The flea market has given me some wonderful collecting memories. In the early to mid part of 2006, when I was just beginning my SNES resurrection, I acquired many SNES games thanks to the good ol’ flea market. Before I get into that though, here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite books, The Kite Runner. It romanticizes the flea market like none other.
Almost two years had passed since we had arrived in the U.S., and I was still marveling at the size of this country, its vastness. Beyond every freeway lay another freeway, beyond every city another city, hills beyond mountains and mountains beyond hills, and, beyond those, more cities and more people.
Long before the Roussi army marched into Afghanistan, long before villages were burned and schools destroyed, long before mines were planted like seeds of death and children buried in rock-piled graves, Kabul had become a city of ghosts for me. A city of harelipped ghosts.
America was different. America was a river, roaring along, unmindful of its past. I could wade into this river, let my sins drown to the bottom, let the waters carry me someplace far. Someplace with no ghosts, no memories, and no sins.
And for that, I embraced America.
I would get up early some Saturday mornings and drive south on Highway 17, push the Ford up the winding road through the mountains to Santa Cruz. I would park by the old lighthouse and wait for sunrise, sit in my car and watch the fog rolling in from the sea. Back in Afghanistan, I had only seen the ocean at the cinema. Sitting in the dark next to Hassan, I had always wondered if it was true what I’d read, that sea air smelled like salt. I used to tell Hassan that someday we’d walk on a strip of seaweed-strewn beach, sink our feet in the sand and watch the water recede from our toes. The first time I saw the Pacific, I almost cried. It was as vast and blue as the oceans on the movie screens of my childhood.
Sometimes in the early evening, I parked the car and walked up a freeway overpass. With my face pressed against the fence, I’d try to count the blinking red taillights inching along, stretching as far as my eyes could see. BMWs. Saabs. Porsches. Cars I’d never seen in Kabul, where most people drove Russian Volgas, Opels, or Iranian Paikans.
On Saturdays, Baba woke me up at dawn. As he dressed, I scanned the classifieds in the local papers and circled garage sale ads. We mapped our route — Fremont, Union City, Newark, and Hayward first, then San Jose, Milpitas, Sunnyvale, and Campbell if time permitted. Baba drove the bus, sipping hot tea from the blue thermos, and I navigated. We stopped at garage sales and bought knickknacks that people no longer wanted. We haggled over old sewing machines, one-eyed Barbie dolls, wooden tennis rackets, guitars with missing strings, and old Electrolux vacuum cleaners. By mid-afternoon, we’d fill the back of the VW bus with used goods. Then early Sunday mornings, we drove to the San Jose flea market off Berryessa, rented a spot, and sold the junk for a small profit.
By that summer of 1984, Afghan families were working an entire section of the San Jose flea market. Afghan music played in the aisles of the Used Goods section. There was an unspoken code of behavior among Afghans at the flea market: You greeted the guy across the aisle, you invited him for a bite of potato bolani or a little qabuli, and you chatted. You offered tassali, condolences, for the death of a parent, congratulated the birth of children, and shook your head mournfully when the conversation turned to Afghanistan and the Roussis — which it inevitably did. But you avoided the topic of Saturday. Because it might turn out that the fellow across the isle was the guy you’d nearly blindsided at the freeway exit yesterday in order to beat him to a promising garage sale.
One early Sunday morning in July 1984, while Baba set up, I bought two cups of coffee from the concession stand and returned to find Baba talking to an older, distinguished-looking man. I put the cups on the rear bumper of the bus, next to the REAGAN/BUSH FOR ’84 sticker.
“Amir,” Baba said, motioning me over. “This is General Sahib, Mr. Iqbal Taheri. He was a decorated general in Kabul. He worked for the Ministry of Defense.”
Taheri. Why did the name sound familiar?
The general laughed like a man used to attending formal parties where he’d laughed on cue at the minor jokes of important people.
“Amir is going to be a great writer,” Baba said. I did a double take at this. “He finished his first year of college and earned A’s in all of his courses.”
“Junior college,” I corrected him.
“Mashallah,” General Taheri said.
“I write fiction.”
“Ah, a storyteller,” the general said. “Well, people need stories to divert them at a difficult time like this.”
