Life and (Near) Death at the Flea Market

Flea market vendor surrounded by dolls | photo by Nancy Kittle | courtesy of Anne T. Kent California Room, Marin County Free Library  |  post by Larry Clinton

In the ’80s, my lady friend Sharron and I were regulars at the old Marin City Flea Market. It had been around for decades, and was considered among the biggest and finest flea markets in the Bay Area. Sharron was a true flea market aficionado—she bought most of her clothes there and was on a first name basis with many of the regular vendors. In particular, she was a fanatical collector of Star Wars merchandise.

One morning, as was our habit, we smoked a joint before reaching the site (this was the 1980s, remember). After brunching at one or two exotic food trucks, I was accompanying Sharron on her rounds when I spotted something of interest.

A couple who’d clearly been cleaning out their garage were unloading a truckload of castoffs, including a box that looked vaguely familiar. Nudging Sharron, I murmured, “Isn’t that a speeder bike?” She followed my gaze and peeled off without a word toward the busy couple. The unopened box contained a child-sized replica of Luke Skywalker’s gravity-defying runabout. As Sharron reached for it, so did a guy she recognized as another collector. During the ensuing tug-of-war, Sharron piped up, in her soft, high-pitched voice, “How much for this?”

The wife, clearly upset about being interrupted while trying to set up her booth, glanced quickly over her shoulder and snapped, “I don’t know, twenty-five bucks?”

“I’ll take it,” Sharron shot back, but her competitor refused to release his grip, disputing who had spotted the treasure first. Sharron stood her ground, and said, again in that sweet baby voice, “I’m not a violent person, but you’re going to have to kill me to get this away from me.”

In my mildly altered paranoia, I thought, “Oh, God, we’re going to die in the dust of the flea market over a damn toy!”

But my sense of preservation prevailed, and I hunted down a security guard who quickly and efficiently resolved the conflict, when he heard that Sharron had made an offer that had been accepted.

Sharron forked over the money, and I carried away the large carton. But I couldn’t stop looking over my shoulder to see if we were being followed. Finally, I decided to take the box back to my floating home across the freeway so Sharron could continue browsing the flea market without that attractive nuisance.

The flea market ceased operation in 1995, to make way for the Gateway Center. The Star Wars franchise just kept getting bigger and better, culminating in the recent release of Episode 7: “The Force Awakens.” Sharron sold her collection and retired to Washington State. I gave up pot, but I still miss the flea market.

For more information on our colorful local history, check out: