Well, as you can guess it’s been an interesting day.
Up at 6am for the hamfest. I have no idea why this is, especially as I’ve spent most of my life staying in bed late. The hamfest is not what you think either. It’s a sort of flea market for amateur radio, electronics, and computer geeks. It’s a manly place, where men are overweight, women are scarce, and the fun starts before 7am.
Since I don’t get out much (really, lefty?), I manage to hit a few of these per year. I typically don’t come home with much, but I suppose it’s a way to get me out of the house and picking up some tubes or something. I really need some more Boatanchors (old, HEAVY tube radios) but I can’t pick them up as well anymore. I like my radios by the pound, you know?
The people and equipment were out today. My wife’s favorite was a pair of 50′s(?) radios in large, heavy furniture cabinets. The radio worked in the smaller one but the seller wasn’t sure about the larger one. Wife didn’t care – she liked it as furniture. The odds of me fixing a broken radio aren’t all that hot, unless it’s something pretty simple, so we did a role-reversal and I told her no while she kept trying to buy it.
I got some tubes (this blog is called ThermionicEmissions for a reason) from a vendor who had more tubes than Pelosi has excuses. I think some of the dirt on the tubes was even older than me. I also picked up some test gear and assorted parts. By the way, It’s cold at that hour of the morning.
Since we were in the general vicinity and decided we could use the sociology experiment, we headed off to Q Mart. How to describe Q Mart….. well, the truth is that you can’t describe Q Mart adequately but I’ll give it a go.
Q Mart is possibly the last place on earth where it’s legal to smoke indoors. That probably should be enough to explain it as-is but I feel it necessary to go further. The parking lot, as it is, is very long and narrow. When you manage to park, you notice the flea market. It seems to suck up half of the township with only two long lanes of vendors. I had no idea flea markets (that weren’t hamfests) were still running mid-October but you live and learn.
My wife was immediately attracted to the first vendor, who had a humongous table full of puzzles and models. The puzzles were of the variety that cause men to stand far away while their wives were looking at them. We’re talking puppies, clowns, and baby Jesus. The models were a shade less juvenile but not enough to keep my attention (no less the attention of a real man). Ten bucks later the vendor was one puppy puzzle shorter. I agreed to carry it, but only after it was bagged.
Apparently today was just the right day to be at a flea market for kids. My wife hasn’t been out in almost as long as I haven’t been out so it was a bunch of kids in a candy store. Every time I turned around I had to stop and look for her. She was twenty feet back, mesmerized by Real Imitation Asian Hand-Fans<tm>, bunches of Real Cotton socks, and purple moon boots. I had to keep herding her forward, forward, forward. Right after stop, stop, stop. This constant rhythm was only broken by delighted squeals and requests (demands) for money (but I left my pocketbook in the trunk).
I’m not kidding about the purple moon boots either. That’s about the only way I can describe them. Of course, being a man, I am unable to distinguish the hottest thing on the market from purple moon boots. I was informed, after the fact, that I was assisted in distinguishing $125 from $25 though, for which I’m pretty happy.
Even if it was for purple moon boots.
After navigating the frozen flea market, I declared hunger and we proceeded into Q Mart proper. Imagine a shed. Now imagine a shed two blocks long, with two aisles and shops separated by hanging cloth or tent material. The place looks like it has been there since right after they figured out how to make sheds out of thin metal.
It’s an interesting sociology experiement but first there are the stores/shops/tents. If you’re tired of the malls, with their One Store Fits All motif, this might be the place for you. You certainly won’t have to worry about the pristine walkways, bumping into maintenance men sweeping, and clean air of the malls.
Let’s start with what you will find. There are a number of Pennsylvania Dutch-type meat shops, which is always a bit of a shock to someone who thinks meat comes from the supermarket on a platter. There are a few bakeries, with gorgeous looking confections that could probably cause a heart attack by simply smelling them. And health stores, which are the antithesis of the meat and bakery shops.
Then the vacuum repair/sales shops. Where in the world do you see these in a mall, not to mention a smoking mall? They have a guitar store, which is always a nice thing for me, but naturally free of left-handed guitars. The auto stereo store was a bit of an education. Full of helpful folks, including a young gentleman who had more metal in his face and ears than I have in my car. I swear you could put a quarter through the holes in his ears. Maybe that’s the way he made a living – I didn’t think to ask because I didn’t want to know. They probably have to keep him on the other side of the store from the receivers so he doesn’t affect reception.
One can find a very well-stocked used book and magazine store, where you can pay almost list price for the used magazines. Perhaps that’s why they’re so well-stocked. There was a large sneaker store with hundreds of sneakers and nary a brand name.
