Early Morning at Wolff’s Flea Market

On Sunday, despite my better judgment (and despite his having a fairly event-filled Saturday), I suggested to Liz that we go to Wolff’s Flea Market. I was interested in going to take pictures, and knew there wouldn’t be many more events (they end after October).

There’s something oddly fun and adventurous, waking up crazy early on a weekend. Amazingly, I was able to get up when my alarm went off (around 5AM) and roused Liz from her sleep. In hindsight, I think it would have been better for both of us to have slept in and gotten some rest… but for some odd reason, I felt like we should go.

Fast forward a bit through our regular routine: I drop Liz off at Starbucks while I drive to the bank. After getting cash from the ATM, I pick her up and we guzzle coffee on the drive out to Rosemont.

This time around, I asked Liz to video flea market as we got off the highway. It’s a bit blurry, since it’s so dark out… but hopefully this gives you a sense of how huge this place is.

So you know: the past few times I’ve been here, I’ve only gotten through about 3 rows of vendors. Maybe 4 max.

The last time we were here, the parking lights shut off just as we arrived. This time though… we were very much in the dark. In fact, I had joked that we should have brought flashlights. And you know what? We totally should have.

Case in point – this lady, who was using a flashlight to dig through a box.

I was messing around with my camera settings a bit. FYI the darker shots are a lot closer to what it actually looked like, when I took the photo.

A wide assortment of canned goods. Seeing this, coupled with the early morning chill, made me feel like I was camping. It also made me feel like a Survivalist, and had me wondering if I had enough canned goods stocked up at home.

A large collection of video games. It was kind of hard to see, but nothing really jumped out at me. Lots of copies of Top Gun, but nothing unusual.

Again, this is closer to what it looked like.

One guy had a lot of cheaply priced items – there was a $1 table and a $5 table. I saw a lot of Michael Jordan Wheaties boxes available… and wondered to myself Are those really collectible? Perhaps they are, I have no idea. Maybe in another 50 years, these things will be super rare.

Two items that might go well together.

While it was really a perfect kind of day yesterday… there was a definite chill in the air, at the flea. I was holding my camera for most of the morning, and my fingers got pretty cold. I laughed to myself when I realized there were numerous, numerous places where I could buy some gloves or even a jacket if I needed to.

Another guy with a flashlight, checking out some jewelry.

Nearby, I spotted several gun holsters. Not sure why, but they made me feel a little lonely. It was as though there were five other guns somewhere that once belonged with these guys, but had since been separated.

You can buy anything at the flea. Everything and the kitchen sink.

Several vendors had their cars running. I’d say about 25% of the folks selling were sitting in their cars, keeping warm. They’d step out to engage customers they saw lingering, but otherwise kept themselves out of the chill. A few cars were running with their lights on to illuminate the area. This vendor had the car battery running several electronic items, for sale on their table.

A guy setting up some drums. He would eventually have two drum sets, and a few guitars set up. I half-expected a band to form and play.

Seeing this large collection of watches, I was reminded of Burgess Meredith and one of my all-time favorite Twilight Zone episodes.

Randomly, a photograph of Ben Peterson in action.

If there’s one thing you will always find at Wolff’s – it’s beautiful typewriters. Though I will say… you probably won’t find them, if you come later in the day. These things get snatched up quickly.

I walked by a set of old cassette tape drawers, and stopped to take a photo. When I stood up, the couple at the table asked me what I was photographing.

I explained to them that I had something similar to this, growing up. And that I remembered listening to a George Carlin tape as well. So I wanted to stop and capture the image. We talked a bit about cassette tapes, and I told them about the book Cassette From My Ex. We compared the work that used to be involved with creating mixes, and how easy it is nowadays.

In a funny way, they had maybe twenty years on me… but all three of us were talking about “the old days.” I think flea markets bring that out in a lot of people, regardless of age.

This is the first time I’ve seen a sitar for sale. Crazy.

Another kitchen sink.

I continue to be amazed at how much you can find here, at the flea market. Tires, wheelchairs and snowblowers… side by side.

I am totally kicking myself now for not purchasing this. This thing had a $6 price tag on it, which I was not interested in paying. I wonder if I could have talked the vendor down to $2 or $3. Should have at least tried.

I took this photo because of the awesome thing this woman purchased, under her arm. I now realize she is also wearing a pretty awesome hat.

Lots of old trains. Had I more space, I could see getting into model railroads a lot more. It seems like a very dangerous hobby.

Nearby, I spotted a table that would have made Frank Fritz very happy. It was filled with nothing but toy trucks.

When I talked to the guy running the booth, he told me he was here for his brother-in-law, who had a bad ticker. Apparently these trucks were part of a lifetime collection… and were in a storage locker. Apparently, due to the bills not being paid on time… the trucks were in danger of being confiscated/sold.

The brother-in-law needed money, and the guy at the table was out here, trying to sell off the trucks.

Not only were the tables covered with trucks, but there were a ton underneath as well.

What’s fascinating to me is that in looking over these toys… I know that some of them are valuable. In fact, I would bet that several are quite valuable. But knowing the difference was knowledge I simply don’t have. More than any other booth, here is where I felt that line between treasure and trash.

Had I known more, I feel like I could have picked up a toy truck and doubled or tripled my money. No wonder flea markets are so addictive.

A larger view of all the trucks.

I have never heard of this game, but it looks awesome.

On seeing the title of this book, I immediately pictured someone plowing through a box of Twinkies, smiling. In doing a little more digging, I actually found out that Lelord Kordel was heavily into nutrition and eating right.

And surprisingly, several film stars were followers of his… including Gloria Swanson. Finding this out made me think of when I met Dee Dee, a few weeks ago.

Find… and fulfill your destiny.

The sun, slowly starting to break over the parking lot at All State Arena.

Two old whiskey casks. I bet they smell pretty great.

I spotted this truck from a distance, and wanted to track down the owner. The entire thing was painted a light blue, with tons of Dr. Seuss characters all over it.

When I approached the guy (on the left) and asked him about his truck, he was initially confused. I asked him where he got it, was it like that when he got it… and he looked at me with his head tilted. He said I don’t understand, but said it in a way like What’s your problem with my vehicle?

At first, I thought I had offended him in some way. But then I realized his English wasn’t so hot. Still, once I told him how much I liked his truck… I got him to smile. He said he bought the truck at an auction, and it was painted like that (I wanted to ask how much he paid for it, but didn’t).

I was curious if people honked at him when he drove it around, and he immediately said Oh no, no. He told me he only drives the truck once a week – specifically to flea markets. On occasion he’ll help move large items for people, but it’s mostly a once a week thing. During the winter, the truck stays indoors for about 3 months.

I was able to exert some self-control, and did not make the obvious joke.

I spotted some Transformers at a nearby table, and sent a snapshot off to Paul, who is a huge fan of all things Transformers (sorry Rick – didn’t have your email handy). I later learned that these aren’t so rare, and averaged about $10 – 15 less than what the guy was selling them for. Swing and a miss.

Alas, poor Yorick.

One of the last things I spotted, on my way out. I’m guessing, based on the sticker, that this bike belonged to one of the many organizers. Dig the flame on the seat!

Up At 5AM, Searching For Treasure At Wolff’s Flea Market
Return To Wolff’s Flea Market
Killer Stuff And Tons Of Money: Seeking History And Hidden Gems In Flea-Market America
Vintage Bazaar At The Congress Theater, Chicago 2011

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