It had been over four months since I stepped into a Walmart. When I broke my ankle back in October, we discovered Harris Teeter's online ordering system and Clint would just drive up and pick up our groceries for the week. It spoiled us, and even as I got better and was more mobile, I found myself with plenty of excuses to shop at the Teeter rather than trek out to Walmart for value priced goods.
My neighborhood Harris Teeter is about one minute from our house, and it's a beautiful store filled with shiny, happy people. But there was no denying that my grocery bill was much higher, and even though I adored being able to buy an apple the size of my head while sipping on a 32-ounce Diet Coke (oh yes, there's a fountain drink machine in the store), it was time for me to get back into the swing of things. Harris Teeter happiness does not come cheap. After all, I'm a housewife, and since I don't make paychecks, I shop at Walmart. No matter what I say about it, it's a thousand percent better than my old gray cubicle where I used to spend my days attempting to write copy about fascinating topics such as investment banking and saving for retirement (I literally yawned as I typed that).
A few people have reminded me that Walmart now offers online shopping with free pickup, which would eliminate the adventure of actually navigating a store. As my luck would have it, my local Walmart is still "perfecting"--their words--this service and it's active but not 100% yet. We tried it once, to be told that there is no designated pickup lane, so to just pull into the fire lane out front and call the store from my cell phone. I did, and a very flustered man named Lamar ran around like a chicken with his head cut off fetching groceries and putting them in my car. It worked, but it was chaos. Until they get those kinks out, it's off to the store I go.
Let me preface this by saying that when I was in college, Walmart was my happy place. I would giddily drive to the super Walmart in Anderson, South Carolina and enthusiastically peruse the large, clean, well-lit store that seemingly had everything one's little heart could desire. I loved every minute of being in that store. Oh, how the times have changed.
As I pulled into a parking space at the super center, a lady walked by my car wearing a leopard print shower cap. At 2:30 in the afternoon. I don't know what exact circumstance prompts someone to leave their house while sporting a shower cap, but I imagine that if you do, leopard print is the stylish way to go. I must admit, I have never seen anyone shopping at Harris Teeter in a shower cap, leopard print or otherwise. People of Walmart, you do not disappoint.
Mercifully, I grabbed a shopping cart and found that--on the first try!--this one had three out of four wheels moving in the same direction. This is considered the platinum Ferrari brand of Walmart carts. Jackpot. I'm off to a good start.
Almost immediately upon entering the store, the slight headache I had been feeling earlier ratcheted up to a steady pounding sensation and I started feeling nauseated. I hate to say it was a physical response to Walmart, but it's awfully coincidental. I briefly considered opening and indulging in the Excedrin Migraine I was purchasing, except I will never, ever, put anything in my mouth without scrubbing like a surgeon entering the OR after I've touched a Walmart shopping cart. They say the bubonic plague is extinct, but if there's anyway to catch it, it's a Walmart cart. I pressed on towards my grocery goal.
In the months I had been away, the store had changed. Some genius had the idea to remove several checkout lines and add aisles of seasonal merchandise, because if there's one thing Walmart needs less of, it's checkout lines. Less cashiers, more plastic Easter eggs. I saw this meme recently and it is spot on:
Another "improvement" I noticed was that many of the aisles had been made more narrow and were now several shelves taller. This is a fabulous thing to do, because I'm sure we've all thought if the aisles could just be slightly more difficult to squeeze through and more merchandise could be located near the ceiling, it would really enhance the Walmart shopping experience. Moving through the kitchen wares section was like a chicken fight. I love what you've done here, Walmart.
It's not like I can expect Walmart to have exotic merchandise like yellow squash, or an avocado that will be ripe within the next two weeks; I realize this is the compromise you make when you enter this emporium of savings. I'm glad to know that while they do not have organic hummus, they do have escargots. This item has been one of mystery and amazement to me for quite some time now--has anyone ever bought canned escargots from Walmart, shoved them into the shells that come in this tennis ball-like canister, eaten them, and lived to tell? Nothing says throwing caution to the wind quite like bargain basement, prepackaged edible snails.
After I put down the escargots (and shook off the spine-tingling chill they gave me), I passed an elderly woman in the frozen foods wearing a beaded top suitable for the captain's dinner table on a cruise ship, paired with a pair of black sweatpants. Walmart was doing the athleisure fashion trend before it was cool. I did not see a single pair of pajama pants worn by a shopper on this trip, which is a fascinating departure from the Walmart reality that I know and enjoy. I'm sure that next week, the entire store will be a pajama party and the universe will right itself. Note: I do not photograph Walmart shoppers, as tempting as it may be. I have a fear of being caught doing so and being dragged into some type of Jerry Springer Show altercation, and thus I resist. You will just have to use your very best Walmart imagination to picture these fashion statements.
I not-so-patiently waited in one of the four lines that were open to check out, and then remembered my Walmart survival skills just in time. Rule of the 'mart #27 clearly states that you do not ask a Walmart employee how they are doing, because you simply don't want to know. They are hot, cold, tired, bored, overworked, underpaid, not being given their break, supposed to be off today, threatening to quit...you just do not want to get involved in all that these people are dealing with. I can imagine that if I had to spend eight hours inside Walmart multiple days a week, I would be vocally disgruntled, too.
I got our groceries at a low, low price and got the heck out of there. As I drove away, past all the check cashing stores and nail salons that surround my lovely Walmart store, it occurred to me:
Now that the circus is closing down, Walmart is the new greatest show on earth.