It amazes me that more people do not kill themselves at Walmart.
Once upon a time when I lived alone, I used to go to Walmart as Friday night entertainment. I’d get off work, stop somewhere for fast food, and wander the aisles of the supercenter. This era of my life convinced me that a) I have serious emotional problems and b) Walmart sells EVERYTHING! Also, it convinced me that I am programmed to buy almost everything. Walking into Walmart for colorful office supplies usually entailed walking out with a huge cartload of stuff and at least $100 less than I had when I entered.
As my life became more interesting, productive, and busy… and less pathetic, by the way… I stopped looking at Walmart as an entertainment destination. It was like finally leaving an abusive relationship. I stopped going to Walmart except when I visited my mother.
My mother always adored Walmart. When it came to shopping, her catchphrase was, “for $3 or $1.99 or $5 (or whatever remarkably low price something was), why be without?” Walmart was the perfect territory for such a philosophy. I ended up with some truly ugly clothes from Walmart because they were on clearance and… well, you never know. I still remember a powder blue polyester skirt with buttons down the front that I bought, at my mother’s prompting, because it was “only $3, so why be without?” I never wore the blasted thing. It took me years to finally abandon it to the mercies of the Goodwill bag.
As my mother aged and became frailer, Amazon became a lifeline for her. She could get everything she needed delivered to her doorstep. Still, whenever I came to visit her, she always enjoyed a good outing to Walmart. I did not enjoy Walmart, but I did enjoy my mother. Max was a good sport whenever he was with me. He trailed behind us with the shopping cart while I pushed my mom in the wheelchair.
Once we moved to Florida, the whole mother-Walmart thing was more complicated. For one thing, we live within fairly easy driving distance of several Walmarts, but we are only really close to one of them. Unfortunately, the one to which we live closest, is known as “the bad Walmart.” We heard horror stories about carjackings and robberies and all kinds of sinister associations with that Walmart practically from the day we moved in. I am not the speediest person on my best day. I could probably not outrun a villain under the most ideal circumstances. An escape plan that included me pushing a wheelchair loaded with my mother and our purchases was beyond my imagination. Therefore, the “bad Walmart” was out of the question. That meant we traveled about 40 minutes each way just commuting to a more desirable and less lethal Walmart… to say nothing of the extended time we spent shopping. Momma always had a list, but she loved traveling up and down each aisle, just to see what they had.
The other thing was that I could not push a shopping cart AND a wheelchair at the same time. My original plan was simply to load up my mother’s lap with the items she wanted to purchase, but I quickly realized that was not going to work. I tried putting one of those plastic grocery baskets on her lap and one on each of my arms. My last trip to Walmart with my mother was in 2016. I think I still have indentations on my extremities from the grocery basket handles. Somewhere about halfway through one of our first visits, I snagged a few reusable grocery bags and slipped them over the handles of her wheelchair. I was a train wreck. Flopping bags, cramped arms, bruised knees, sweat seeping from every pore, and low blood sugar- that was what Walmart meant to me.
One would ask why I did not just take my mother’s list and go to Walmart on my own to get what she wanted. That would not have met my mom’s needs. She loved getting out and feeling part of the world. And I loved my mother. As her body became increasingly fragile, her world got smaller and smaller. There was very little I could do to help her. Her health was declining and was never going to get better. It broke my heart. I could not make her physical health better. I could do nothing to stop her descent into disability. I could, however, inject some pleasure into her life. Going to Walmart was one big source of pleasure for her.
My mother has been gone for almost seven years. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have gone to Walmart in that time. The other day, I made the mistake of going there. I had a list of weirdly diverse items I needed, and I reasoned that Walmart was the only place that might sell all of them. If I avoided Walmart, which every instinct in my soul advised me to do, I would have to go to several other stores. I asked myself, “how bad could it be?” Wrong question.
