A couple of days ago I wrote about Junk Driving and how it's something of a tradition for me and my friend Bob. Yesterday we embarked on another tradition—going to the flea market.
Again, with the downsizing that's happening in my life, I'm not after much when we go to the flea market these days. It's really just an excuse for me and Bob to hang out together, pilfer through piles of junk looking for gold, and eat way too much junk food. Bro-bonding, mostly.
Trips to the flea market are laced with nostalgia for us. We've been going for more than 20 years, after all. We've been there on days that were bitter cold and (more common) swooningly hot and humid. Some days it went from one extreme to the other between the time we got there and the time we left. Or it poured rain on us nonstop. I think it even snowed once. I could be imagining that last one.
We go. Rain, shine, dawning apocalypse—we trudge through the mud and muck, we pay for parking in lots that look like demilitarized zones, we wax nostalgic about the things we find, and bargain for the things we want.
And we get kind of philosophical about the whole thing—though that's a recent development.
We've been going to the flea market for a couple of decades, and in that time the flavor has changed a bit. Once we were scouring for parts and pieces to put in our home studios. We wanted any technology that could do professional work, and we wanted to pay as little for it as possible.
That's how I ended up with my first studio, actually. When I opened the doors to Hat Digital Media back in 2004-ish, I was taking on gigs that paid real money for high-quality production work, and I was doing that work largely on equipment I scavenged from flea markets and pawn shops and even the odd dumpster or fifty.
You'd be amazed at what people throw out.
On yesterday's trip, though, Bob and I were struck by how little we need.
I'm not in the film and television business anymore. I haven't been for years. I produce podcasts, and maybe some YouTube videos, but for that I have everything I could possibly need in order to get the job done. I could upgrade equipment, but I really don't have to. It's all pretty much handled.
Which changes the game when I'm at the flea market. Bob and I have always been on the hunt for certain pieces of gear—things we always dreamed of having, or drooled over when we learned they existed. We were always hunting for unicorns—those treasures discarded by studios or professionals who had moved on to better gear.
But mostly we were looking for equipment that could take over some task we were doing the hard way. Anything to make one task or another easier. And we both used to love having racks and racks of equipment to do the various tasks we needed to do
And then someone went and invented the iPhone.
As Bob and I were scouring the familiar piles of junk, it hit both of us that nearly everything we used to have on our "must grab" list is now so obsolete it would actually get in the way of our work, rather than aid it. We don't need professional video decks or camcorders or processing equipment anymore. Most of the equipment I needed to make my living ten years ago has been replaced by apps. I carry a studio in my pocket, everywhere I go.
There was something kind of sad about this realization.
I love my iPhone. I adore my iPad. My MacBook is amazing. With all of them I'm triple prepared to produce whatever I want to produce. Yes, there is better equipment out there. I can get better cameras, better audio gear, better processing. But what I have can produce what I need, and costs me nothing extra. So ... why?
If I get a bargain on a piece of equipment that I can really put to use, I'll go for it. But the list of must-have gear that I used to chase at the flea market has dwindled to nearly nothing, especially as I work to reduce my footprint so Kara and I can travel full time without having to live around our possessions.
So these trips to the flea market have become less about the hunt and more about the novelty. Our "needs" list has dwindled to nearly nothing, and even our "wants" list is at an all-time low. We're basically going without lists these days. We're looking for something that catches our eye as unusual and maybe functional as well.
So it's a new era. We have new reasons for going. Though, oddly, when you strip away the hunt for useful gear, you start discovering that you had other reasons for going all along. And those reasons had little to do with buying anything after all.