Megha’s eyes grew even wider when I mentioned Swap-o-Rama. She has never been there, but as a Chicagoan by birth she grew up watching commercials of Swap-o-Rama on TV. I tried to imagine what it was like.
I took bus number 9 from the Ashland Orange Line station. It went pass quite a few big deserted buildings with broken facade revealing almost-intact staircases, which had become cool graffiti sites. It’s obviously easier to do extra-tall graffiti from the landings on those staircases. I didn’t want to look like a tourist though. At least not in that bus, and not right then, when I didn’t even know where I was going.
And surely, I didn’t look like a tourist at all when with a certain conviction I jumped out the bus and went into what looked like a big parking lot. The sign above the building at the end of the lot was a bit too far away for my myopia, so I convincingly just marched forward until I could read it. It was the right building, fortunately. But while it said that it’s open on Tuesdays, I couldn’t see any market activity around.
I realised then, that a woman was walking behind me. So I asked her – it is open, right?
“I thought you know!” She said. “I saw you walkin’ here and I thot okay, I’d jus’ follow her!” I couldn’t help giggling in my tummy. But I kept my serious act of being a local, “Well yeah it is, and it says it’s outdoors, and there’s nothing here so maybe they’ve packed up already – ?”
That was when I saw that the outdoor market was actually in the next parking lot. So this woman and I walked all the way back, bought the $1 entry ticket at the gate and got a stamp on our right hand. It was black and it says “A,” for Ashland.
The woman wanted to buy a phone cover. “The guy downtown wanted $35 for it,” she said, uh-uh, I said, that’s waaaay too much. “Yea, way too much! So I thought where can I get a cheaper one? The flea market!” And she was right, because the first stall we saw, even from the outside of the gate, was selling exactly what she was looking for.
“What are you looking for?” She asked me. I said I didn’t know. “Oh you’re just looking?” Yes, just looking, I said.
On my way back, I bumped into her at the bus stop. We waited for the same bus, and she showed me her new phone cover. $10, including a protective sheet for the screen. That’s what we want. $35 was simply too much.