Culture Undiscovered: A Swap Meet in Mesa Found the Fountain of Youth

People are weird. I’m not just saying this because I’m weird either; I’m saying this as an aficionado of weirdoes. I love the secret and specific weirdness that everyone has and conceals (and sometimes unwittingly displays), and that’s why swap meets are the best thing ever. Swap meets are where the “Real Americans” of Tea Party fame come together to make a quick buck, and sometimes accidentally let their freak flags fly. It’s hard to imagine anything more American than that.

Pioneer cat lady paintings are the best paintings. Photo by Samantha Stolper.

Maybe you’re not familiar with the art of navigating a swap meet. You may be asking yourself, what’s so great about browsing through miles of cut-rate junk on a Sunday morning? Don’t worry, because I’m here to walk you through the answers to these questions and more. I went to the Mesa Market Place Swap Meet to prove my previously unconfirmed swap meet theories, so now I can report on all of its strange, hilarious and unexplainable wonders.

The first thing there is to know about swap meets is that if you’re under 50, people will look at you like you are a strange jungle creature and not simply an innocent shopper/obsessive blogger on a pseudo-anthropological field trip to the “Real America.” Taking twenty pictures of intensely creepy porcelain doll displays will not help. Old men that are double-fisting cups of beer will ask you (nicely) to move out of their way. (Side note: yes, they serve alcohol at the swap meet. Everyone’s collective prayers have been answered.)

Cool grannies love swap meets. Photo by Samantha Stolper.

Once you get the hang of it, though, swap meets are a blast. After promptly blowing $20 on liquid gems for all of the plants that I’ll now have to buy (read about my green thumb here), I traversed all 1.25 miles of the Mesa Market Place Swap Meet with no major incidents! There were lots of cool granny stores (one was even named Cool Granny), which won the swap meet points for knowing its audience but were of no help to me — shirts with feather boas around the neck aren’t really my thing.

Swap meets can also be great places to find secondhand furniture and decorations, of which I found plenty. Paintings of pioneer cat ladies are hard to come by, so any place that has one for $6 is good in my book. There was also a lot of genuinely useful and attractive furniture for sale, like overstuffed velvet armchairs and giant wooden chests for less than $50! Of course, “attractive” and “useful” are relative terms, and not all of the home décor for sale at

A unicorn statue attached to some fancy plates, aka a beautiful sculpture for your home. Photo by Samantha Stolper.

the swap meet could match the pioneer cat lady painting in beauty and usefulness. I found some glass plate/animal statue “sculptures” that were confusing to say the least (I’ve still got my eye on the unicorn-themed one though), and the booth focused solely on providing coasters with every breed of dog on them was nothing if not true to their word.

Just before I left, I saw that I had almost missed the most important booth at the swap meet — the fountain of youth! It’s endorsed by Donny Osmond, so you know it’s the real deal. The man responsible for bringing the fountain of youth to the swap meet had signs informing me that anyone over the age of 19 should care about aging (and of course buy Protandim), so I was grateful to have found him before I withered away. Like I said earlier, the Mesa Market Swap Meet knows its audience — clearly, its audience is me.

Email me at jlpruett@asu.edu.