I left the house at around 9:30. I decided to be brave and go to the “bad Walmart” because it was closest. My plan was to go to Walmart, stop by Ace Hardware if I could not obtain something on my list at Walmart, run into the dry cleaner to pick up our clothes, come home and eat something, and then leave again for my hair appointment at about 12:50. I clearly ingested some sort of alternate reality producing drug.
Actually, I had minimal trouble while shopping at Walmart. I noticed that the aisles seemed tidier than I remembered, and I did not run into too many shopping cart traffic jams. I did search for quite some time for a new outdoor welcome mat. When I asked someone where I could find such a beast, the employee told me to look in the “Home” section. The “Home” section consisted of about ten aisles. I know I walked down each one of them at least once before finding the welcome mats. Still, I was ultimately able to find everything on my list so I would not have to stop at Ace Hardware.
Then, I got on the check-out line. There were three people ahead of me. They all had huge carts of goods. I noticed a self-check area when I entered the store. I briefly considered moving down to that area, but I also noticed that they had ropes like a queue at Disney World to manage the self-check-out crowds. I did not think that was a good sign and I am not that speedy at self-check-out, so I figured I’d let a professional do it. It might have been a mistake to believe that, just because Walmart is paying someone minimum wage, that person can do the job faster than I can.
I waited in line for 15 minutes without it moving once. Finally, the checker finished with the first person in line. The second person was even more of a challenge. She had some sort of coupon that required management approval to input. From what I could glean from the conversation that came down the line from the cash register, Walmart’s system will not accept a coupon that is over some certain dollar amount unless a manager inputs an override code. The cashier would have to call a manager before the transaction could continue. Except the cashier does not “call” a manager at Walmart; the cashier stands helplessly at her register, flailing her arms trying to get the attention of a manager. After another 20 minutes, a manager finally came over to approve the discount. The line heaved a collective sigh of relief… until we learned that there was a second step to the process that required managerial approval.
The arm-flailing started over again. I considered passing a hat to everyone in line to see if we could collect the coupon amount. The crowd was getting ugly, though, and I
was not sure if it was wise to try to collect a ransom from them. I have heard Walmart sells guns. I do not know if that is still true, but I know they sell knives because I saw them in my scenic trip through the “Home” section. It did not seem worth the risk. Finally, even the shopper waiting to get her coupon realized we had all somehow fallen into the Retail Twilight Zone. She told the checker to just take the item off her bill and she would purchase it somewhere else. The checker tried to do that, but the Walmart register system laughed maniacally and refused to comply.
As I waited in the line, I could feel my blood sugar dropping. I checked the time and realized I was not going to get to either the dry cleaners or home before my hair appointment. I decided instead to stop at a drive-through fast food place en route to the salon and pick up the cleaning after my hair appointment. Fifteen minutes later with no movement on the line, I realized I was not going to have time even to do a drive-through lunch. I also realized that not eating was not an option unless I wanted Walmart to call the paramedics when I blacked out. My guess is that calling the paramedics would have required some sort of managerial intervention, too. God only knows how long that would have taken. Anyway, since I was still in the check-out line, I grabbed a candy bar. I had to take two steps back to reach the shelf. The person behind me said, jokingly, “now you’ll have to go all the way to the end of the line.” I just barely kept from snarling when I replied, “not on your life!”
After waiting in line for 45 minutes with no progress, I surrendered. I moved my cart out of line. My initial thought was to abandon it in mid-aisle and leave, but I hated the idea of wasting all the time I had already invested in this purchasing process. It actually crossed my mind to bolt out the door with the merchandise and make a run for it, but that was the low blood sugar talking. I tentatively maneuvered my way down to the self-check-out line. I was able to access a machine in less than five minutes. I had a lot of stuff and much of it was unwieldy. It was not pretty, but I got her done. I left the store gobbling my candy bar. I just made it to my hair appointment.
Yes, Walmart does sell everything for low, low prices… including migraines and panic attacks.
What has been your worse retail experience? Don’t you think a few extra grams of carbohydrate would have made it more bearable? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a Walmart-free day!