Haggle the Horrible or Return of the Bone-Grubber

The vibe you pick up from a swap meet is equal parts exciting and unsettling. Attended by undesirables and deal hunters from all walks of life, the entire event lies somewhere between a garage sale and a thrift store with a dash of carnival. These flea-ridden markets are a refuge away from our usual paper-or-plastic, plus tax mercantilism. Here the customer isn’t always right and buyer beware is the motto to keep in mind. Swap meets seem like something you’d find thriving in lawless international waters. Kids are running around shooting guns, everyone is selling weaponry, there are treasures from all over the world, prices are absolutely negotiable, and some guy is peddling polar bear cubs out of his glove compartment. Impulse, instinct, and a wad of cash are your only allies. It’s every man for himself.

When it comes to outdoor bazaardom in San Diego, Kobey’s at the Sports Arena, now confusingly known as the Valley View Casino Center, is as good as it gets. It is San Diego’s biggest outdoor market and draws in over 25,000 shoppers each week. While this isn’t the only local swap meet, it may as well be. The competition is nowhere near as fun or fruitful as this is. Parking is free and could even be considered plentiful if you aren’t afraid of a little extracurricular walking before you enter the gates. Entry comes cheap, as well. A buck gets you in the door and is sure to provide you with at least a few hours of entertainment.

Everything can be found at Kobey’s Swap Meet. There are bicycles, bags of popcorn, couches, corn dogs, fresh fruits, flowers, luchador masks, loads of books, movies, rusty screwdrivers, rugs, shampoos, statuettes, throwing knives, tires... and that’s just the first booth. There are even old photo albums, still mysteriously filled with the priceless pictures of an unknown family; an heirloom that may be itemized on a police report somewhere. The selection is actually so massive it can occasionally become overwhelming. It’s easy to get lost in the flow of the crowd and at times you’ll find yourself floating aimlessly through the sea of people. Your mind adrift in the mindless chatter around you. Soon enough you’ll be miles away from your friends, hypnotized by brightly colored doodads, considering, for some terrible reason, actually purchasing a dumb tchotchke you found inside a tent filled flap-to-flap with both riches and refuse.

There is no middle ground to be found inside a swap meet tent. Vendors can be lighthearted and happy to discuss pricing or just the opposite – incredibly aggressive, almost vicious, when it comes to haggling. Something one might blame on an over-indulgence of Pawn Stars, day dreams, and malt liquor. This rule carries over to the booth’s contents as well. Items for sale will either immediately interest you or be more of the same clutter you’ve seen a hundred times earlier that day. In some cases, there may even be a few items you wished you never saw in the first place.

Searching through each booth is an event in itself. Some tables are neatly organized, with prices clearly marked and each item given plenty of breathing room. Others look more like rusted mass graves, full of soulless trinkets that are almost too abominable to look at, let alone purchase. However, it would be foolish to simply turn up your nose at these lesser organized booths. Don’t be afraid to dig around. You’ll never know what treasures you’ll find concealed under a stack of used crutches. Keep away from the stashes of opened, mismanaged toys, though. No matter how curious you may be, rummaging through these boxes of mangled figurines, each riddled with their own hideous flaws, usually just ends with your hands covered in filth.

After getting your fill of oddball knickknacks and running out of Sanford and Son jokes, it will likely be time to call it a day. Fans of people-watching won’t ever be disappointed by a trip to Kobey’s. There is plenty to see, inside and outside of each booth and if you’re lucky you'll even be treated to some live music. You might even find that one thing that you’ve always been looking for but have never found – something to completely change your life around. On the other hand, there’s a chance that you won’t find anything of value and accidentally stab yourself with a rusted nail while digging through boxes of cracked vinyl and soiled comic books. It's fine. I'm sure this is all perfectly sanitary. The point is you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into until you get out there and get into it.