She was standing behind us, a slim-hipped beauty with velvety coal black hair, an open thermos and Styrofoam cup in her hand. I blinked, my heart quickening. She had thick black eyebrows like the arched wings of a flying bird, and the gracefully hooked nose of a princess from old Persia — maybe that of Tahmineh, Rostam’s wife and Sohrab’s mother from the Shahnamah. Her eyes, walnut brown and shaded by fanned lashes, met mine. Held for a moment. Flew away.
“You are so kind, my dear,” General Taheri said. He took the cup from her. Before she turned to go, I saw she had a brown, sickle-shaped birthmark on the smooth skin just above her left jawline. She walked to a dull gray van two aisles away and put the thermos inside.
“My daughter, Soraya jan,” General Taheri said. He took a deep breath like a man eager to change the subject. “Well, time to go and set up.”
Lying awake in bed that night, I thought of Soraya Taheri’s sickle-shaped birthmark, her gently hooked nose, and the way her luminous eyes had fleetingly held mine. My heart stuttered at the thought of her.
The Kite Runner is one of my favorite books and comes highly recommended. When I read the flea market scene in the book, in a way, it made me think of my own flea market adventures, and the crazy things one can see and do at a flea market. And so, I present to you, my flea market memoirs.
1. A ‘MEGA’ COMEBACK
-Saturday, February 4, 2006-
*BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!*
Staggering out of bed like Otis Campbell on a Saturday night, I shifted my way through the darkness to put an end to the madness. The thought of crawling back in bed was nearly as tempting as Jessica Alba herself. The idea, however, went quickly as it came.
After brushing my teeth and helping myself to a bowl of cereal, I found the dawn just breaking between two white buildings. The sky was mostly gray but a streak of white stretched itself from the end of a flagpole. By the time I finished breakfast, the sky was lighter than it had been when I woke up — the streak of gray broadening into a patch of brilliant day.
I was a man on a mission. Three weeks into my SNES rebirth (1.17.06), I was gearing to embark on my first flea market voyage since 2002. With a wish list the size of Rosie’s waistline and a wallet jammed full of dead presidents, I headed off into that cool early morning, the light February breeze brushing against my face. As I pulled into the parking lot something told me today was going to be a good day. Maybe even a great one. I gazed at the box office where I saw the growing crowd purchasing their tickets. Just think, I thought to myself… beyond that building there…lies a part of my childhood.
I remember the morning rather well; the smell of apricot in the air, the bustling crowds all jabbering for bargains, and at long last — the lady with the game stand parked over at the far end. I dove head first into the SNES bin like Rickey Henderson stealing third base. All her games were wrapped. I eagerly waded through each one, picking out Final Fight, Dino City, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, Flashback and Tetris Attack.
Each of those games ran me $5 except for Tetris Attack. Some of these games I hadn’t played in 12, 15 years! There’s nothing quite like the rush of rediscovering games from your youth on a brisk, early Saturday morning. There’s just something awesome about it. It’s hard to look back on one’s early collecting days and not break out a nostalgic smile. It was the rush and the feeling of getting back into the fandom after so many years, acquiring games left and right… those are some sacred memories right there!
I could smell colors, I could feel sounds. I have NEVER had such a great experience in my life before. Trying to figure out where I was, LOOKING AROUND, enjoying the life that I was living. I mean it was UN-BOWL-LEE-ABLE! [/Bill Walton]
Ironically, on my way to the flea market that morning I was actually hoping to find the somewhat scarce Dino City, and then lo and behold! What can I say, it was just one of those mornings, ya know?
The vendor was a nice elderly lady in her 50’s. I showed her each game that I wanted as she sprouted off, “Five dollas, five dollas,” but she paused when Tetris Attack came up. Somehow, I knew she would.
There was no way in HELL I was getting Tetris Attack for a measly five bucks…
She grabbed the game from me and squinted long and hard at it. Oh boy, I thought to myself, here it comes. $20, maybe $25. Yup, Steve-O, you can kiss this bargain goodbye. She burned a hole through Tetris Attack before finally saying…
I wanted to jump in the air and pump my fist. But I kept my cool and told the lady in a calm voice, “Sounds good.” All in all, it was $27 well spent
Heading back to my car sensing that this was a lucky day, I decided to head on over to Game Crazy. Now, this was before their retro game selection went down the crapper. Imagine the sheer joy I felt when I spotted Mega Man X2 in mint condition for $9.99! I claimed it faster than John Madden could say “BOOM!”
