This was another taste of local flavour that time hadn’t permitted back last Autumn so on yet another sizzling morning, we set off across town to experience this open-air cornucopia of sounds, smells and flavours from one of the city’s largest ethnic markets.
The original market did indeed occupy Maxwell St but the city authorities forced it to relocate to its present location on Canal St. back in 1994. The street is blocked off between W. Roosevelt Rd and W. 18th Street every Sunday from 7am onwards, allowing hundreds of vendors to set up stall selling a diverse array of goods such as tapes and CD’s, clothes and shoes, musical instruments, electrical goods, DVD’s and videos, firearms, military memorabilia, tools, housewares, automotive parts and spares, foodstuffs, and downright junk, judging by some of the stuff I saw on sale. Add to this a huge variety of food vendors selling everything from hot-dogs to quesadillas, and a selection of buskers providing Hispanic tunes on battered accordions, and it becomes easy to appreciate the experience here.
As a final addition to what was already a slightly less-than-peaceful Sunday morning, the railroad tracks to the east were busy with clanking goods wagons as they were shunted into order, there was a highly audible hum of traffic from the Dan Ryan Expressway, a couple of blocks to the west, and to cap it all, aircraft were roaring overhead on approach to Midway airport. Whatever happened to church bells and the gentle mooing of cows in the pasture?
The stalls stretch out over four blocks so we decided to stroll along at an easy pace and try to see all that was on offer. You would certainly see many similar goods on sale at any market in the UK but I was surprised to see the guns; one in particular caught my eye, a huge machine gun complete with tripod stand and reams of ammunition although it certainly looked like it could do with some oiling and maintenance. I tried to imagine what would happen if I’d bought it and attempted to get it back through UK customs... I think a spell “at Her Majesty’s Pleasure” would be on offer… Next door to him was another stall with a vast array of knives on display and no, they weren’t of the “kitchen” variety. Everything from Special Forces daggers to massive machetes were up for grabs, along with huge bladed knives that you could easily butcher a Brontosaurus with. The stall-owner also offered a sharpening service with a huge whetstone on the table on which he was fine tuning what looked remarkably like a Samurai sword. My God, if this were in the UK, most of these guys would have nothing left to sell if the local police happened to stroll by! The term “mass confiscation” springs to mind…
The smells from the various food sellers was mouth-watering and, having had no breakfast, was really making my stomach growl. We stopped and bought a snack, its Spanish name escapes me but it was essentially a tube of doughnut-type pastry filled with fruit preserve and jolly tasty it was too, all for the princely sum of $1.
The various stalls selling tapes and CD’s were all trying to outdo each other on the volume stakes, resulting in an awful mish-mash of hip-hop, rock, traditional and gangsta rap. They all however, appeared to be doing a roaring trade. As we strolled on, we came across a Hispanic chap, at least 75 years old, who was seated on a rickety stool, wailing to such a degree that although I couldn’t understand him, seemed to indicate that all was not well in his life, no doubt, a Spanish version of the Blues.
I have to say there were some pretty “shady” looking characters around and several took lingering glances at the trusty Nikon dangling from my neck so, deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, I placed it in it’s bag “just in case.”
Well, what can I say about Maxwell St Market? A true experience if ever there was one, and just the place to go if you need a second-hand steering column for a ‘79 Ford, a “new” sink for your kitchen, an electric hedge-trimmer that will probably blow the household fuses as soon as you plug it in, a pair of well-worn pyjamas that someone’s grandad probably died in, a razor sharp machete to murder your noisy neighbour with, or a replacement copy of “Saturday Night Fever” for your worn out video. If you want it, someone here will have it…