By Angela Reinhardt
A weekend trip to Walmart proved that America’s most ubiquitous retailer is in the business of more than just groceries and home goods: With 95 percent of U.S. consumers shopping there, a Walmart experience is a shared human experience. The iconic photo web series “People of Walmart” has provided a raw, unfettered cross-section of Walmart shoppers we can all relate to - from ladies in bathrobes to shirtless dudes to “Wacky Weed Wizard” in his tie-dyed muumuu.
I avoid big box stores, but sometimes you can’t get around them (“I’m pressed for time and need my prescription filled, some ammunition, AND a head of lettuce.”). There’s a lot that can cross your mind while you wander around a 150,000-square-foot building. This is my “Walmart Medley,” a collection of random (not very deep) thoughts inspired by my recent outing to our country’s most-shopped-at store:
•Those bumpy things on the sidewalk
I walked up to the building and saw all those little concrete bumps in front of the main doors and realized, to my delight, I wouldn’t need a buggy because I could carry the three small items I came to get. Surely by now the sound of a cart rumbling over those horrors has been scientifically proven to be one of the worst, most unsettling in the world. And what purpose do they serve? To keep carts from rolling away? Aesthetics? How has every other retailer managed to survive without these sonic torture devices?
•Generic vs. name brand
While I scavenged through the pharmacy aisles for a knee brace for my husband, a man studying the meal-replacement shakes stopped me. Why were 16 bottles of Ensure $19.97 when generic (also 16 bottles per case) were only $10? All the nutrition highlights were the same, and as someone who regularly buys off-brand I advised him to get generic. “Usually you’re paying for advertising or packaging,” I said. I thought about the tasty J. Higgs chips I discovered at Save-A-Lot – then I hypocritically chose the Ace knee brace over the Walmart brand.
•Kindergarten fantasy job realized
I took my three items to self-checkout and it dawned on me this technological advancement made my five-year-old fantasy of being a grocery store bag girl a reality. I’ll probably never bag a heaping cart of groceries on my own, but those idealized kindergarten daydreams of scanning produce and separating items by type was now possible - albeit not as fun as I thought it would be.
I looked over to the “Scan & Go” section, which unlike most self-checkouts was equipped with a conveyer belt. A customer had what was easily 100 items unloaded. She awkwardly looked for barcodes, searched produce codes on the computer, and bagged…very….slowly. I realize there was a conveyer belt, but shouldn’t all self-checkouts be considered an express lane? She must have had a fantasy about being a grocery clerk, too.
•To tabloid or not?
I scanned the tabloids while I waited. “Lori Loughlin really botched her career,” I thought. Someone definitely buys these things, but I couldn’t recall ever seeing it happen in real life. Maybe people hide them under other items in their cart. As usual I just read the headlines, secretly wanting the full story.
•Plastic bag guilt
They’d run out of the standard-size plastic bags and had haphazardly put larger ones in their place. They didn’t attach like they should to the metal holder and I had to fumble a few seconds to get one open. “I shouldn’t even be using these damned things,” I said to myself. In a brief shame spiral, I thought about all the plastic bottles I’ve used and vowed to ditch single-use products and get some of those reusable totes.
•People sleep here
On the way to the car I remembered a photo essay about people who camp in Walmart parking lots in cars and RVs (Walmart allows it, according to the NY Times article). I wondered if we had any travelers in the Jasper lot, and other than wanting to camp myself (in woods, not on asphalt) I made a mental note – “If you ever own an RV and are in a pinch, remember Walmart.”