I couldn’t believe such a “big time” title was sitting right there for all to see, and it happened to be lucky ole me who finally snatched it up for a measly ten bucks!
As Tony the cashier rung me up, he looked at the game semi-perplexed. “10 bucks for this? Hmm, it must be one of the more rare SNES games…” Not surprisingly, the next time I came back to visit, all the interesting SNES games they once had, were gone…
To cap off the successful, splendid early morning voyage, on the way home I purchased a birthday card for my college buddy, Shanice, which I later had all us theatre kids sign. I finally got home around 12:30. It was one of those idyllic, peaceful mornings you wish would never end. The kind that makes you feel as if the whole world is right at your fingertips. The kind of morning that makes you feel like writing that novel you had always wanted to, or starting that RPG you had long vowed to begin, or finally calling that old best friend you’d been meaning to catch up with, but never did. It was indeed one of those perfect Saturday mornings… the ones that stay with you for a lifetime.
Waking up that morning I didn’t know whether I’d find any games of worth that day at the flea market or not. In the end, was I ever glad I went. I also knew… I would return…
2. NICE GUYS, MEAN GUYS, AND EASTER ISLAND HEADS
-Saturday, February 25, 2006-
Today saw the venture into a new flea market, bigger and better than the one I hit 3 weeks ago. There were hundreds of SNES titles on hand! The first vendor had a small selection but I managed to pluck one game off my vast want list: Rocko’s Modern Life, bartered from $8 down to $5, due to the label being a bit dirty.
Speaking of which, yes, even though it’s been a little over 10 years since I bought most of my collection, I have easily over one hundred games that I still haven’t played. What can I say, the queue is long and some games are #125 on the to-play list. However, one day I hope to play each of them. That’s a large part of the fun, knowing that they’re there waiting for me. I no longer have to hunt them down, but they’re there whenever the urge strikes.
The second vendor saw a nice kid giving me a top deal. Boogerman and Lemmings 2 were listed at $8 each, but for no apparent reason he gave them to me both for $10. His father was busy tending to another customer. I suspect I wouldn’t have gotten the bargain from him that his son gave me. Funny thing is, I was going to pay $16 for the two games but before I could pull out my wallet, the kid said, “Ten dollars is fine.”
Shoot, I won’t argue with that! That kid made life easy. I had forgotten Lemmings 2 saw a Super Nintendo release, and Interplay’s Boogerman was a game I always wanted to play back in the mid ’90s, but never did. But now I had the means.
Third vendor… man. Let’s just say, he’s going to be a main character from here on out. Let us call him… “Mr. Mean.” He had hundreds of SNES games, BUT… and there’s always a but isn’t there… well, you’ll see.
So there I was, at Mr. Mean’s large stand happily sifting through his endless SNES cart bundles. I found a ton of games I wanted, but none had a price tag, y’see. Based off my two previous vendor experiences just a couple minutes ago, I thought, “Hey, five bucks a piece, sweet! What a killing I’m gonna make here!”
I called Mr. Mean over to the glass case. I had a dozen games lined out, one I recall being Arkanoid: Doh It Again! As he walked over, I kept thinking JACKPOT CITY, BABY!
He didn’t even greet me, the bastard. Like a robot he picked the first game up, shouted “Twelve dollars!” and proceeded to slam it hard on the glass case. He lifted the next game and slammed it hard on the glass once more. “Twenty dollars,” he said with an ugly tone. He went through the other ten titles in similar fashion. It left me thinking “What the f*ck?” (in more ways than one). What kind of shady operation was this guy trying to run? I told him “Nevermind” and walked away. Bastard.
The most dirt-common cheap games went for at least $12! Contra III cart only for $38?! Who the hell was this guy kidding?!
Still, I kept my head up and continued happily exploring the rest of the flea market. 4th vendor I spotted Pac-Attack and also… Arkanoid: Doh It Again. Funny how life can work in mysterious ways. I was denied of Arkanoid just five minutes ago by Mr. Mean, yet here I was with the next vendor who happened to have a copy of the game as well.
However, he was hesitant to sell Arkanoid off the bat.
“I don’t know… isn’t this game rare?” he asked, scratching his head. Keep in mind this was in early 2006 and iPhones weren’t a thing yet.
“Nope,” I answered him honestly.
“Yeah. I actually just saw it at the very last vendor. It’s not a rare game.”
