The imminent threat of a hurricane can be the catalyst to brave the most inhospitable of places; hurricane shelters, rain filled ditches and the like.
On Tuesday I gritted my teeth and headed into Wal-Mart.
I have had an aversion to Wal-Mart ever since I came to America but I would advise any Brit who still believes Americans have white teeth and are relentlessly polite to take a trip through the hallowed concrete halls of Wal-Mart.
As soon as you are through the dirty glass doors and have passed the grab-a-toy machines that never yield up anything remotely cuddly, the Wal-Mart experience proper begins. There is a usually an employee loitering around the carts whose job may originally have been to hand them out. He or she either lost motivation two decades ago or wasn’t briefed properly because the unsuspecting shopper ends up having to get their own cart and using it to shove the aforementioned recalcitrant employee out of the way.
Inevitably about two minutes into the Wal-Mart experience one of the wheels of the bulky rat-grey carts will start to emit a loud screech and the cart will keep lurching to the left.
Ideally you would want something more bijou but you don’t want to be patronized by a member of staff who might say” “Where do you think you are? FarmFresh?” Nor do you want to brave the recalcitrant employee on the door who by now is looking into a grubby notebook, probably trying to make sure the store is making its daily quota of obese customers.
So you press on with the wonky cart that screams like a cat being castrated every 20 seconds and lurch to the pet shop section because your daughter likes to see dead goldfish floating in tiny glass containers.
Wal-Mart has some advantages. Its size means contact with fellow customers is filtered out and you can buy wine for less than $3 a bottle.
Unfortunately Wal-Mart’s biggest selling point, cheap goods, appears to have been bought at the expense of employees’ pay, benefits and overall happiness.
If you are lucky you may see them smoking and spitting on the asphalt outside the store as they recount the woe that is Wal-Mart.
First time visitors to Wal-Mart can make the mistake of believing the employees are there to help them, because they wear vests saying: “How May I help you?”
These vests should actually read: “Just don’t ask” because if you dare to confront them, you are liable to be snarled at. A friend recounts a story of how employees wearing the infamous vests tried to run her down in a Wal-Mart parking lot.
I certainly think Wal-Mart can be bad for your mental health. As soon as I start to look around and take in the environment, I feel myself sinking into some kind of social underclass. Loiter for too long in the densely packed areas such as the thoroughfare by the wilted lettuce section, and you will feel like an extra in an episode of the Jerry Springer show.
And Wal-Mart, in its wisdom seems intent on dragging the experience out. On any given day the vast store will have about four tills operational out of 30 leaving you to stand behind a psychotic mother of six who is able to multitask by tugging her stretchy pants over her vast love handles while simultaneously beating all of her family with a copy of the National Inquirer.
Two days before an expected hurricane Wal-Mart seemed a bit different. There was a small huddle of people in the camping section trying to work out how batteries go in flashlights and people had crates of water in their carts instead of Miller Lite.
I’m hoping I bought enough water because I have no desire to go back any time soon.