Here’s your understatement of the day, and feel perfectly free to quote me on this: I hate Wal-mart! (And just because I buy all of my groceries and half of my clothes from there I will never be made to admit otherwise!) One of my Facebook friends speculated that Dante must have been magically beamed into a southern Wal-mart during the post-holiday rush when he wrote about the indescribable horrors locked in the 9th level of hell. Now admittedly, I haven’t read a lot of Dante but I do wholeheartedly agree with that assessment.
Ironically, today I want to share with you the story of the most productive and enjoyable trip to Wal-mart that I’ve ever had. Yep, you heard me right… the best trip ever! And ironically, it all happened right smack dab in the middle of all of that post-holiday and winter-storm hubbub a couple of weeks back.
Now, the reason this particular visit went so well is very simple. I resolved myself ahead of time not to let anything upset me—no matter what. I’m serious! No matter what! That’s it—simple as that. For just this one trip I would not allow myself to give in to the terror, rage and suicidal despair that usually overwhelm me before I even walk through the front door. Grumpy salespeople, whining children and misdressed adults who wear their underwear on the outside of their jeans (and occasionally over their head) would NOT faze me this time! No! This time I was going to be patient, happy and cheerful throughout the entire Wal-mart shopping experience! For the first time ever I was going to walk through the entrance with my head held high and make it through the check-out line without once feeling claustrophobic, sociophobic or potentially alcoholic. This time I would not let this store conquer me, humiliate me or rob me of my dignity! I was going to BEAT the soul-eating monstrosity that is Wal-mart…AND I was going to do it with style!
How’d it go? Well basically, it went like this: I high-fived the greeters on the way in the door… Juggled oranges on the produce aisle… Directed traffic in the bread section. (I even borrowed a coach’s whistle and an orange vest from sporting goods to make the job easier.)… I moon-walked to a Hip-Hop Dance game in the electronics section… Raced a mean, freckle-faced kid with a nifty little girls training bike down that one oddly-wide aisle in the toy department… Went buggy-tipping in housewares… Won $20 bucks betting with some elderly guy on whether or not I would swallow a live gold-fish in the pet section. It was like my first day of Kindergarten all over again!
Okay…okay…I’m exaggerating about (some) of that. It wasn’t quite that much fun. But I must say the experience did go far better than usual. First of all, there were a lot of people there. In fact, there were so many that the buggy garage (‘cart station’ for readers above the Mason-Dixon line) was almost completely empty when I arrived. Masses of people were squeezing through the queue of people lined up at the Red Box. (And incase you didn’t know it DVD movies from Red Box are the new bread and milk. When there’s a holiday or potential snow storm in the South then the masses can only be comforted by knowing that they have Red Box movie rentals on hand. Obviously, power outages mean nothing to them. Just having the movie in their possession is enough to provide them the comfort and peace of mind they need to get through.)
My first (voluntary) stop was at the deli. And the folks at the deli counter were cheerful and helpful that day. Okay, okay—I said I was going to tell the truth, right? Here it goes then: The deli lady filled me (and everyone else in line behind me) in on the fact that she was the only deli-person who showed up for work and she didn’t know what “they” (I’m assuming she means her managers) would do when she quit and went home. Here was my golden opportunity to show some character. I smiled, nodded and offered “uh huhs” in all the right places. And even when she neglected to clean the meat-slicer’s blade (after cutting some nasty-looking 3rd string ham for the person before me) I tried to be cheerful and explain how lucky I was to have their “most dedicated employee” waiting on me. Before it was over she was smiling and even threw a couple of extra slices of good pastrami on my pile after she had weighed it.
From there, I tried my best to look like I was at peace and happy as I transversed the aisles. (This of course did earn me some nervous glances especially from mothers who quickly herded their kids up to their skirts as I passed. After all, who in their ‘right mind’ would wear a goofy smile in Wal-mart if not a pedophile?) When traffic got gummed up I just practiced some deep breathing and in an especially smooth and cheerful voice asked the folks around me if they knew whether it was a “pile up” or just a “fender-bender” up ahead. I even got a couple of them to smirk and grunt when I pointed at the cereal aisle and mentioned that we probably wouldn’t starve to death in this apocalypse but finding a clean bathroom might pose a problem.
