Pickers’ paradise

It seemed harmless enough. There, hiding between the vacuum-sealed comforters, bags of generic caramel candy and what I think were exotic kitchen utensils, was just another cardboard box filled with packets of dehydrated food.

Maybe I should have looked closer. Maybe I should have read the fine print. But deep-rooted character flaws aside, I felt truly repulsed when I flipped the squished and shiny bag over in my hands only to see that this was, in fact, something called a “fart bomb.”

The upper corner of the bag seemed to be stamped with the faded letters “exprd,” which should likely be interpreted as a declaration of expiration. Adding insult to possible injury, the rosy-cheeked cartoon face printed on the front seemed to be laughing—as if he had been the perpetrator of this cruel joke all along.

But that kind of shock just might be glory of the Folsom Boulevard Flea Market (8521 Folsom Boulevard).

There's something here for everyone—even if you don't want it.

I quickly made my retreat from the deadly explosive, but not before asking the owner of the shop if they sold any celebrity blankets that didn't have Justin Bieber's face on them—a comfort on which I wouldn't spend 25 cents, much less $25.

Back into the fray: Families, couples, groups and awkward solitary buyers (such as myself), all move at a relatively steady pace through the open area, from tent to table to tarpaulin. Cheap-clothing vendors in particular seem to take advantage of the foot traffic. And, from a distance, (I'll be honest) it's easy to fall victim to their ploys. In fact, I caught myself thinking—not once, but twice—“My God! Who is that gorgeous looking—oh … mannequin.”

But if cheap T-shirts and knockoff jeans aren't your jam, there are plenty of other low-cost tchotchkes to go around.

For the aspiring contractor or construction worker, in fact, there's no shortage of power tools for sale—although you might want to be careful the first time you plug one in. And for those with a passion for DIY home surgery, dentistry or taxidermy, open boxes of surgical equipment lay ripe for the picking (though some sterilization may be required).

Elsewhere in the market are three warehouses that stand unobtrusively behind rows of mangled car radios and largely go unvisited during the week. Visitors will find Books Etc., tucked away in the last building—a visit to which makes for a gem of a Sunday-afternoon outing. This is the used-book vendor that time forgot, and it seems that tightly compressed stacks of paperbacks, hardcovers and leather-bounds are the only thing keeping that corner of the warehouse from crashing straight down onto my head.

While far from alphabetical, the organization here is good enough to provide one helluva book-searching adventure. Ultimately, I end up walking away from the packed parking lot unscathed—and with two purchases: Welcome to the Monkey House by Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury's The Illustrated Man, each for a dollar apiece. Take that, Barnes & Noble.