A Love Letter to My Local Swap Meet

Slide through to see some GWC flea market finds

To the swap meet held each weekend at Golden West Community College in Huntington Beach: thank you. I love you.

Thank you for sparking my interest in flea markets and junkin' in general. It would turn out to be a lifelong love affair. Our relationship began at so early an age for me, I can't quite pinpoint an exact year (I know I was definitely rocking Oshkosh B'Gosh at the time and could barely see over the folding tables filled with peddled second-hand wares).

Thank you for being my source of bootleg Titanic memorabilia and for filling any holes in my Beanie Babies collection in those days. You never yielded me the holographic Charizard Pokémon card I craved in the mid-90's, but I know us collectors all need our White Whale...

And thank you, most sincerely, for being a space to create memories with Bruce and Julie Dietrich; two dear, now departed, family members.

Thanks for changing very little in those thirty years, while the rest of the world--myself included––has changed so much. Other places Bruce, Julie and I went to together in Orange County in the '90s have fallen victim to the abrasive sands of time; The Golden Steer in Stanton is permanently closed. The Back Bay Rowing Company at South Coast Plaza hung up their oars over thirteen years ago now. They wouldn't recognize Mrs. Knott's Chicken Dinner Restaurant.

But you, dear Golden West Swap Meet (or "the Swap", as Julie sometimes called it), have changed so little. Maybe the Titanic memorabilia doesn't sell as hot as it did back then. Bruce might be happy to know the cost of his beloved VHS tapes have plummeted to next to nothing. These days he could reach his goal of owning every James Bond film ever on VHS for less than $10 (and still have change left over for a Snapple Iced Tea out of a vendor's ice-filled cooler).

Some of the fashionable finds from the Golden West Swap Meet

But other than some minute changes, and the noted absence of Bruce and Julie themselves, the spirit and the look of "the Swap", remain very much the same. There's still the fruit vendors. There's still row after row of rusty gold waiting to be unearthed by urban miners. Julie taught me to dig deep to find the best bargains--this was an early life lesson that has served me well in my career as a vintage dealer.

Like every relationship, it's not all wine and roses (though you can buy rose bushes at the Swap. Wouldn't trust the wine.) Sure, you drive me crazy with your horrible parking congestion, which has me circling both of your lots for a good 20 to 30 minutes looking for a space. All the while I have visions of deadstock Shaheen sarongs and Lilli Ann suits being sold for $3 a piece in my mind's eye while I'm subjected to running on the hamster wheel that is trying to find a parking space past 6:45 AM (even thought you don't technically open until 8 AM!).

Yeah, there's the Vietnamese grandmothers who unapologetically run over my feet with their folding carts. There's the absurdly long line for the ladies room (and predictably almost none for the men's room). These are small prices to pay for your free flea market.

Because sometimes you get lucky there and get a hug from the always sincere and overwhelmingly kind Christopher Farris who's often there on the hunt for rare vintage video games (check out this video he and the Pixel Game Squad made at the beloved Golden West Swap Meet). Or sometimes your world collides with Mr. K of Mr. K's Estate Sales--which is the only way of describing a meeting with the boisterous Mr. K!

And because there's also the longtime clothing dealer who's there each week and though we don't share a common verbal language, we always connect on a common love language for hermosa vintage dresses. Her warm smile and gentle demeanor is worth any amount of parking lot circling.

Then there's my compulsory breakfast of three chicken tacos and a bottle of water at the middle of each visit to you to nourish my body, and quite frankly my soul. It's a meal I look forward to every week, and if I haven't been there in a few weeks, the cashier asks me where I've been.

Breakfast of flea market champions (Photo by Taylor Hamby)

Oh! And how could I ever forget all the wonderful treasures I've unearthed from your piles on blue plastic tarps? The Kamehameha teatimer. The 1940s hand-painted hibiscus Hawaiian gown. The 1930s floral silk blouse. My one half of a 1990s Bartman t-shirt. My best friend's favorite 1940s gabardine jacket.

Or this insanity?

And even all the things that didn't come home with me, but made me smile or laugh along the way?

You've been an integral part of my childhood and now my career. My romantic life and my personal growth. Your asphalt has provided a playground for me and a space to practice overcoming a fear of speaking to strangers, or negotiating money, or even my fear of being in public before 9 A.M. You've given me a space each week to re-connect with Bruce and Julie, and feel like I'm making them proud by carrying on their antique and vintage-loving torch.

Even if the Rose Bowl is more famous, and the Long Beach antique flea market may have more vintage by a country mile, Golden West College--you'll always be my first and favorite flea market.

The Golden West College Swap Meet occurs every Saturday and Sunday at Golden West College in Huntington Beach. Its hours are officially 8 AM to 3 PM, though you may want to arrive closer to 6 or 7 AM and many vendors start packing up around noon or 1 PM. It's always free to attend. Bring cash; very few vendors accept card or electronic payments.

What's your favorite find from the Golden West Swap Meet? If you've never been, which flea market or vintage shopping experience gives you a sense of nostalgia? Let us know in the comments below.

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