As with most Saturday mornings with my father, this one began early. Jarred awake without ceremony or pomp, I dressed and showered while my Dad completed his morning ritual of coffee and the New York Times.
By the time we’d eaten and managed to shuffle out the door, it was between seven and eight o’clock. We weren’t in any particular hurry, but getting to the swap meet late meant getting there after the other experienced hands had turned it over and emptied it of its valuables like a pick pocket. So with not quite military precision, we departed early enough to be among the first to comb the endless stalls and tents filled with mostly junk.
Once we were there, car parked in the crowded lot, the real fun began. This was the environment my father excelled in, where he could apply the lessons from his childhood in Kenya and Pakistan, where open air markets like this were open every day of the week. He looked at the swap meets as haystacks among which a diamond needle was hidden, as oysters that guarded and hid their pearls. It was rare though, that my father did not win. From cashmere sweaters to Japanese and Italian bike parts, my father always found the best at the cheapest, and walked away with a deal unheard of anywhere else. But this was not all the Saturday swap meet offered.
The swap meet was more than a bargain hunter’s heaven. It was a place with as rich a culture as the city of angels itself. Admittedly it was mostly Hispanic, but there were also Afghan vendors, Vietnamese watch repairmen, Japanese tourists, and a plethora of bargain hunters like my father and I from every race, religion, and creed. In fact it was my father’s ability to befriend and relate to all these people that I admired so much. It was exactly this talent, this ability to survive and thrive in a place with so much variance, to empathize with people so unlike oneself that I would later discover so useful. From the big shots that attended dinner parties at my step-grandparents, to the Hispanic vendor who always had good bikes, my father could be at home in a conversation with either. It is a trait that today I share. One the two of us revel in, one that gives us strength, and I like to think a superior ability for empathy.
Noise, odd colors, odd people, and odd smells are what I remember of the swap meets and flea markets around Los Angeles that I frequented on weekends with my father. A cornucopia of people and stuff crammed into over sized parking lots, old unused stadiums, and closed off streets. But these sensory memories aside, the most important idea I took from these Saturdays was the importance and the strength that lies in diversity and the ability to accept and thrive in it.
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