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A Pre-Apocalyptic Tour of the Cottonwood Creek Flea Market

The warm Oklahoma wind blew across the gravel parking lot at the rustic roadside dirt mall, located somewhere outside Okmulgee. Filled with a cadre of likeminded garbage pickers, trash humpers and deal makers that converge on this prime spot by the highway almost every weekend, it’s a place where used bargains are made on a regular basis on third-hand treasures that have lost much of their luster…welcome to Cottonwood Creek.

A series of lean-to sheds that are pieced together with various scores of wood, siding and whatever else is on the trash-pile that day, this breed of cash-only enthusiasts come out every Friday, Saturday and Sunday to offer lookie-loos and bargain-seekers alike the one needful thing they didn’t know they needed, often at a rock bottom price. From broken dolls to spare bike parts, anything that’s been decimated or decapitated has a new home here....

As a band of musicians keep themselves occupied with country tunes about a place once called America, I walked around the tables, looking up and down for pieces of vintage rock and roll, as usual; there didn’t seem to be any record albums or cassettes, but if there were, they’d probably be left in the sun like the scant video tapes that have been lying around all day, almost bendable and sticky to the touch.

While manhandling a pair of mismatched cat-lamps, I noticed a faded plywood sign that read “Rick & Fran’s Café” with an arrow pointed towards the back of the grassy lot. Intrigued by the piece of paper taped to the top of the board offering some sort of Indian Taco deal, I made my way past the open-air stalls, a futuristic mix-tape of broken-down computers and other electronic goods in need of service, until I hit a small wooden shack.

An array of birdhouses lined the outside of building, with a collected row of mismatched tables and chairs all about the front. Entering the small building, the cooking tchochkes hanging from the ceiling rattled as the screen-door closed. A woman stood in the back, surrounded by cooking equipment that looked mostly modern, with a few bits of frybread fresh out of the oil off to her side.

A man in a sleeveless shirt stood close by, watching as I looked over the sheet of paper with their lunchtime offerings; as much as I wanted to try the vaunted “Redneck Burger,” I came for the Indian Taco and, by God, I surmised, am going to leave with an Indian Taco. The woman took my $8.00 payment and I sat down in the front of the house as she prepared the meal.

A small girl, around four or so, walked out from the kitchen with a turtle that had strange permanent marker scribbles on its shell; she told me she rescued it off the road and placed it in a basket for safe-keeping. She named it “Speedy” and every chance that turtle got, it stretched a long neck out aiming to escape, followed by the chastisements that only a four-year-old can bestow on their newfound pet.

The box that contained the Indian Taco felt heavy, heavier than usual. I opened the top and found a loaded piece of frybread, refried beans and ground beef covered with hand-cut lettuce, tomatoes and onions, as well as sour cream and picante. Taking it outside to the jerry-rigged dining area, I cut into the dark brown bed of bread that had a cloud-like middle; appearances can be deceiving, as this frybread was masterfully crafted.

The refried beans, though canned—I’m pretty sure I saw a box of Rosarito cans in the kitchen—were a valiant effort, while the ground beef was cooked up beautifully, the grease pooling rapidly. The toppings—all at no extra charge to me, mind you—were hungrily served up and devoured. Basically, for an Indian Taco served out of a ramshackle shed in a flea market somewhere south of the middle of nowhere, it really is a pre-apocalyptic treat.

Boxing up whatever leftovers I could, I wiped my mouth and rolled up my sleeves and started to make the walk back to the car for the journey home; passing worn copies of National Geographic and chipped faux Franklin Mint plates, rows of sturdy plastic flowers and a VCR or two in need of some sort of repair, while it was nothing that I needed, I looked around and saw plenty of happy souls who got what they wanted.

Indian Taco in hand, I definitely got what I wanted.


Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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