Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hillsville Flea Market and The Battery-Powered Squirrel

Flea markets, you either love them or hate them. If you live in Hillsville, Virginia, however, it doesn't make much difference. In a town where the average population is 2,700, come Labor Day weekend the number of bodies soar to 650,000 -- that's on average the number of people who visit every Labor Day weekend to brave the crowds, mud, and shopping buggies (and the occasional motorized scooter) all in the name of a good find.

I spent seven years of my childhood in Hillsville, Virginia, and learned early on the history of its Labor Day flea market. Starting as a gun and knife show at the VFW building and parking lot, over the years it spilled across West Stuart Drive down what's called Hunley's Field. Like a kudzu vine it twisted its way up both sides of the street to the downtown area of Hillsville and another large section called Bowman's Field. If you walked every aisle in town it would take you all day. If you walked every aisle and looked at even half of the booths and vendors it would take you all weekend, and even then you might not see it all. In middle school, my friends and I would ride our bikes into town and ditch them behind the elementary school, then proceed to walk around for the remainder of the day looking at stuff. We mostly bought cheap Rambo-style survival knives, ninja throwing stars, coins, baseball cards, or comic books. Today a few friends and I meet every year to walk the rows and look for interesting items (seen above: Alan, Marty, and me). Of course, there is a lot of the same junk, and some outrageous prices for that junk, but there are also good finds to be had, and some pretty odd finds as well.

A few years ago my friends and I began scoping the booths for the oddest items we could find, seeing who could come up with the strangest, kitschiest, most outrageous item imaginable, or whatever tickled our funny bone. My friend Alan discovered a toy vendor who had something called The Battery-Powered Squirrel, in its original box. Underneath the title it boasted "with secret mystery action." Well, we just had to find out what that secret mystery action was, but the guy would only open the box to let us look at it. Inside was something that looked like roadkill. It's natural animal fur was peeling away from its metal body. The guy wanted $125 for it. Needless to say, we didn't buy it, but we've been on the lookout for it again ever since. This past Saturday we came across two items, a ceramic bank of Santa Claus holding a kitten riding on the back of a pig -- $100 (Alan would have bought it if it had one less zero in it) and a mechanical toy in its original box called The Happy Naughty Chimp (no secret mystery action, though). I almost bought it, but thought my children would just be scared by it. Marty found a captain's hat, but wouldn't buy it even though I told him I would put on a wig and be Tennille. We topped our morning's search off with lunch at the local Mexican restaurant, the Rio Grande. Some chimichangas and a pitcher of Dos Equis hit the spot, and gave us inspiration to walk around for a few more hours. No Battery-Powered Squirrel was to be found, but there is always next year.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Sounds like a good tradition to hold onto, beau. It ain't the flea market that makes the trip worth while, but the friends you visit.