are allowed in to set up. We paid our buck admission, woke up the ticket taker, and walked through the gate on to what was essentially a vacant parking lot. Meanwhile outside, with engines idling in a state of readiness, sits an Oklahoma Land Rush army of sellers packed like sardines waiting to be let in to set up for the day. When the starting flag is dropped its every man for themselves. There is no traffic control to speak of, unless you count the pudgy kid in an orange dayglow vest, who at one point was so preoccupied with examining something belonging to a friend that he was half mindedly directing traffic with his right foot. It took me a moment to realize that this was in fact a traffic direction, and that he wasn't trying to shake something out of his pant leg. Once the doors are open, its such a mindless scramble of people and cars, that it makes Black Friday at WalMart look like the Honor Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We were nearly run down at least a couple of times by sellers barrelling in to secure a prime spot to park and set up shop. As they whizzed past, I had an involuntary all too close look at their license plates and rusty battle scars from past ordeals. It didn't appear that car insurance was a priority, nor was it likely to be if the worst happened and someone was hurt. One guy trying to maneuver into a space was nervously working his car horn like the telegraph operator on the Titanic. His van was an ancient rusted out hulk from the early '70's. As he rolled by slowly on four very bald tires, I noticed his license plate was brand new and had been duct taped to the front bumper; no doubt a cherished prize purchased at last week's gathering. He settled in directly across the aisle from a merchant offering a raggedy collection of parakeets packed into encrusted cages like you see old footage of college students crammed into phone booths. Next to them was very kindly looking lady selling homemade pastries laid out on a card table, who from her appearance and the modest setup, obviously could use the money. Watching her continually fanning her wares, the scene evoked the three cardinal rules of business; location, location,location, and I was grateful for her sake that there wasn't much of a breeze that day.
As arriving pickup trucks and car with trailers continued to edge into spaces, bargain hungry crowds pressed in around them checking things out and ferociously pawing through the fresh swag. If you've ever thrown a handful of crumbs into a coy pond, you get the picture. One seller related that most of his shoplifting losses for the day happened right off the bat, while these overly friendly looky loos are "helping him" unload.
While my wife was checking out some costume jewelry, I was cornered by the proprietess, who bore an incredible resemblence to the deceased comedienne Selma Diamond. Without prompting, she began relating that she had been recently cited by the Sheriff's Department and was unsucessful in her attempt to barter her womanly charms in exchange for a dismissal of the charges. "The cop was a real cutie", she croaked, "but he obviously couldn't deal with a strong independant woman". She then took a drag on her Virgina Slim that immediately reduced half of it to ash. I responded silently with a toothy grin to hide the fact that I was breathing through my teeth to avoid getting the dry gags.
One seller had a huge box of ancient VHS tapes for fifty cents each, (that amazingly did not include either "Wayne's World" or "Sister Act"), as well as some well worn and somewhat soiled Fisher Price toys. His selection of huggable terry cloth Teddy Bears were faded from their months of laying the sun. They also had some strategically located stains that I don't even want to know about. Just for fun I asked if he ever set up anywhere else. "No, just here" he said. "My cousin sells at Kobey's, down on Sports Arena Boulevard. I think he does it just to keep his wife happy. She's always had an attitude because she's from Yuma" . "Family", I offered, somehow managing not to burst out laughing; "What are you going to do?" I made a mental note to check out Kobey's on Sports Arena Blvd., obviously the veritable Tiffany's of San Diego Swap Meets.
We're fans of couple of locally produced TV shows that film half hour mini-documentaries on the neighborhoods and history of San Diego. The Spring Valley Swap Meet struck us as a definate candidate for an in your face, warts and all TV portrait of the rapidly changing East County. It was also very clear that the quickest way to start another human stampede and possibly get yourself shanked with a prison made knife to boot, was to show up at this event with any kind of photography equipment. What we viewed as an event worth documenting as a sociological phenomenon, this crowd would see as hard evidence of their parole violations.
By 8 am the food booths were opening up, and the aroma of hot cooking oil, beer, perspiration, BC vehicle exhaust, and urine began slowly wafting skyward, by midday forming a dingy mushroom cloud over the lot that can be seen from Pt. Loma. By then we had seen it all several times. It was getting hot. We were getting tired. We finally called it a day when a well fed quintette of musicians playing rodeo music had successfully adjusted their speakers to a decible level that would give a corpse a throbbing migraine.
Our standards are pretty low, but despite our best attempts, we found nothing worth buying and dragging home, or even picking up for closer examination for that matter. Hope dies hard when you're on the hunt. Very little seemed worth making numerous trips back and forth to the restrooms to wash our hands, and we had absent mindedly forgotten our hand sanitizer. We checked out the fruit stands. No bargains there. Amazingly, Vons and Ralph's is actually cheaper and the produce can boast the advantage of being an identifiable color. Just outside the gate, a young man in his early twenties was offering Pit Bull puppies out of his minivan for $250 each. The irony that just inside teenage mothers were engaged in Marine style hand to hand combat for baby clothes at buck a pop was not lost on us. Everyone has their priorities. At this point, ours was getting home alive.
We made it home safely and enjoyed a brief rest before heading down to Kobey's to try again. Over our mid morning snack (a free sample of a new energy bar Roberta received in the mail), I watched a crowd of people on the morning news dodging the charging bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and I could totally relate. As far as the Spring Valley Swap Meet goes, we consider ourselves current and up to speed until 2018, when at least while begging for mercy we can make the plea that we're too old and not worth the bullet.
John and Roberta