Monday, August 10, 2009

Florida City Swap Meet

The Florida City Swap Meet is featured quite a bit in Orchid Territory. Aunt Charlotte's Extra Large mens' shirts come from there, second hand -a dollar a piece. And the dignified old Mexican ladies in charge of the Christmas Eve dinner make their appearance in a motley array of old T shirts that Aunt Charlotte always looks forward to. "It's something of a Christmas Eve tradition wondering what will turn up on their fronts." She was hoping for another Only-in-America zinger like the one a few years earlier: 'Coon Hunters For Christ.' But this time the swap meet sample was disappointing. There was a RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE on the lady who'd stayed up all night with the roasting pig but the other two doling out the rice and beans could only offer an almost brand new MIAMI DADE PARKS DEPARTMENT and a fading TOMMY HILFIGER. Nothing even from Harley Davidson or the military.

"Over the years," Charlotte says, "judging from the T shirts, a surprising number (of these ladies) seem to have served in the Marines."

The Florida City Swap Meet featured a lot in my life too. and T shirts were only the tip of the iceberg. When Martin and I came back from teaching in Yugoslavia, he was unemployed and I was pregnant. He'd warned me he'd rather starve in South Florida than go back to his college job in Ohio. (Note: It was the winters, Ohio! He's a Miami boy!)

We didn't starve, but for many years the Sunday morning Florida City Swap Meet was just about my sole resource, for clothes, furniture, plates, jewelry, knives, forks and spoons, beautiful bowls, often a little cracked, and things I hadn't realized I'd always wanted until I saw them sitting there in the early morning sun for not more than a dollar or two.

I still remember what I paid for almost everything - if I can't, then the vase, silk shirt, side table, and anything else, belong to a later time when our economic situation lacked the drama of the early years. At the start my budget ranged from 25 cents for T shirts to two or three dollars for something like a chair. Yes, it was that great a swap meet. (Though it was too good. It got to the point where I would show off my latest prize: "It only cost fifty cents!" and Martin, surrounded by teapots, old atlases, irresistably pretty plates in blue and white, sterling silver bowls only slightly tarnished, would plead: "I'll pay you a dollar to take it back!")

For twenty-five cents (we're talking the eighties here) I harvested all the T shirts, blouses, scarves I could ever need. And the best guy we regulars went to was Carlos. We called his spot Carlos's Boutique. Carlos was a shy young man who parked his old green van in the same place every week, putting down a plastic sheet and spilling out black trash bags of treasures. I got my first Ralph Lauren shirt there, an Hermes silk scarf - someone, the maid probably, had put it in a hot washing machine and the colors had run a bit. We all just got down and dug. But then one Sunday morning everything changed. Carlos had brought along some kind of a stand and a load of coat hangers and everything was hung up and 50 cents. In one awful moment he'd doubled his prices and a lot of the fun had gone out of it.

It was probably at Carlos's Boutique where I got my 'Alabama' T shirt. It was white and green and unlike most T shirts, fitted perfectly. I wore it till it died and from time to time, someone, usually a youngish woman, would stop me and say- "Hey! Wasn't that a great concert!" I had no idea about a concert but it was certainly a great shirt. And for a moment I'd be lost, oblivious as the old Mexican ladies as to what was written on my front.


  1. I re-gifted that great suede jacket you got from the swap meet for $1.25 to Hanoch. It fit him perfectly! He is currently the size I was 12 years ago.

  2. Hi Naeem! You can verify those great prices! No exaggeration on my part for comic effect!-Mary. PS This is recycling at its very best.