He examined the glossy game label long and hard, squinting even. He studied the “Easter Island” statue with a burning intensity. Finally he looked back up.” Alright, I trust you… $5 it is then. With the Pac-Man game it comes to be $10.”
In yer face Mr. Mean! Ahhh, ARKANOID. I have some fond memories of playing the game on my computer in the late ’90s when my bro and I first discovered emulation. Kevin and I had already donated our SNES to our cousin David by the time my brother found out about roms and such. I remember it well; I was a sophomore in high school at the tail end of the ’90s, walking home from school one day talking with a buddy about my brother’s discovery the night before. Although I missed my SNES, hey, it was better than nothing. Arkanoid: DIA was one of the few games my brother got. He refused to teach me how to download games by myself as we shared the computer and he was ULTRA paranoid of me doing anything malignant to his precious PC. Anywho, I often fired up Arkanoid and was taken aback by its simple effectiveness. Some 7-8 years later, I finally got the real thing.
VINDICATION NEVER TASTED SO DAMN SWEET!
What an epic little trip this was turning out to be. What a RUSH. And I wasn’t just buying great Super NES games you see, oh no… it was more than that. I was reclaiming my childhood. Buying titles I could ONLY dream of buying back in the early-mid ’90s. I made my way to the next vendor full of hope and optimism. All the vendors so far were awesome sans one Mr. Mean.
This next guy was the final stop of the tour. Like Mr. Mean, he had hundreds of SNES games. But this guy was the complete opposite — Mr. Nice, if you will. He took a liking to me from the get-go, greeting me as though I were like his long lost nephew. Although every SNES game on display was priced at $10 or $12, he showed me a box of SNES games he kept in storage that he’d sell at $5 a piece. The funny thing is, some of those $5 games were in the $10 pile as well. Some in better shape too! What a goofy old coot
I walked away with Super Smash TV, King of the Monsters, The Addams Family and Marvel Super Heroes: War of the Gems. It was a sweet mix of childhood favorites and games I simply never got around to play but had always wanted to. In many ways it was very symbolic of my SNES resurrection.
Driving home on the freeway that day, windows rolled down, the radio blasting, y’kno, the good stuff, I glance at the nine new SNES games added to my rapidly growing collection. I found myself grinning like a Cheshire cat, knowing full well that, once again, I would be back for more…
3. PUTTING THE SWAP IN ‘SWAP MEET’
-Saturday, March 4, 2006-
A quiet day but I made my first trade (of many to come) with Mr. Nice. Spotted Prince of Persia 2 in the $10 bin, geez I totally forgot a part 2 ever came out, and traded Mr. Nice my extra copy of Hook plus $5 for PoP 2. Fair deal, for sure. Maybe even good. I don’t see Prince of Persia 2 for sale often, and I’d once read it saw a limited release as it came out toward the tail end of SNES’ lifespan.
To cap the day off I nabbed Kablooey in the $5 bin. Though, the cart was in less than stellar condition… but more on this in a bit… in fact, just TWO short days later…
3A. THE CRAZY GAME CRAZY ‘HEIST’
-Monday, March 6, 2006-
This wheeling and dealing business was getting madly addicting! Not since my Saturn hey day did I have this much fun with video games. After class I drove to Game Crazy and bought Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Eek! the Cat and Kablooey (clean and mint). I got Kablooey free as part of Game Crazy’s Buy 2 Get 1 Free deal. 3 games for $10.80. I was rather surprised walking in to find ZAMN, a game in which my old best friend Nelly and I used to play together up the wazoo. Great memories, great game. Zombies Ate My Neighbors is certainly one of a kind on the ole SNES. As for Eek! I always had a weird urge to play this one when I first saw it previewed in EGM back in ’94, but of course, I never got around to do so.
I went home and switched the Game Crazy sticker on the newly acquired mint Kablooey with the so-so Kablooey flea market copy I’d bought just two short days ago. I returned to the same Game Crazy store later that afternoon only to find that the cashier working was the same dude who sold me the mint Kablooey just two hours ago. And it wasn’t just “some dude” rather but it was the store manager! But since I didn’t want to go home empty-handed, I decided to take the risk… sometimes, ya gotta live life on the edge
Asking if I could exchange Kablooey, which I bought just two hours ago, for another SNES game, I handed him the receipt along with the so-so flea market copy of Kablooey. He held the cartridge and paused as he examined it.
