Pictured, clipped from the online archives at JG-TC.com, this AP story about that new thing called "eBay" from the Sept. 17, 1998, Journal Gazette. I can't believe I forgot to mention Beanie Babies. 

Dear readers. If you sensed a little bit of that “circus has left town” feeling in the air this week, it’s because it did.

For last weekend was, yes, the long awaited (by me, at least) return of the semi-annual Cross County Mall flea market.

It's an event I haven’t written about since that glorious week last August when I got to live out my dream of verbalizing my love of Dan Fogelberg in the paper because I found some of his old records at said flea market.

It’s funny, but before I worked inside the mall, I think I probably only ever attended a flea market during those boring teenage summer evenings when we couldn’t think of anything else to do.

My slack-jawed buddies and I would precede our trip to Taco Bell by “hitting the mall” looking for random cool stuff among the bric-a-brac like a Styx belt buckle or a semi-complete set of those McDonald’s Happy Meal “Changeables” robots that could transform into little versions of their food. Oh, and all the VHS tapes.

Now, here I am, technically a grown man, and I’ve probably been to seven or eight flea markets since working here, not missing a one since that glorious night where I scored that almost-complete “Masters of the Universe” board game, it was a boon to me, not only as a fan of Masters of the Universe and of board games, but because at the time I didn’t have cable at my place and, as I’m sure my friends are thankful for, it’s one player only.

Call it the law of diminishing flea market returns but it does feel like every time I make a sortie into the flea market I realize very quickly that I’m trying in vain to chase that high of finding that board game.

For we all know that flea markets are bazaars of the random, which is why we love them so much. Although anyone who’s been to the mall flea market knows that it’s not quite as random as you’d think, given that about 70 percent of the booths are the same folks who were at the last one, in exactly the same spaces. I mention this not as a criticism, but as a compliment, for if there’s one thing we also love when it comes to our flea markets, it’s reliability.

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I mean, if you scored the mother load of smeary green glass candy dishes last time, why not roll the dice again? That Pick-A-Mix butterscotch candy you bought in bulk ain’t dishin’ itself, is it?

The way I look at it, and trust me I wandered around the flea market with notebook in hand and with my JG-TC lanyard still around my neck like a dork really looking at stuff, there’s several kinds of flea market goers: the kind who goes to just to kill time, and the kind who’s actively looking for ... something. And of that type there’s two subgroups: the person who doesn’t know what they’re looking for, and that person who’s looking for that one thing they had and then lost.

And when it comes to finding something you lost, you used to have to rely solely on the folks who’ve brought their crusty, rusty wares to some mall or parking lot near you. But then, sometime near the turn of the Millennium, there came eBay. Which is why I bring to you, from the Sept. 17, 1998, Journal Gazette, this snippet of an AP article which, according to our archives, is the very first time eBay was ever mentioned in our paper. It's in an edition where the front page headline that day was “Gingerich: Clinton Behavior Anti-Female.”

The first thing I ever bought from eBay back in those days, when you still lived in great fear of ever having your credit or debit card information (gasp) “on the internet,” was a VHS copy of the obscure 1983 horror movie “Return of the Aliens: The Deadly Spawn”, thinking I’d never get a chance to see it otherwise. Joke was on me, for just a scant two years later the movie was re-released on this new-fangled thing they called “DVD,” a format we’d have no idea would become the new-VHS, until we came across tubs of DVDs for sale at the flea market twenty years later. Side note: VHS copies of that movie are currently selling for around $50 bucks. Guess I was ahead of my time.

Regardless, I was hooked. Oh, what days those were. Running to County Market for money orders to actually put in the mail. 

Over the years I’d say, conservatively, I’ve managed to recapture about…hmm….75 percent of my lost youth on eBay. Most of that was taken up by a complete copy of the 1983 Parker Brothers board game “Shadowlord!” which I found while on a childhood trip with the parents, but wasn’t allowed to buy because it came with a couple hundred pieces. Understandable, perhaps. As for that other 25 percent? Well…isn’t that we’re all searching for?

Now it’s 2019. eBay’s still there, but now you mostly just skip the bidding and buy with one click, no pesky money order needed. And although my mother continually brings to my attention that you can actually, you know…sell, things on eBay as well; these days I mostly use it as my de facto record store in cyberspace. And when I say “records,” I actually mean CDs. Because if I wanted records you’d play on a record player, then who needs eBay when there’s the guy at the Cross County Mall flea market with milk crates full of them?

And trust me, I would have been happy to find items from the archives that matched the records I bought last week, but unfortunately, the words “Bertie Higgins” have never appeared in the JG-TC. Well…except for one week last year….when I brought him up.

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"The Throwback Machine" is a weekly feature taking a look back at items of interest found in the JG-TC online archives. For questions, suggestions, or his "Song of the Day" recommendation, contact him at cwalker@jg-tc.com.


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