When I announced that I’d be moving from the rain-drenched, dreadlock-scented forests of Oregon to Southern California, my friends decried L.A. as a place drowning in a cesspool of superficiality. Fuck ’em, I thought. I couldn’t wait.
I was determined to find heart in this city, and it wasn’t hard. Though L.A. may be known as the mecca of consumerism, not all consumerism is soulless. Just spend an afternoon browsing a flea market, such as the Rose Bowl or the Melrose Trading Post, and you’ll be privy to a culture forged by both all-American capitalism and a refreshing camaraderie.
The smell of hot dogs and dust settles on your skin as you trudge along soaking up the atmosphere: conversations in Spanish, Japanese and French; good-natured arguments over the prices of rare aviation books; the clamor of musicians playing banjos, trumpets and bongos. In a metropolis obsessed with wheeling and dealing, these markets are another forum for cash to change hands. But for me, the markets rise above the mercenary.
This is a place where the highest and lowest collide. Only under the perpetual L.A. sun could communal carnivals like these exist — enclaves flourishing with the excitement of a treasure hunt and the commingling of otherwise alienated groups.
Flea markets indulge our fascination with the past. Giant, pink-hearted conch shells, 1940s nudist magazines, vintage rabbit-fur shrugs — here you’ll find something to love, something that has weathered L.A.’s history and is better for it. In Los Angeles, I’ve found, nothing can ever be really lost or thrown away. It will simply end up in the hands of someone, somewhere, at a flea market. Rose Bowl Flea Market, Pasadena, second Sunday of every month; Melrose Trading Post at Fairfax High School, Fairfax and Melrose aves., every Sunday.