Green canyons rise on either side of the Vale of the Arroyo
where the Rose Bowl stadium stands.
In former times, before bulldozers and cement invaded the sylvan serenity
that had permeated the place for thousands of years,
Native Americans had revered the sparkling stream, now encased in concrete,
the sycamore grove that still shaded some of the parking lot.
Many a vision quest was made under the spreading branches of the ancient trees.
Many a holy song was sung and echoed off the canyon walls, where now luxury homes perched.
In the icy chill before the dawn, before the city has stirred from sleep,
the swap meet vendors come to set up a small city of booths and tarps.
Grotesquely overloaded old trucks lumber in, rented U-hauls, and gleaming vans with lift gates.
Most are regular cars packed and stuffed in every crevice with merchandise.
The swap meet vendors are a hardy breed, much like the pioneers
who’d trekked through this canyon with mule teams a century before.
They are sun-bronzed and very strong from lifting heavy furniture,
stacks of boxes, and everything from jewelry cases to stone statues.
They work in all weather, both when blasts of Santana heat shimmer against the mountains,
and when winter rains pour down in the cold dawn.
They bring their children and their elderly,
installing many of the comforts of home there in the booths.
Soon the sound of metal poles hitting the asphalt joins the cry of morning birds
as vendors put up booths with awesome speed,
then tables, chairs, display cases, clothing racks, coolers, cots, playpens and radios.
Truckloads of valuables are displayed attractively.
Both young and old deftly perform this ritual as the sun comes up,
beautiful women in flowing imported clothes, and old guys in faded T-shirts.
Teen record vendors with safety pins in their ears
share thermoses of coffee with little old ladies selling china.
By the time crowds arrive it looks like it has been there for a week.