b Papa Dog's Blog: American Boxes (and That's It)

Papa Dog's Blog

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Monday, August 16, 2004

American Boxes (and That's It)

It doesn’t happen often, but today we ended up having to go to the big boxes to get some crap that apparently doesn’t come cheaper anywhere else. The boxes round here are all in Emeryville, because Berkeley keeps chain stores outside the city limits, like brothels (only I guess that’s a bad analogy, given recent news). We had two boxes to visit, and since they were kitty-corner to one another, we reckoned we’d park at one and walk over to the other, giving Baby Dog a little stroll in the sunshine…something I personally abhor, but which is one of the crosses I'm told I have to bear for parenthood. Anyway, I already knew this, but there’s nothing like crossing a vast field of asphalt formerly known as wetlands under the sweltering embrace of that murderous carcinogen known popularly as “a really nice day” to drive home the point: the big boxes hate pedestrians. Or more generally: California hates pedestrians. Or more generally still: American hates pedestrians. I guess I have to stop there, because having lived here for most of the last 20 years, I really can’t speak much for anyplace else. But specifically, the cunning minds behind the boxes, they hate pedestrians and design their emporia o’ plenty to be all but inaccessible to anyone who is not, like Rodney King, a motorist. Negotiating the way from one box to another by foot is a treacherous undertaking, involving as it does passage across exits meant only to be traversed by cars – and to the people piloting these cars, a pedestrian at the exit is about as foreseeable as a couple of gay married vegans driving an electric car with a “Keep Abortion Safe and Legal” bumper sticker through downtown Midland, TX (if in fact Midland has a downtown). When we finally got to Playthings Be We, our first stop, we were bemused to find that the sidewalk between the exit – the side we arrive at first – and the entrance was completely covered with oversized merchandise, rendering it completely impassable. Clearly, the thinking at work here was: “Why would anybody walk from the exit to the entrance? The parking lot’s that way.” The possibility that someone might ever arrive by foot never came up in that particular planning meeting. The underlying assumption seems to be that if you don’t drive a car, you’re either too poor or too insane to be a paying customer, so fuck off and good luck finding a bus stop, rube.

Still, we were there, and be damned if we were going to be thwarted in our mercantile ambitions by the spiritual descendants of Judge Doom. We got the Safety 1st Deluxe Roller Shade which will protect Baby Dog’s delicate dermis on our upcoming roadtrip to Santa Barbara. Then back we trundled to Home Despot, where the motto is, “If we can’t have the worst customer service in the world, then damn it, we’ll have the least.” We stumbled by ourselves across the shelving units I’m going to need to whip the Crap Room into shape, then we sent up a flare in hopes of attracting a Customer Service representative or, failing that, the merchant marine. We did eventually find a surly red-vested fellow who, when questioned on the whereabouts of a dolly with which to move the hundred-pound boxes, cheerily muttered “Mumble mumble out there mumble against mumble wall,” and went back to work inspecting the tile alignments on Aisle 3. By the time we’d scoured the lot for dollies (none against any walls, but I did manage to grab one from an outgoing customer in the parking lot) and hauled the works to the checkout area there was, of course, only one cash register open to serve the twenty or so people lined up with dollies full of unwieldy home improvement items, many of which I think were galvanized.

We came to what seemed to be the end of the line, but it stopped a foot or two away from a couple of carts laden (I think maybe by the Joad family) to the warehouse roof. We were looking at these carts, wondering aloud if they belonged to someone who might be planning someday to return to the line, when a fellow patron pointed us over past the abandoned carts to the last manned spot in the line and said, “Line’s here. This’s America.” “Meaning what?” I asked Mama Dog, “You don’t hold spaces in line in America?” “We’re rugged individualists,” she assured me. Shortly after that, a second checkout line opened, and instead of 20th in line we were suddenly fifth. Then a third opened, and we were promoted to head of the line. I don’t hail from these parts. I hail from a land where you get in a line and wait politely until you reach its head, through tornado, economic collapse, or terrorist attack. I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of guilt for the poor saps who were 9th or 19th in line. But hey – it so happened we were in the right place at the right time, and god damn it, this’s America.


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