|Stouffville Flea Market big white barn|
Back in University my mother had coaxed me into getting a winter job to earn some extra money while I was in school. Money wasn't tight, but my father had been gone for about two years and the flow was running a bit dry. I was always a hard worker and didn't mind giving up my Sunday's to make 40 bucks. Yes, 40 bucks. It wasn't much, but it was spending money for the week.
This meant getting up at 7am and going on Sundays to the Stouffville flea market. Many times it was cold, very cold, although the market was inside, so the day was warm enough once we unloaded the goods to the booth.
My mother had a friend, Patricia, whom she played Monday night Mahjong games with. Patricia's husband, Alex, was known to be one of the big shots in the flea market world. He did all the flea markets and had his own brand of sweat pants (harem pants), which were very trendy with women. He also sold his assortment of boots, shoes, shirts, pants and all sorts of other things that were slightly seconds. They were good quality, but they usually had some slight defect. Such was the nature of the flea market.
So, off I went one Sunday to the Stouffville flea market. I was to go the first week with Alex and work with his helper, David, who was a bit younger than me. David was about 17, while I was 23. David lived in Stouffville, just a bit down the street, so he was reliable in that he always showed up, but not responsible enough that he could be left alone to run the show. Being that he lived in Stouffville, he also was not going to drive the truck to and from Toronto. Alex needed someone who could do that, and do that cheap, and would be reliable. I was that guy.
The first week I basically observed and helped. I had some customer service experience. I had worked at the A&P, Baskin Robbins, Petro-Can gas station and various other menial kids jobs to that point. But I had never worked a job selling anything. I was more service than selling to that point. And this was certainly a different kind of selling than you did at The Bay or Eatons. I learned quickly that whatever price you quoted to the customer, they wanted a deal. It came with the territory. It was the flea market mentality. You learned that right away, and I was a very fast learner. Unloading took forever, but loading back up took almost no time at all. We usually sold more than half the stuff we brought, so loading up meant just packing up the tables and a few leftover goods, mostly different boot sizes that didn't sell that week. The stuff sold itself and most of the day was quiet. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was easy money.
Wasaga Beach strip, always a great place.
I worked the whole winter until school was finished in May. By that time, there was also a Saturday market as well in Stouffville and I was doing those as well. Saturday was an outdoor market, as was Sunday when the weather got better. That is where the real money was. The crowds were much bigger and so was the profit. There were days in the spring when we would take in more than $10000, whereas a good day in the winter was 800 bucks. However, the pay stayed the same. As June approached, Alex asked me if I wanted to work full time, 7 days a week, doing all the different flea markets that opened up when the weather got better. I said I would, but the money had to improve. A summer job was the way I could afford to pay for school, and 40 dollars a day was not going to cut it. We settled on 80 a day, plus paid meals, and that was really good steady money. I made enough that whole summer to pay for all my tuition, books and meals for the whole year. It was long, hard days, but it was fun and the money was good. And, of course, you met a lot of interesting people, and...a lot of girls. A lot of horny girls.
We did many flea markets in those days. Saturday and Sunday were still Stouffville, Wednesday was Snellgrove, which was a busy but small market, more like a carnival than actual market, Thursday was Elmale, which was very near Wasaga Beach, which was very busy and also great for meeting girls and having a fun time after the market closed, Friday was variable and we did some others. Monday I don't remember, but Tuesday, well, Tuesday is the one that I will always remember.
Tuesday was the day we did Aylmer. Aylmer was one of the biggest markets, and also one of the farthest. It was two hours drive each way, and we had to get there very early, and stay very late. It was also secluded. Even though this was 1988, the town still seemed stuck in the 1920's. It was farming country and on top of that it was Mennonite country.
Mennonite driving a horse and buggy. We saw a lot of that around Aylmer.
The flea market really was the shopping mall for the area, and from the morning until night we were very, very busy. It was so busy and profitable that we were allowed to hire local kids to load and unload the truck for us. We just did setup. We had 3 booths at this market, to cover the whole market, and we were always busy. Because it was such a big market, all the regular vendors we saw and knew at the other markets did this one, so we were very welcome there and felt right at home. At the end of the night, all the vendors would go out for dinner and the owners didn't mind buying, everyone made money. Lots of money.
Many nights we ate at Swiss Chalet.
Things went along smooth for about 6 or 7 weeks. Pretty routine. We would arrive early, sell all the goods, go get dinner and then share the driving home. By this time I was working with Chris.
Chris was an interesting guy. Good guy. Stand up guy. He was smart, but didn't have any education. He was Alex's right hand man. He was my age, maybe two or three years older and we got along well. The flea markets were Chris's life. He knew every aspect of it and he did it well. Chris was also a very big guy, both in terms of height and weight. Nobody messed with Chris. We never had to worry about anybody getting out of line when we were on the road or at flea markets we didn't know well. Chris had a reputation. You didn't want to mess with him. In a bar fight, he was going to win that bar fight. He never had to prove that as long as I knew him, but you knew he earned that reputation well.
I did almost all the markets with Chris, unless we had a day where there were two markets in different areas. Then we would split up. Chris also liked to golf, so on our rare days off, or before we had to go to a night market, we would go golfing together. We became great friends.
Because Stouffville was such a busy market in the spring and summer, we needed extra help. Alex's son Danny helped at times, but he was a spoiled brat who didn't want to work, and didn't when he could get away with it. Danny had a friend, Little Mikey, who also came. He did work hard and when it came time to do Aylmer, we would bring him with. Mikey was different. He wanted to be cool, but he wasn't. That would come back to haunt us by the end of the summer.