Oh shit… I’m BUSTED, I thought to myself.
You know those twinges you get in those moments where you realize you shouldn’t have done what you just did? As I saw his beady eyes glaring at the cartridge casing, I knew I was having one of those moments.
After what seemed like three weeks, but in reality was a second or two at the most, he glanced back up at me and said:
I was eye-balling the Robocop vs. Terminator copy before I left Game Crazy earlier that morning. I looked it up briefly on the internet at home, and decided it was worth adding to the ole library. And just like that not only did I pick up a new game I wanted, but I also switched my so-so copy of Kablooey for a mint one. Only in America A bit underhanded, yes, but with Game Crazy being the corporate beast they were, I had no regrets.
The store manager took my receipt, wrote in Robocop and faintly made a check mark on Kablooey as to signify the exchange. That spring semester of 2006 was a sweet one. It was my last undergrad college semester and on Mondays and Wednesdays I got out at 10:15 in the morning. I miss those days.
Yup, I had a lot of fun hitting up local malls, stores, Game Crazies, etc. on Mondays and Wednesdays. 10:30 was way too early to head home, so I usually went game hunting or out to lunch with a buddy nearly every week on those days. Now that I’ve been working full time, a small part of me pines for those innocent, relatively still carefree days of being in my early 20’s. I look back on those early collecting days of 2006 with a real deep fondness.
4. SWAP ‘TIL YOU DROP!
-Saturday, March 18, 2006-
I had an extra copy of Street Fighter II that I offered to trade for Mr. Mean’s copy of Peace Keepers. “OK… but gimme two dollars,” he urged. I obliged. Fair enough.
Seeing The Peace Keepers (what a cheesy but lovable name) in the wild made my day. Fond memories of playing it with my brother and our friends way back in the summer of 1994. God that makes me feel old.
Next, I went to see Mr. Nice. We exchanged pleasantries. By now we had developed a great rapport; he probably saw me as the SNES fanatic with large sums of cash from the city, and I saw him as my meal ticket. Beyond that we saw each other as weekend acquaintances; some company to help fill out the drudges of everyday life. He often asked me about college life, how the ladies were, and I would ask him about how business was going or even about his sons back home. Making connections with your fellow man is something eBay or online shopping will never be able to replicate. It’s part of the charm of going to the flea market!
I traded him Doom, Battle Blaze, Ys III: Wanderers from Ys (double) and Captain America and the Avengers for Cacoma Knight in Bizyland, Prince of Persia and Adventures of Yogi Bear. A good trade for me seeing as how Cacoma and Yogi were somewhat uncommon and on the want list for a couple months now, combined with the fact that I hated Battle Blaze and the Captain America port.
As I was about to walk away, Mr. Nice reminded me to check his $5 bin. Ah yes of course. There I found Young Merlin and pounced. Yet another game I have childhood connections with. Funny thing is, I saw three copies of Young Merlin in his $10 bin, and the one copy I found in the $5 bin was actually in the best condition of all! Classic. I’ll say it again, what a nutty old coot
Feeling good off another classic trade with Mr. Nice, I decided I couldn’t go home now. I drove to the other flea market (where I bought Tetris Attack and friends a month ago). I figured it was worth the drive.
Didn’t find much but I did walk away with BlaZeon ($5). The label was sun faded but I didn’t mind. The way I see it, if I could erase any SNES game off the want list in real life for $5, I would. Can’t get a much better deal online than $5 shipped after all. All in all, not a shabby day of game hunting. In fact, a pretty damn good one.
5. “WISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!”
-Saturday, April 8, 2006-
Sold an extra copy of Mega Man X to Mr. Mean for $8 cash. Then headed off to see Mr. Nice. By now it was common practice for me to bring any games I wanted to trade (usually doubles I landed in lots off eBay and such). Mr. Nice was a simple guy. He pretty much traded ANY game so long as he got the extra game in the trade (i.e. 2 for 1, 3 for 2 and so on). He understood quantity. Quality? Not so much
I bought a Super Game Boy 2 for $10 (later sold for $20+). Then I traded him my extra copies of F-Zero, Bubsy and Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow for Adventures of Kid Kleets and a MINT copy of Super Castlevania IV! Mr. Nice also asked me to throw in $2, which I happily handed over. At the time I couldn’t find a copy of Castlevania IV for under $12 shipped.
