Thursday, June 01, 2006

On Wal*Mart

In the summer of 1993 I was 21 years old with a golden 1979 Ford Grenada and bad hair. That was the summer my dad and stepmom moved from Wyoming back to his hometown in southern Illinois and the summer I moved from Wyoming into my mom's basement in Champaign. It was a weird time – I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, much less how to go about accomplishing that goal. After two years of community college, I was ready for something other than more classes, so I'd basically dropped out.

In the meantime I worked at Wal*Mart in the Lawn and Garden Center, heaving bags of manure, moving trees at the whim and fancy of our illiterate department manager, and trying in vain to keep petunias watered in central Wyoming's notoriously hot, windy, and dry summer.

Needless to say, I hated the job. I knew I was fairly intelligent, relative to the Casper shrub-buying public anyway, and I knew it wasn't my true calling. What I couldn't predict then was the extent to which I would come to loathe that effing store.

The only advantage about working for Wal*Mart was (and remains) oddly paradoxical: its ubiquity means easy transfers from town to town, provided the new store has a slot for you. Yeah, Wal*Mart is everywhere, but that makes it easy for its employees to move, even its subversives. So in mid-August of 1993 I found myself working the nightshift at the Champaign store. I distinctly remember driving up Prospect Avenue, dialing the ancient radio knob on the Golden Grenade, and hearing The Breeders' "Cannonball" for the first time. Champaign isn't a big city by anyone's standards except maybe for kids from Wyoming. And that night on my way to the Wal*Mart nightshift, with that wacky key change two bars into the "Cannonball" intro, I thought maybe things would turn out okay.

They did, of course, but not before I came to despise Wal*Mart with every fiber of my being. Oh, sure, I met some interesting people at the Champaign Wal*Mart – people who will go unnamed in this blog – but mostly, in retrospect, I'm really glad I got the hell out of there. One of my fondest memories of my dad is of the two of us and my stepmom puttering along on his pontoon boat in late summer of 1995, after I'd returned to college at the University of Illinois and had just started my senior year. We were chatting idly about how school was going, and I said something about wishing I had more time to enjoy my senior year.

"Is work taking up your free time?" my dad asked.

"Yeah, pretty much. When I'm not studying I'm working at Wally World," I replied. While technically true, I conveniently left out the part about squeezing in an hour or two every night for Murphy's Pub.

"So quit," my stepmom said.


"Quit," my dad said. "You've worked hard since you turned 16. Take your senior year off."

For a second I thought he had finally, well and truly, gone totally insane. My dad was telling me to not work so hard? Ho-lee Jayzus. But he hadn't gone insane, and sometime in mid-August 1995 I worked my last shift and turned in my blue vest.

13 years later, I avoid the local store on principle. Place makes me itch.

It's no longer an issue of price and/or convenience with me, and I'm seriously thinking about following my friend's lead, who hasn't shopped at Wal*Mart in over two years and plans on never shopping there again.

It's not really the shoppers or employees, although a single stroll through the clothing section on a Sunday afternoon would give the ladies over at gofugyourself enough material to last all summer. It's not even Wal*Mart's deceptive price strategies, designed to lure shoppers deeper into the aisles where, if they look hard enough, they'll realize that Wal*Mart doesn't beat its competition nearly as frequently as you might think. It's not even the look of quiet despair found on any cashier or CSM (shit, it's been 13 years and I still know the lingo). No, all of these things are simply part of Wal*Mart's charm.

For me, the worst part of any trip to Wal*Mart is the parking lot.

Little more than paved free-for-alls, Wal*Mart parking lots are the end result of a car culture gone berserk; what all of America will look like if the oil companies get their way. Geriatrics in huge wrap-around shades point their Cadillacs towards the nearest curb and floor it, hoping for an exit. Carloads of teenagers on cell phones crisscross the parking lanes. Family vans, referred to in the 7200 as Mormon Assault Vehicles, unload their legions of impeccably dressed Christian draftees, ready to snatch up the latest installment in the Left Behind series. RVs and semis converge on Wal*Mart parking lots like alarmingly obese customers converge on a Little Debby's cupcakes display. And there is always, always, a Confederate flag sticker on someone's shitbox of a pickup.

The sole good thing about the parking lot at the 7200's Wal*Mart, the one thing I enjoy, the thing inherently good and pure and redeeming, is the view from its parking lot. Our Wal*Mart is about a mile out of town and about 75 feet or so higher in elevation, out by the interstate. Looking back, you can see the university buildings, which are no big deal, and the mountains in the distance, which are. If you can catch the Wal*Mart parking lot at the right time, it almost makes it worth the trip.

But not quite.


At 4:10 PM, Blogger dirk.mancuso said...

I'm finding Target and Best Buy to be my retailers of choice these days.

Run, Trout, and never look back. (Or would that be swim?)

At 7:17 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I hate Wal-mart with a white hot passion. In my little town there used to be all kinds of really great small shops that had been run by families for years and years, and then Wal-mart came. Every single one of those great shops are now gone because some house wife could save 50 whole entire cents if she bought it at Wal-mart. All those families out of work and now dependant on a corporate giant to pay the bills (because so many went to work there).

I can go on for days about the evil that is Wal-mart.

Happy belated birthday, Trout. Thanks for stopping by the Daily Minute.

At 8:03 PM, Blogger Rosellen said...

I tried to read this to Dennis, but I kept seeing the next few words ahead, and would crack up. He finally had to finish reading it to me.


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