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My Robot Is Pregnant theme song!

tough guy poetry and manly stories of loneliness
all contents copyright Jon Rolston 2004, 2005, 2006

February 8, 2011

how many fleas in the bay area?

Pops called the other day to tell me he broke his leg not his ankle. He hadn’t realized. At least the doctors knew. He’s got a Homeland Security buzzer in the form of a metal plate permanently installed on the fibula. If he comes out to California we’ll have to retro fit him to local earthquake standards. Hope the wheels dont lock on that walker!

Enough with the tough love, let’s talk about money. Like everything, Flea Markets have a hierarchy. Let me give you a brief tour of them. In the Bay area, Ashby Flea market in Berkely is known as a good place to find your stolen bike. Not really kidding, but it’s also home to a crazy drum circle and has the feel of an African market with incense and sound systems playing reggae and food vendors you won’t find in all of Ohio. Jerk, Ginger beer, and goat.

The southern neighbor and border town of Oakland features Laney, named after the college that turns their parking lot over on Sunday to the working class looking for tube socks and kitchen sponges. For the most part not a lot of vintage or antique items unless you walk to the back near the 880 overpass.

Some people get really upset when new items are sold at Flea markets. It usually divides along cultural lines. White Americans want old stuff, the vintage ironic Alf doll, old photos of people sitting on Model A bumpers in a field, door knobs made out of glass that don’t work right. This type of thing. Immigrant communities want new stuff, like the cheap socks and tools made in China. If you have some Dukes of Hazzard sheets the little Fillipina lady will offer you two dollars and not understand why you want $45. If you set out a selection of toilet paper still in the package and bars of unopened soap, no white people will stop at your booth. Strange world.

The Coliseum is a 7 day a week event held near the Oakland Coliseum, home of the Raiders, The A’s and the Warriors. 7 days a week people. The place looks like modern day Oakies escaping the barren fields of Indiana and the amphetamine manufacturing charges against them there pulled off Highway 101 in a giant caravan of dented vans and whatever fell out the door when they stepped out to piss is what we are calling “the shopping experience”. I took my Dad there right from the airport. It’s on the way back to SF.

Speaking of which, San Francisco has a decent little market, no pornography, guns or alcohol allowed. No dogs. No smoking. No bicycles or parts. No car stereos. They ask that at least 60% of your stock be vintage/antique or hand crafted. You must register a sellers permit at city hall and pay the 9.5 sales tax on your profit. It’s like living in Nazi Germany. Or East Germany. Perhaps Austria is still like this today.

At the other end of the Bay Area, San Jose’s flea was made famous in the novel The Kite Runner, the scene of an ex-pat Afghan community gathered to share news and memories and try to make a few extra dollars.

It feels like we covered a lot of ground, circling the old shoe horn shape of San Francisco Bay. But wait, something’s missing. We’ve forgotten the rich uncle of all these black sheep. You see, none of these flea markets I’ve described above can compare to Alameda Point Antiques Faire. The thoroughbred of the folding table crowd, it’s a Macy’s shopping spree vs dumpster diving a homeless shelter. Alameda charges early birds $15 to come in before 7 am. 15 bucks! Most of us wouldn’t pay that much to get in early to two piece Tuesday at Popeyes.

Okay, not a fitting example. Would you pay 15 bucks to get into the mall 30 minutes before it opened to the public? No. Who wants to pay to shop? People going to an Antiques Faire want to pay, that’s who.

Alameda is a small flat island thirty feet away from downtown Oakland, reached by a bridge or a tunnel, depending which end you access. Due to the heavy influence of the Navy, life on Alameda is much like it was in the conformist years of 1955. You leave the Chinese food and delirious beggars, the glitzy benzes of drug lords and the empty buildings of Oakland and pop up in a Happy Day’s scene with signs that point to an Antique’s Faire. First time I went, I didn’t put the two together. I was driving around looking for flea market signs.

But time flies and now I can say I have sold at Alameda. Yes, I paid 130 bucks for the privilege, I spent over 12 hours there, and I pee’d in a porta let and had no way to wash my hands, but I did it the same as thousands of others did before me. And I’m glad to be in their company.


  1. Thanks for organizing these events for us. A chart with addresses and times would be helpful. When do shuttle services start?
    Also, please locate “The Man in the High Castle” by P.K. Dick as it pertains to your forbidden lifestyle. It may be banned in S.F. but ask around at the markets using code word “I-Ching”

    Comment by The Man — February 9, 2011 @ 3:03 am

  2. I love these flea market pieces. So well written. Makes me wish I could head up to newington next to happy wheels. All the Johnny Cash albums and homemade donuts a kid could ever want.

    Comment by Nate — February 9, 2011 @ 8:50 am

  3. That’s a Town Fair Tire now, Nate. I bought my first forbidden Ninja Throwing Star there with the 1982 complete Red Sox Topps baseball card set. It was a mixed bag of new (crap) like survival knives and radar detectors and old (crap) like WWII helmets and a 1970 Playboys. Good memories.

    Comment by The Man — February 9, 2011 @ 2:10 pm

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