Sad but true: I never actually played this back in the day. Indeed. Shame. And so, later that night I spent the entire evening slaying hordes of the undead…
And it was freaking awesome.
6. MR. MEAN’S EPIC FAIL FTW
-Saturday, May 27, 2006-
For weeks now I’d been trying to sell off four fighting game VHSes online, but to no avail. Even at $12 shipped no one wanted Mortal Kombat, Samurai Shodown the Movie, Toshinden and Street Fighter the Animated Movie. So naturally, I decided to take them with me to the flea market. Hey, couldn’t hurt, right?
As usual, the first stop was Mr. Mean. I offered to sell him the four tapes I was carrying in my University book bag.
“Let me see what they are,” he demanded hastily, as if he suspected I had gold and didn’t have a clue that I did. I slipped the tapes out of my University book bag and placed them on the glass case. He made a nonchalant circular hand motion over the four tapes.
“Mmmm… five dollars”
“You mean five dollars for ALL of them?”
I put the videos back in the bag and started to walk away in disgust when I spotted it…
I already had a copy, but I wasn’t about to pass this opportunity up. I asked Mr. Mean how much for Aero Fighters. I expected to hear some absurd figure like $85 (note: at the time it was going for about $50-$60).
Surprisingly, I overestimated him…
“$7 plus the tapes,” he announced nonchalantly, as though he were trying to pull the wool over MY eyes.
!!!! I couldn’t believe it. But I played dumb as to not show my hand; a universal rule known by diehard flea market game shoppers the world over.
“What??” I asked, with a semi-perplexed look on my face, as if the offer were an insult.
“$5 and the tapes for the game,” he rephrased. Notice the price change!
“… OK, but I keep the bag.”
“Yes yes,” he grinned, as if he had pulled the wool over my eyes. When in reality it was the other way around
Note: I later auctioned off that Aero Fighters copy, a double, for $50. That was about the going rate for that game, cart only, at that time. Nowadays, it’s a triple figure heavy hitter.
7. HOTTEST DAY OF THE SUMMER, AND BEST TRIP EVER?
-Saturday, July 1, 2006-
Met a new vendor today. Extra Innings was bartered from $5 to $3, my argument being it was a common “cheap” sports game. As I was getting ready to leave I spotted Super Alfred Chicken, another game I had always wanted to play back in the day but never did.
Oddly, it was priced at $6 but the dude said “Give me $3 for this one.” Shoot, I won’t argue with that! I handed him a $5 bill, and he handed me back two bills. I naturally assumed that they were two $1 bills, so I shoved ‘em in my pocket without checking. More on this in a bit…
Next, I made my way to Mr. Mean. I had another double of Street Fighter II and asked his nephew if I could exchange it straight up for Lemmings, which looked to be in mint condition (aside from the initials marking), all neatly wrapped and everything.
“Street Fighter II plus four dollars for Lemmings,” the 16-year-old countered.
Ah, hardball, a?
I stuck to my guns and reiterated my straight up offer. Take it or leave it, pal. The nephew examined the contacts and then he called Mr. Mean to come over, who had just finished wrapping up a transaction on the other side. Mr. Mean turned around, saw me, and his expression was absolutely priceless.
He sauntered on over to where his nephew and I were negotiating.
“What’s going on here?” he asked, in a gruff manner.
“I offered him Lemmings for his Street Fighter II plus four dollars.”
“And I offered your nephew a straight up trade. Take it or leave it.”
Mr. Mean took my SF II copy, turning the sumbitch sideways to study the contacts. Clean. He nodded reluctantly. “Very well. You got yourself a deal.”
By sticking to my guns I saved four bucks. Sometimes, it’s about more than just the money. This was one of those times.
Mr. Nice was next. It was the same old tradition as always. Stop by Mr. Mean’s stand first, just in case anything of intrigue pops up, then head on over to Mr. Nice’s stand where I knew, AT THE VERY LEAST, I could share a friendly and affable conversation. I also brought my spare SNES copies or games I couldn’t stand to serve as possible trade chips with Mr. Nice, who gave the greatest trades in the history of mankind. On this particular trip I traded him Fatal Fury (boo) and Ms. Pac-Man (double) plus, ironically, the $4 I saved by not caving in to Mr. Mean’s nephew not ten minutes ago, for Gemfire and wow, Metal Warriors! Told ya, he knows quantity. Quality? Not so much
I actually already had a copy of Metal Warriors, but it was going for about $30-$40 at the time, and so I couldn’t pass up on it. I don’t advocate hunting for games you already have, but when it’s right there in your face and you have a chance to get it for a bargain, it’s hard to pass up.