The only thing that made Aylmer appealing to me as the weeks went on was a pretty little blond girl who kept making eyes at me. She worked the french fry stand, and we talked every now and then. It was no secret she wanted to go out with me, but she was a local and I was only there once a week. When the summer was gone I would not be there at all. She was also 17 and I was 23, so I thought the better of it, even though I was interested in her. Each week I enjoyed seeing her and getting that attention. After a while, she (Cathy) just faded away, because I was not responding to her advances.
Towards the end of the summer we had 3 more weeks of Aylmer to go before school started again for me. Chris would continue to do Aylmer, although it was a much smaller market once school started up again. As I said, Aylmer was a Tuesday market, and this one particular week we didn't have a Monday market to do. Being that it was the last major week of the summer, we knew it would be very busy this time. We decided to play golf early Monday morning and then head up to Aylmer and get a hotel the night before. Alex said he would pay for it. It was also little Mikey's 16th birthday, so Chris and I had planned on getting him drunk in the hotel. It was my task to go out and buy a 60 of Vodka, which I did. To this point I had also never drank any alcohol, as I was never a drinker. Chris was a major drinker, and he could drink 10 beers and they would not phase him. I saw him do that many times. Little Mikey was all excited that he was going to get to drink for the first time, and we had him convinced that some of Cathy's friends were going to be at the hotel, and he would be "getting some". That was a lie, and was never going to happen, and didn't.
We made our way to Aylmer and arrived around 5pm. We had snacks, but no real food to mention. Chris ordered a pizza. I didn't, and have never liked pizza, so I just ate chips all night. That would come back to haunt me later. Once we settled in the drinking began. Little Mikey was all gung ho to start drinking, but after one drink, he went off to the bathroom and then passed out. So much for that. That left Chris and I. Of course, the rest of that night is very foggy.
We did have orange juice, but that ran out quickly. Since it was just Chris and me, we drank the whole 60 by ourselves. Most of that, straight. No water. No orange juice. Straight. And it only took about an hour. We were as intoxicated as you can be. In reality, I was lucky I didn't die that night. I could have poisoned myself to death. I was also eating a lot of potato chips that night. Chris ate the whole pizza by himself.
A mess, something like this
I don't even remember passing out. I do remember that we did finish the whole 60 and that Little Mikey slept in the bathtub. We were supposed to get up at 5am and be to the market by 6am. That didn't happen.
This is what a 60 of Vodka looks like.
I woke up at 6:30, but Chris and Little Mikey were still wiped out. As I looked around the room, it was a total disaster, like something out of a crazy bachelor or house party. Boxes everywhere. Chips everywhere. Glasses everywhere. And we had puked, everywhere. There was no time to clean it up, and we would have to do that later. I woke Chris and Little Mikey and we headed out to the truck within 10 minutes. We needed to get to the market, which was only 10 minutes away, and get set up before Alex arrived. But, we were still totally drunk.
Except for Little Mikey, who had not drank anything. The problem was, he didn't have a drivers license. He told us he knew how to drive, and I had seen him do that around the parking lot at the markets, so, being that we were still so drunk, we let him.
As we got down the road, it was clear he didn't know how to drive. It was dangerous. Both Chris and I could drive, but if we got pulled over we would have been in major trouble. Even though it was 8 or 9 hours since we had drank anything, we were both clearly still over the limit. And both of us were not really in good condition to drive. We felt sick, and it was going to be a long day working the market on the busiest day of the year, with a gigantic hangover. As we got about halfway, Mikey stopped the truck and got out. Chris took the wheel and started driving. Mikey got back in and sat in the middle seat. I started to feel sick. I had never drank any alcohol, not to mention half a 60 of Vodka in one hour. I had to throw up, but I knew I could not do that in the truck. As Chris drove, I opened the truck door and threw up onto the road. Worst 10 minutes of my life.
We arrived at the market. Alex was not there yet, so we found some kids and got them to unload the truck. We were not really that sick at that point, but we were certainly hungover. It felt like someone was taking a jack hammer and banging it on my head. Chris was used to this and he carried us the rest of the day.
We made it okay until lunchtime and then Alex arrived. He could see we were plastered, and he just shook his head. I guess he had been there himself, so he knew and just let it go. Little did he know the mess we left in the hotel room.
I went to get some lunch, and I saw Cathy at the fry stand. She just looked at me and laughed. She could see it. Hell, everyone could see it. Finally, the day was over and we went back to the hotel room to get our stuff and head home. If only it was that easy. The hotel manager was waiting there for us and made it very clear he was going to call the police if we didn't sort that out. The bill for cleaning up the room was 500 bucks, and we better pay. We put it on Alex's Visa, and we would have to explain that to him later. We made our way home and hit the sack. A very long 24 hours.
Two weeks later, while cleaning up my room, my mother found the empty 60 of Vodka in my closet and was distraught. She thought I had become an alcoholic. I explained the whole story, and told her that she needn't worry. That was the last time I was going to drink anything. And other than the odd very light drink, I have never really drank alcohol since.
After that summer, I never saw Little Mikey again, and barely saw Chris. The next summer I worked for my Uncle in his factory and didn't go back to the flea markets in the fall. I have never been back to Aylmer, but I will never forget that night. Ever.