The Oakland Museum White Elephant sale was just the ticket today: an exciting crush of people stomping through a giant warehouse, celebrating great finds, pawing through toys, furniture, clothes, Christmas decorations, artificial flowers, sporting equipment, and more.

I’d never heard of it, but it’s a longstanding fundraiser run by the Oakland Museum Women’s Board. I could barely find parking as the whole Fruitvale area seemed inundated with shoppers, hoardes dragging sidetables, artwork, and giant bags and baskets of stuff away from the 96,000 square foot warehouse sale. I worried everything would be gone, but once I got into the space, I was overwhelmed by the size, the crowds and the daunting amount of stuff still available:

Of course I worry about our consumer-focused culture: the resources we use, our relationship to the planet. It helped that this was all used junk, and it was so well priced! Enough to make both liberals and the cheap feel good (I’ve been called both and am ok with the labels).

But leaving aside the event’s carbon footprint, there was something so joyful about the thingness of it, so many actual people looking at real stuff, in real time. Online shopping might light up your imagination, memory, and dreams of a future enjoyment. But experiencing the objects brings in the touch, feel, and vibes all this stuff has. The cuddly teddy bears and bunnies, wooden fruit in bowls, gold clubs, baseball caps, bedroom sets, fireplace brass accessories, hardbacks, board games, and massive aisle of woven baskets (a personal weakness) were all made by someone, and had been owned by someone. Loved, hated, or ignored, these things have had a reaction out in the world, and it did me good to see them. 

Since I spend so much of my time on the computer, it’s great to be reminded that having a physical body, and being in the world with people, is one of the great reasons to be on this planet. The mood was like a carnival. A 5 or 6-year old little girl in line in front of me in the toy section solemnly informed me that while this was the first White Elephant sale she remembered, she’d been several times before when she was “little.” The cashier, probably 80 years old, marveled over all the little crows and other scary items the girl had found. They agreed Halloween was their very favorite holiday.

For $5 I got an amazing pile of stuffies—Winnie the Pooh, monkey, rabbit, chicken, gopher, beanie baby dog—plus a dinosaur, a my little pony, and an African American cowgirl figure. For a few more bucks I got a vintage shirt.

Outside people hauled away their newfound treasures, or lingered to enjoy hot dogs and girl scout cookies. I’ve not been down here in years. The Fruitvale neighborhood is thrumming with newish lofts and condos, cool art outposts, lemonade stands and sidewalk sales slapped up to take advantage of all the shoppers walking by.

And right at the end of the block, the inner Oakland harbor, what separates us from Alameda island, gorgeous in today’s winter-that-feels-like-spring sunshine.

It was a good day to love being alive, and I sure did love it. It’s a little early to say it, but happy spring.