As I called it a day and walked back to my car, parked significantly far away, I arrived to find my Honda had been KO’ed by the branding iron of the scorching summer sun. It was way too hot inside so I opened all four doors and the 7-11 store, with its cold beverages, not fifty feet away suddenly seemed very inviting. I pulled out my wallet to see how much cash I had left. Inside I found a $10 bill. Wait-a-sec… I KNOW I didn’t bring no stinkin’ ten dollar bill, so what the hell? Then it hit me. The vendor who gave me $2 change when I paid a fiver for Super Alfred Chicken — his change was one bill as $1, and the other bill… yup, $10. I glanced at my car which was right in front of me in the parking lot a couple blocks away from the flea market, and then I glanced back, looking at that long stretch of road I would have to traverse in order to return the $10 bill. And on what had to be one of the hottest days of the summer, I decided I wasn’t about to walk all the way back. In essence, I ended up getting Super Alfred Chicken for free, and then some. A part of me felt bad about it, you bet your ass I did, but on the real, another part of me didn’t [… the dark side! -Ed.]
8. RUMBLE IN HYRULE
-Saturday, July 29, 2006-
Went to the first flea market from this list and met up with that woman in her 50’s again who sold me Tetris Attack and company some odd five months ago. Traded her my extra WWF Wrestlemania: The Arcade Game (somehow I had three bloody copies at the time) plus $2 for WWF Royal Rumble. Bit ironic, eh? She actually asked for $3 but I bartered that down to $2. My convincing argument? I needed the dollar for Wendy’s super value menu — lunch. She gave me a good-natured chuckle and nodded her little old head. “OK OK I know, you’re a college student. I know.” Hey, whatever it takes
Then I drove to the other flea market and traded Mr. Nice my copies of Home Alone 2 (ugh) and Out To Lunch (extra) for Addams Family: Pugsley’s Scavenger Hunt.
Each time I headed to his stand I couldn’t wait to chat with him and see what new SNES games he might have acquired since we last saw each other. He always greeted me with a warm smile and a hearty hello. It saddened me just a little bit knowing that my SNES want list was quickly drying up — I really didn’t have that many wants left. As it turns out, I kinda knew that day what was inevitable, this would be my final transaction ever with Mr. Nice. Hell, it would be the last time I see him…
Next stand I hit up was a new one. I bought just the Zelda: Link to the Past map for $3. The game was complete but I asked the vendor if I could buy just the map. He was nice enough to accommodate me. At that time I had yet to play Link to the Past and knew the map would come in handy when I eventually do. Plus I love the simple classic artwork of the Zelda SNES game.
And the last stand I visited today, another new one, proved to be an absolute gold mine. He had a crate of sealed games. I ended up trading Relief Pitcher, Alien 3, Michael Jordan: Chaos in Windy City, Super Tennis and Tecmo Super NBA Basketball (mostly doubles, others unwanted) plus $9 for SEALED Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past (million seller edition). That’s like trading Michael Jordan in 1992 for David Wood! Who? Exactly! I saw two sealed copies of Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Mario Kart (all million sellers), Earthworm Jim, Super Godzilla and more. But I decided the sealed Zelda copy was enough. For now, anyhow…
9. FLEA MARKET MADNESS FINALE
-Saturday, August 5, 2006-
A week later I returned to the same stand with the sealed games. Took the two sealed copies of Donkey Kong Country 2 to the vendor, as well as the sealed Super Mario Kart. He wanted $45 for all of them ($15 each). The funny thing is, before I could whip out my wallet, he tried to convince me that this was a fair price offer (!)
“You uh, would be getting a great deal, sir. Really.”
I faintly smiled. I couldn’t help it. A great deal? Was it ever. “OK, I’ll take them.”
All four sealed copies went to eBay. They cost me a total of $54, and they sold for roughly $215. That’s a $161 profit
Note: I rarely use games intentionally to turn a profit… never really been into that whole thing, but this was one of those rare exceptions. I happened to be at the right place at the right time. I would have been an absolute fool not to capitalize.
