You know what we need more of in the current economy? Big, fat ways to have fun by wasting a lot of time and just a little bit of money. Everything costs so goddamned much now – you can’t even go to the movies without refinancing your mortgage unless you sneak in your own snacks like some pre-diabetic French Resistance fighter – and I’m tired of this bullshit.
I’m not a cheap bastard because I like to be; I’m just poor and I’ve got bills to pay. At the same time, I periodically go batshit insane when I’m tired of staring at the four walls of my place and the only thing I can find on television is some shitfest like South Korea’s Ugliest Ladyboys – I just have to get the hell out of here and go do something. Anything. Hell, even if it’s just down to the local Wawa and smell the sandwich counter for half an hour (or until the police show up).
Lucky for my sanity, the fiancée and I found a great place to go on the weekends that’s right down the road and keeps us both from trying to toilet-train the cats: Zern’s, the local farmer’s market and flea-market. It’s a permanent fixture that’s been in town for something like close to a century, and the place pretty much defies description.
Most people think of a flea market as a bunch of folding tables set up outside in a parking lot, heaped with piles of crap that you don’t want or need and lorded over by people with a serious lack of teeth, but that’s not the only thing Zern’s is. Sure, the flea market section can be like that sometimes – if I need to get a broken 8-track player or Cool Runnings on VHS, I know exactly where to go – but the main section, the farmer’s market, is more like a goblin marketplace than a hillbilly jamboree.
The place is bizarre. Once you leave the covered flea market, walk through the open-air midway, and actually walk into the farmer’s market, you’re entering a strange indoor shantytown that looks like it’s been cobbled together from spare panels of corrugated steel, tarps, and pegboard. Most vendors have little hole-in-the-wall booths that are usually so choked with the most bizarre collection of shit you’ve ever seen that you can’t stop and look, wondering who the hell would try to sell a mummified fruit bat next to a signed headshot of Robert Pattinson, but there you have it.
There’s a sort of carnival atmosphere in the place, and it’s only reinforced by the kinds of food you can get there. There’s a whole section of fresh fruit and vegetable stands stocked with locally grown produce for ridiculously cheap, and there’s at least three old-school butchers selling all kinds of beef jerky, rare cuts of beef, and cheeses that usually cost $40 an ounce at Whole Foods, but the food kiosks are insane as well. We’re talking fresh roasted nuts, fudge shops, Philly cheesesteaks, pizza, Chinese food, and corn dogs, and all for pretty cheap. If their funnel cakes are good I’m never going to leave.
The absolute best part of Zern’s is tucked away towards the back, near the bathrooms (which are inexplicably spotless and staffed by an attendant). This place has a video arcade, and I don’t mean a shitty collection of the kind of “games” you’d find in Dave & Busters or the heartbreakingly fallen-from-grace Arcadia of my youth, Adventureland but real, live classics. It’s not a huge arcade, but any place that has gleeful time-wasting quarter-eaters like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, Marvel vs. Capcom, Area 51, Mortal Kombat 4, and Cruis’n USA made me grin like a fucking idiot. Hell, they even had a DDR machine, not that my fat ass was going to get up on it, and it was right next to a working air hockey table and a Ms. Pac-Man pinball machine.
The only bad thing? Zern’s is only open on Fridays and Saturdays unless it’s a special occasion, like the run-up to Christmas. It’s fine, though – it just gives me time to save up some quarters. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of a better way than to spend a few hours every weekend than re-living some of the best memories of my childhood. Now, if I can just find a working Spy Hunter arcade cabinet somewhere….