It was one of those wonderful spring days in the middle of winter here in Atlanta and I had a sudden urge to get in the car and “go somewhere.” I’m not sure why the Pendergrass Flea Market came to mind; perhaps, because I recalled a friend having mentioned it not long ago. Pendergrass is about 50 miles north of town, just off I 85 at exit 137. One can’t miss their many large billboards along the expressway but I had never stopped to check it out. After a quick double check of directions on their website I was off.
While this was the perfect excursion and exactly the excuse for a drive in the country with the sunroof open, I approached it with a bit of trepidation. Your Sophisticate is many things, but a man with willpower is not one of them. I was not sure my small bank balance could stand the temptation of “over 500 dealers” at “Georgia’s largest, and the World’s nicest, Flea Market.” Visions of antiques, collectables, and irresistible pieces of trivia and bric-brac filled my head as the car zoomed into north Georgia.
Pulling into the parking lot, I found a space well positioned not too far from the entrance and took it. As I got out of the car, I had my first inkling that this was not my grandmother’s flea market. On the grass island in front of me stood a coral of temporary metal fencing holding a pair of Shetland ponies “for sale.” Next to them, under a canopy, were six other ponies tethered to metal poles, in a living Merry-go-Round.
There used to be one of those at Six Flags Over Georgia, when I was a kid, called the Spinning Jenny. This one didn’t have a name, just a simple sign saying rides were four dollars. The smiles and giggles radiating from the six kids riding on ponies slowly plodding around the ring seemed to indicate that their parents money was well spent. That is, until the ride was over and they began the inevitable, “Can we take one home Daddy? Huh?! Huh?! He can eat the grass in the back yard, Daddy! You know you hate to cut it.”
I didn’t wait around for that. The large red barn like entrance beckoned. I did notice a sign explaining that cars for sale should be placed in the car sales lot, with space rental payable at the front office. The front entrance appeared much like any large flea market with a makeshift lobby area and isles leading off in several directions. I headed right, and the first vendor I came to was selling fresh cooked mini doughnuts, with a choice of powdered sugar, cinnamon and table sugar, or chocolate.
I fell in love with these doughnuts in Central New York, where every flea market, farmers market, or similar occasion always has a doughnut booth. Here a double handful of at least a dozen doughnuts, I was too busy eating them to count, was a reasonable $2.50. They were hot out of the fryer and just greasy enough to be a guilty pleasure. If only the rest of the flea market could have lived up to their exquisite, if low brow, perfection.
Being truly sophisticated also means being able to enjoy the pleasures of going slumming on occasion. A person who is entirely unable to breath outside of the rarified ozone of high culture is just a mere snob. I even wore blue jeans. Ok, they were black denim, but they were jeans. It was a good thing, too. I was nearly over dressed.
There are times when one finds an appreciation of common pleasure, and others when one remembers why one lives in a metropolitan city and rarely watches network TV. I’m sure there were 500 vendors. I didn’t count them. There were lots of them. High ceilinged, low slung, wing after aluminum shed wing stretched out in all directions from the main building. No antiques. No collectables to speak of, although I must have missed a dealer somewhere with “limited edition Dale Ernhardt memorabilia. No beguiling bits of vintage flotsam begging for a new home. Pendergrass is capitalistic materialism gone horribly wrong.
I can’t paint a full picture without saying that the patrons were about 40% redneck, 40% Mexican immigrants, and perhaps 20% tourists from the city. This wasn’t a problem but the decidedly Latin flavor did add to the over all surreal experience. Pendergrass isn’t a flea market as much as the very lowest rung of low rent shopping malls. If it’s cheaply made, tacky looking, and, generally, cheap to buy, someone sells it here.
The amazing thing about Pendergrass is that you can get anything. They have cowboy boots, faux designer jeans, and wedding dresses. There is jewelry, fresh produce, and any instrument you need to play in a Mariachi band. You can get your hair cut, your eyebrows threaded, and your fortune told (seriously!) You can pick up a washing machine, produce for dinner, and a new sofa. Under an out door awning at the end of one long barn, they sell a dozen different breeds of puppy mill dogs, hamsters, and live birds. I don’t think I ever even saw a live quail before that moment and I certainly couldn’t have told someone where to buy a live turkey. They had toms and hens, if you are interested. I didn’t ask the price.
The very low point in this Dante-esque shopping inferno was the row of gold grandfather clocks; antiqued gold gilt plastic grandfather clocks. Full sized. It had caryatids, putti, and enough floral encrustation to make Louis IV, himself cringe and say “too much!” However, all that wasn’t enough for this clock. There was a graduated row of scallop shells down the front of it and an internal pump to create a cascade of water down to the base. But wait there’s more! Yes, there really is. The bottom reservoir also has a micro-mist nozzle to create glamorous tendrils of fog spilling out across your living room floor. And it chimes.
I do have to confess that in addition to doughnuts I did buy something at Pendergrass. At one of the many booths stocked with assorted Dollar Store ephemera, I found the wire mesh drain trap I needed for my sink.
I actually recommend going to the Pendergrass Flea Market. There are some things everybody really should do once. It boarders on being the Ripley’s Believe It-Or Not of shopping experiences. There are also a number of other attractions near by to make the trip worthwhile. Between Atlanta and the market, you will pass Discover Mills and Mall of Georgia, as well as Châteaux Elan Winery, and the Tanager Factory Outlet complex, in Commerce, GA, is just a few miles further up the road. I also saw a sign for the Crawford W. Long Museum at the same exit as Pendergrass. The museum documents the career of Long who pioneered the use of ether as anesthetic in 1842. It is a small, three building, house museum located in the historic village of Jefferson, and has just reopened after a major renovation. The next time I need a road trip, that may be on my list.