I went out with a bang. That’s how I like to end things. On a high note
FLEA MARKETING 101
Note: These tips were originally written back in June of 2008. Times have changed since then with smart phones and retro games being bigger than ever. A lot of deals like the ones I had are much harder these days, so these tips may vary in terms of effectiveness in the year 2016. Nonetheless, here they are anyway…
- Carry lots of small denominations. Bring lots of 1’s and 5’s. Keep the 1’s in one pocket and the rest elsewhere, that way the vendors won’t spot you fishing through 5’s and 10’s and suddenly get greedy
- You don’t necessarily have to play dumb so to speak, or be Daniel Day-Lewis, but some acting at the right moments can work to your favor. For example, when I repeated the vendor’s offer in an aloof manner, he immediately lowered his demand. Gee, that was easy! Merci beaucoup, Mr. Mean
- Try to establish some kind of rapport with the vendors. Especially the ones that are nice. It never hurts to have a good relationship, they might give you deals or trades they might not give someone else. Although not mentioned here, I once bought a Genesis game off Mr. Nice that he let me have for $3. To quote him, “3 dollars just for you, nobody else”
- Rather than diving right into what you want most, casually ease your way into it. Want that Super Metroid copy really bad? First casually thumb through some Genesis games, then work your way over. Also, call it “Nintendo game” rather than by the real name, in order to make it sound more generic and common
- Don’t be afraid to barter. If a game has a cosmetic flaw for example, you can knock off a dollar or two in many cases (if it isn’t already going for, say, $2). Try not to be TOO cheap, however. Nobody likes a tightwad, but there certainly is a right time and place for bartering
- Bring any gaming-related items you no longer wish to own, or any doubles, hey you never know when Vendor X is open to a trade. It doesn’t hurt to bring a bag of your unwanted gaming items, as you’ve seen here in my stories
- You don’t have to give in to any vendor’s demands — if you feel a game is just too rich for your blood, just walk away. There will always be another copy to be had (if not in the wild then definitely online). And sometimes, when you walk away they’ll stop you and suddenly be in a more compromising mood [Yeah that’s what I thought, bitch! -Ed.]
- Emotional objectivity. Kinda goes back to the acting bit. It’s worth repeating. Try not to show much emotion when asking a vendor how much for this Nintendo (or Sega) game
- Get there early. Best deals then. Also, sometimes when they’re about to drive their stuff home, they might be desperate and let you in on a good deal to add some $ to their day count, but usually the good stuff is gone by the afternoon
- Don’t be discouraged if your flea market has no good finds. It’s not the end of the world. Enjoy the sunny day. Walk around. Take in the atmosphere. Have fun!
- Always think positive. Never hurts, plus it’s free
- [There are no swap meet princesses -Ed.]
By August 2006, my SNES want list evaporated by and large for the most part. With no reason to return, August 5, 2006 saw the last time I ever raided a flea market. I’ll always remember those days quite fondly. For some strange reason it feels as though they were from another lifetime. Those wild scavenger hunts… sticking it to Mr. Mean… the goofy old coot Mr. Nice, who always treated me as though I were his long lost nephew and dealt me the best trades in the history of mankind. Those early Saturday morning flea market runs, rummaging through countless game bins. For every lame duck common game occasionally laid the diamond in the rough and the big payoff. It was a glorious time in many aspects, but I’m also glad in retrospect that it’s all over with — the hunt, that is.
Still have wants on your video game list? Then be sure to check out your local flea markets. In addition to Craigslist, it’s another avenue you may want to consider when searching for your next video game purchase. There’s something about the flea market, and there’s certainly something about buying or trading for games RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU in real life. You never know what great deals you too may unearth. Or bloody hell, you might find your very own… SWAP MEET PRINCESS! Well, let’s be honest here. Probably not, but you might find a good game deal or two, and that certainly makes paying a visit to your local flea market worth a shot.
Tomorrow is yet another gorgeous Saturday morning. Thousands of people will be trekking to their local flea market then, in hopes of finding the latest and greatest bargain. Myself, I’ve paid my dues, and am happily long retired. Back at the ol’ ranch, I’ll be sleeping in. Either that or maybe I’ll finally play one of these games I bought over 10 years ago. It would be about damn time, eh?