One of the real treats was the eateries. This shed not being a very wide shed, there wasn’t a lot of room for actual seats so this made things that much more interesting. We passed a Kenyan Cafe (you’re asking why in the world we’d pass the Kenyan Cafe) but we weren’t feeling that brave. Continuing the theme, we passed a Puerto Rican cafe, a Deep-Fried Everything Chicken stand, several hot dog emporiums, and we finally settled on a place that looked vaguely family-like. I neglected to mention to the wife that the reason it looked family-like was because they were all related (not in a good way), but I was tired and hungry.
My wife loved her blue cheeseburger and said I would love it too, except for the blue cheese. What she doesn’t remember is when I went to the cafe next to my old employer for lunch. I hit the salad bar for something halfway decent and sat down. OH MY GOD was that hideous. I felt really badly but needed to let them know. I took it to the manager and told her the dressing had gone horribly bad. She might want to get rid of it before someone got sick.
She took a sniff and looked at me quizzically. Apparently I had gone for Ranch dressing and instead wound up with blue cheese.
“You mean it’s supposed to taste like this?” I asked, thinking of marinated gym socks.
Needless to say, I avoid blue cheese like the plague for which it is named.
Two burgers later we were back in our little sociology experiment. What truly makes this place complete is the denizens. It is a spectacular place for people-watching. You are likely to find your high-end shoppers, as the place is situated among $500k+ houses, but they’re nowhere near as much fun as the punks, mullets, bikers, and other assorted clientele, no doubt bused in from Oz or areas north.
There was an interesting place called Urban Wear. You would be hard-pressed to find this store in a mall. You would be hard-pressed to find this store in a war zone. My wife said everyone would recognize this as Ghetto Fabulous. It was right next to the humongous Cheap and Tacky Furniture Shop.
My wife found a new favorite place; an As Seen on TV store. I have no idea what it is but my wife loves those tv commercials. She also believes what they tell her, which is a bit off-putting for me. I’m looking around for a twelve step program that helps people with a Billy Mays addiction. Our house looks like a tv commercial, complete with crazy yelling hosts. Oddly enough, with all those no-fail cleaning tools, the house is still a mess. Go figure.
I normally have a hard time finding something I like in this place (except for fudge and coffee beans). This was remedied during this trip by the appearance of a hot sauce shop. It looked a lot like most of the other hot sauce shops we’ve seen (both of them) except for the flying bat. It was one of those airplane-like toys that hang from the ceiling and fly around in circles. I kept wondering which one of my pets would like it and which would be terrified of it.
The lady running the place was very knowledgeable. This came as quite a shock to me, not because of the Mart but because I rarely ever find knowledgeable people in a retail outlet. I asked for something with medium heat but maximum flavor, that didn’t taste like vinegar. This is normally a pretty tall order but she delivered in seconds, producing a sample of a pretty hot sauce. I asked for something a bit sweeter and POOF, there it was. I bought it before they stopped making it (they follow me around and find out what I buy, then stop making it).
We’re talking heat and location when she starts talking about the Mart being a great place to people watch. She mentioned that she never knew how interesting things were until she put herself on the vendor side of the counter, where she could just stand there all day and watch. We got a real education.
Her favorite story was about some lady in her fifties who was walking around in short-shorts, complete with parts of her falling out of the bottom of the shorts, flapping in the breeze. She allowed as to how this was not entirely appropriate for a woman in her fifties, even though she was fifty-four and wearing tight jeans. Since the topic was brought up and she was in my line of vision, I assured her that she could wear tight jeans (as opposed to those who can’t or just plain shouldn’t).
She said it was mostly the work of forty-some thousand dollars of surgery. I wasn’t about to ask, fearing some sort of horrible accident or disease story. My wife talked about the negative effects of gravity and age, to which our new friend countered with the knowledge that part of the forty-some thousand dollars involved the boobs, which she pushed up to punctuate her point (heavy black sweatshirt – don’t get all excited).
Since she brought it up, I felt the need to ask her if she still had feeling there, which she did. I only asked for the sake of knowledge, as I’m told that a large percentage of women who get breast implants lose sensation in their nipples. I was merely showing concern for her well-being. She told me she was over fifty, she didn’t care about them having feeling; she wanted to get her jollies and he could roll off and go take out the trash and buy her some stuff.
Well, there’s a lot to say for subtlety, as well as bluntness and honesty. She said that forty grand of boobs was about vanity, which absolutely trumps feeling. I’m sure they were very nice.
If I had stayed there much longer, things would have gotten even more interesting, but we were tired and sore from walking all morning. Next time we’re going back and bringing some friends to help us experience the entire Mart Show.
Alas, it became time to go home. We were not happy to bid the fudge, the fresh baked chocolate covered bear claws (made with real bear), and the smoked sheep intestine goodbye, but one does what one has to do.
[besides.... I'd always be afraid to break them... you know?]