Honestly, being positive felt great! In fact, it was so much so that I wanted to share it with everyone else in the store. I decided that one of the most effective ways to do that (without being arrested of course) was to share a semi-flirtatious smile and wink at every female over age 65 that I passed. (Okay, I included a few younger ones too…but I couldn’t be completely discriminatory could I?) And boy did this earn me quite a few giggles and plenty of flattered return smiles for my trouble. There was even one especially feisty little octogenarian who winked back—and of course, that really made my day! Just try out this strategy for yourself next time you’re in line at the bank or in the waiting room at the dentist and see for yourself. It’s an instant friend-maker!
However, the real character-test came when it was time to check out. Here’s where you’re going to have trouble believing me though… Here it goes: Believe it or not there was a cashier at every-single-register. (Yeah, I know….told you that you’d have trouble believing me didn’t I?) But it didn’t matter because even though every lane was fully manned it still wasn’t near enough to handle the mass influx of patrons converging upon registers. From the sheer density of the crowd, you would have sworn that either Justin Bieber or Taylor Swift were about to take center-stage atop the conveyors. The lines snaked out and then hooked into the main aisle and then coiled into a hard right where they disappeared somewhere out in Women’s Clothes. It was terrifying.
I’ll admit that when I saw this madness that I almost lost it. A wave of fear, anxiety and utter frustration washed over my chest and rolled down into the pit of my stomach. There’d be no way that a person could get through one of these lines in an even half-way reasonable amount of time! I’d be for an hour—herded like a slaughter-house animal—packed shoulder to shoulder with the groaning, slobbering masses of undead that had once been the—ahem!—finer citizens of my county! The thought was unbearable! Deep inside I felt a primal scream rising from deep inside. No! Wait! I could do this! I could push through to the end! I would not let Wal-mart defeat me! Not this time!
I took a deep breath and centered myself. Carefully, I chose a line based on my assessment of all of the most relevant factors like: number of people, median buggy fullness, average estimate age, number of small kids present, etc. Once I was certain that I had chosen the best line I staked my claim and pushed my cart up behind a particularly sour-faced middle-aged couple. And that’s when it hit me that almost everyone else was wearing the exact same expression that these two had. You could see the exhaustion, frayed nerves and irritability written all over their faces. Some of them looked like they just might snap at any moment. I remembered feeling that way—and it wasn’t that long ago. All at once I felt sorry for them all. They were trapped—imprisoned in a circle of emotional circle of hell far worse than Wal-mart.
And that’s when it hit me.
I heard a saying recently that goes “Misery comes easy. It’s happiness that you have to work for.” And as I was standing there in line that day this phrase just kept repeating itself over and over in my head. All around me these miserable people were so focused on where they ‘needed to be’ or what they ‘could’ (theoretically) ‘be doing’. No matter what they purchased that day at Wal-mart they had paid for it with lost time—time that can never be redeemed or relived. The moment that they got home it would fade from their memory and they would forget that they had even lived it.
The problem is that most of the time we’re not willing to “work for” happiness. They say that the average person spends an average of five years of their life waiting in line for something. I wonder how many people reach the end of their lives wishing that they could somehow redeem those five years. I bet that most of them would even be willing to spend that time waiting in line at Wal-mart—and I bet they’d make the most of it too! They’d probably get to know everyone in line, tell jokes and share a smile and wink with everyone that crossed their path irregardless of their age.
Final Note: While waiting the 45 minutes in the check-out line I came up with a good business idea. Well, maybe that’s a stretch. It would be more like a quick way to make some cash before getting kicked out of the store. (Hey, I had to do something during that long wait—plus my mind works ‘hyper-creatively’.) Here it goes: During the busiest shopping days of the year come into Wal-mart and fill a buggy up with everything you can—so much stuff that items are literally trying to fall out when you walk—so full that when you get into the check-out lane for your long wait that no one who looks at your cart would want to get behind you. In fact, you want it so full that they would gladly wait behind five other shoppers in a different line. Then—just before you reach the register—turn around and announce to masses of people that you’ll give up your place in line for $20. Switch out and get back in another line. If you’re lucky you might make $40-60 before the police show up with pepper spray, tasers and batons. 😉
Now, of course I’m not really suggesting that anyone do that! However interestingly, when I shared that idea with some of the sour-faced folks waiting in line beside me I received some genuine smiles…which is the entire reason I thought of such a crazy plan to start with. In my experience a good, sharp sense of humor is one of the greatest weapons that we can ever wield when we’re going through things that are simply out of our control. And that’s especially true for surviving the Wal-mart Holocaust.
Until next time…