I’m writing extemporaneously here, so bear with me. On the topic of Wal-mart. What I know about Wal-mart is that it was started in some small town in the middle of America, founded by some small guy named Sam Walton. I know that Sam Walton is dead, he died without buying a new pickup truck.
Yes, that’s right, he had a red and white Ford F150 pickup that he owned both before and after the tremendous success of his two retail giants, Wal-mart and Sam’s Club.
I didn’t know Sam Walton when he was alive, and I haven’t read anything related to Sam Walton since he died. He is, at least for me, a fictional character that knew exactly how to make consumers happy with his stores, and it was this knowledge that made him rich. Not prosperous or successful or well-off or wealthy, but rich, filthy rich.
Today I visited one of his legacies, one of his gifts to humanity, Wal-mart, where the registered slogan on the facade is quite simply, Always.
I don’t know what is supposed to be meant by this Always. It could be anything: I’m Always here for you; Always come here for your consumer needs; You can count on me not once or twice, but Always. All ways lead to me Always.
Whatever the corporate giant intended to communicate with their Always, I’d like to think that it had nothing to do with me walking into their establishment today with the intention of stocking up on staple foods. I am above subliminal advertising. Yes, I really am, but that’s besides the point.
Although it’s true that the ghost of Sam Walton did everything he could to guarantee my happiness within his store – he gave me free parking, he stocked the shelves with an inventory the likes of which no store will ever compare, he kept prices low; he promised me satisfaction with whatever I bought; his hours of operation went into the wee hours of the night – although every employee dignified enough to don the Wal-mart shirt and chant the Wal-mart jingle was at my service, a depression swept over me at the sight of other Wal-mart customers.
You see, Sam Walton had perfect control over the operation and appearance of his store, but he had no control over the demeanor and behavior of his customers.
His store thronged with people who didn’t respond to, “Excuse me”. The toilet paper aisle was a hazard. A handful of babies wore nothing but dirty diapers. The shelves were littered like the free parking lot. A half-eaten plum oxidized next to the rice; a popped cylinder of Pillsbury Oven Baked Dinner Rolls hardened next to the banana fingers; empty bottles of assorted drinks rolled around on the floor until they were swept under the shelves by moving carts.
Then came the checkout lanes. After waiting for ten minutes or so in checkout lane 8, a new cashier put a key into her till, turned on the light for 7, and looked at me.
“You can come over here,” she said, “I’m open.”
I looked at the customers both in front and behind me to make sure that they didn’t feel cheated at me accepting the cashier’s offer. Then I switched over to her lane.
But in the process, my gray plastic cart bumped into someone else’s who had spotted the cashier from afar at the same time and heedlessly rushed to take advantage of the clear aisle.
“She told me I could come over here,” I said by way of explanation.
“Well, she told me the same thing,” said the intruder, obviously lying.
I looked at the cashier for a solution, and when she settled matters with a smile and a wave through, the intruder huffed and reluctantly submitted to the judge’s decision:
“Go ahead then.”
As I went to take my place in lane 7, the surly intruder eyed me with infernal scorn and said, “Fuck you, too.” An attack that wasn’t cloaked in hushed tones, but bold for anyone to hear. I backpedalled into my previous position in the other lane, and she quickly began stacking her items onto the conveyor belt, victorious.
The cashier, trained by the ghost of Sam Walton, gave me a puzzled look, as if to say, Why didn’t you take your place, and all I could do was shrug my shoulders and wait in checkout lane 8 for my turn.
Sam Walton had perfect control over every facet of his establishments, but he had no control over his customers, and that’s why Wal-mart is Always hell.