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Secondhand Heaven 

Mood rings, plants, giant panties and gizmos at the South's largest flea market

"Do you have directions?"my husband Alan asked as we headed for the car, en route to my Day Trip assignment. One week earlier, I had sent out a broadcast e-mail, asking my friends to recommend cool/freaky places for this story, informing them that the CL editors would make the final call. I got some terrific responses (with the lion's share of the freakiest being located in South Carolina, not that there's anything wrong with that), including things like the Chitlin' Strut and the Hell Hole Swamp Festival.All good suggestions, except we were looking for a Day Trip that could be made any time of the year, not just during certain celebration weeks. Credit for the win goes to CL co-Theatreperson of the Year John Hartness, who suggested the South's Largest Flea Market -- the Jockey Lot market in Anderson, SC.

"No, I don't have directions," I smirked. "If this thing is so darn big, we oughtta be able to find it from the Interstate." And really, what's the challenge of a Day Trip if you know exactly how to get there?

So. . .on a recent Saturday morning we put the sunscreen on, the top down, the O Brother CD in. . .and headed south.

Sure "nuff, we jockeyed our way to the lot with only one wrong turn; there's construction on I-85 and we missed one of the back roads. So that a single customer won't get entirely lost, there's a HUGE billboard on I-85 with a big red arrow pointing to the turn to the flea market. Less than two hours after we embarked, we passed James & Gus Trucking, then Boiters' Deer Processing, and pulled into the Jockey Lot.

"ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK," read the sign at the dirt parking lot entrance. "NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENTS." (Which led Alan to proclaim that South Carolina must be a right-to-shop state.)

What began in 1974 as a 100-space outdoor market now covers 65 acres, with more than 2,000 dealers. Jockey Lot managers estimate that, depending on the weather, 45,000 to 60,000 people converge there each weekend. And yessir, it's overwhelming.

Undecided where to head first, we followed the signs pointing the way to, um, the rest rooms. We passed mothers pushing baby carriages, families holding green trash bags full of loot, and one young couple in matching Daytona Beach t-shirts carrying a golden lab puppy. Our path was lined with vendors selling fresh produce, baked goods, pickled sausage, dolls, mood rings, counterfeit (according to my law-enforcement husband) NASCAR memorabilia, nifty musical lighthouse clocks, and a lamp with a spinning shade that featured a waterfall, with what seemed to be falling water.

One booth displayed some very threatening-looking knives that looked tailor-made for eviscerating your enemies (my mind harked back to the NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ACCIDENTS sign), while another featured Confederate flag belt-buckles, handmade leather gun holsters, and studded collars. Others groaned under the weight of Avon skin-care products and slightly used Nintendo cartridges. A few offered supersized ladies' panties in bulk -- and didn't mind hanging the britches from poles next to the booth, so everyone could see them from quite a distance.

A voice crackled over the loudspeaker: Just a reminder -- we'll be holding church services Sunday morning at 8:40. Everyone is welcome.

I barely noticed -- I was enthralled with a booth displaying boxes of caladium and gladiola bulbs, five for $1.

"I've seen that look before," said the Booth Guy to Alan. "When my wife gets that look, it costs me money."

"Is this all yours?" I asked.

"If it looks like it's livin', it's mine," Fred -- "just Fred" -- replied.

He handed me a paper sack, and I plucked two dollars' worth of bulbs, plus something that looked an awful lot like a potato that had gone to seed. Fred flipped the tater in his hand, then tossed it into the sack. "Plant that and see what happens," he said.

We thanked him and went on our way. My next destination: Stall #2 at Rest Room #2, whose walls were hieroglyphed with a cheerful greeting: "Have a Happy Day Ever One God Bless You." I thought that was nice.

Entering another building, we met up with Dana Ramsey and her teenage son and daughter, who come to the Jockey Lot from Greenwood, SC, "whenever we get a chance, four to five times a year." They were waiting for an airbrush artist to paint a license plate with the Brahma bull trademark of wrestler/actor The Rock. The half-hour process was worth the wait, Ramsey said, as was the trip to the market, "where it's just cool to find things that people can make for you."

She suggested that we head outside, to investigate the open-air booths where regular-type folks pay $6 for a spot, and then sell whatever stuff they have lying around -- sort of like a giant garage sale. I was psyched. Heck, I'd buy used tea bags on eBay if someone convinced me they were a great deal.

So my eyes gleamed when I gazed upon rows and rows and rows and rows and rows of campers, trailers, booths and boxes. Somewhere in this maze of. . . stuff, I'd find the exact sized wire-brush drill-bit-things that I needed for my power drill, so that I could strip the paint from my windows.

Making just a brief stop at the Shaved Ice truck (blue raspberry), I wandered over to a U-shaped arrangement of tables covered with buckets of drill bits. . .coping saw blades. . .sanding disks. . .vice clamps. I ran my fingers through the bits as if they were grains of sand, while eavesdropping on the two ball-capped, mustachioed proprietors debating a buddy's unreasonable divorce settlement.

I didn't want to bother them, so we moved further down the aisle. Again, from the loudspeakers: Johnny Gregory was today's winner of $50. . .

We wandered through a valley of work shirts, overalls, NASCAR windchimes, used lawnmowers, saddles, Zippo lighters, and mini crossbows.

Bernadette Nolan, from Minnesota, please meet Kathy in the office.

Our favorite stop of the day: a table lined with bins of condoms (hmmm. . .baking in the sunshine. . .perfect) across the aisle from a vendor selling two-by-four-foot photos of Jesus at the Last Supper.

We passed folks selling pillows and bedspreads. . ."vadalia" onions. . .consignment kids' clothing. . .bumper stickers that read, "If you skeered, say you skeered." We brushed by the stalls offering kittens, bunnies and Rottweiler puppies. Law-Enforcement Al showed me how to tell the difference between a fightin' gamecock and a regular ol' clucker.

Would the woman who just bought five bottles of Oil of Olay please return to Space 104?

We reached nirvana at the Plexiglas- window trailer of Hassell Shortridge, a wizened, weathered 70-something who's been selling at the Jockey Lot since he retired 14 years ago. He had the exact drill-bit-thingies I needed, plus lots of good tips on how to use them. We chatted for about 10 minutes, learning that he lives two miles away, his daughter sells gold jewelry at the trailer next door ("Say hey, darlin'. . .") and he doesn't work the flea market all the time, "just weekends."

Contented that we had had the full Jockey Lot experience, I shifted my treasure-laden backpack and turned to go. Alan stopped me, beckoned by the sign of the Pizza Dog lunch stand. He ordered our corn dog, chili dog and fries while I sat at the makeshift table, taking one last look at the nearby vendors selling saddles and rakes, and listening to Alan Jackson croon from the stand's stereo speakers: "Who Says You Can't Have It All?"

Indeed.

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