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Friday, December 14, 2007

Five Years Without Wal-Mart

On December the 9th, 2002, I slapped a bumper sticker on my truck that read: MALL-WART, Your Source For Cheap Plastic Crap! I have never enjoyed the experience of shopping at Wal-Mart, nor approved of their tacit destruction of local economies, but like most Americans, I found myself sullenly drifting there anytime I needed socks or paper towels or printer cartridges or... some other cheap plastic crap. We're probably all hypocrites at times, but in a flashing moment of clarity I realized that with that bumper sticker on my truck, I couldn't be seen at a Wal-Mart again. It also occurred to me how many people bitched about Wal-Mart all the time but still gave them their money. That ain't gonna shut 'em down anytime soon! So I stopped going.

Now, I want to fully confess my weaknesses before I go on patting myself on the back: given Wal-Mart's ubiquitousness, I have no doubt consumed goods from Wal-Mart without knowing it... after all, nobody else I know joined my little campaign, including my immediate family. I have also bought products at Target on occasion, and no matter what the logo on the front of the building, they're probably just as bad. (I will say that I have never made a special, 140-mile-round-trip to the nearest Target just to shop there... my visits there were entirely circumstantial). I have also been inside Wal-Mart on a few occasions. Once, I creeped into a so-called "super center" to use a lobby pay phone when my car broke down on the interstate in the middle of the night. A year or so ago, in a fit of pique and despair, thinking all life was irrelevant and we might as well run for the cliff's edge as fast as possible since that's all there is anyway, I stomped into my local store, teeth set and jaw firm, and filled a basket with... cheap plastic crap. I hadn't explored a Wal-Mart in so long that I decided I might as well have a look around. By the time I'd circumnavigated the place, I was so disgusted that I parked my full basket of crap and walked out. And I didn't go back, even to use the damn phone.

Even though I feel that my five years without Wal-Mart are notable in this American age of consumer-mania, and I am proud of myself in moments, I don't think this is overly-special or merits any overwhelming congratulations. In fact, I think almost everybody could do it just fine. There are perhaps folks who live out inthe hinterlands who have never even been in a Wal-Mart, and they're not shouting about how cool they are. I expect no accolades for this, and frankly wish I'd done it a lot sooner in my life. The big surprise to me was that once I got over the bad habit of wheeling in there mindlessly, I never really thought about it any more. Shopping at other local businesses for what I formerly bought at Wal-Mart was shockingly easy. A month or two into my Wal-Mart-free life, it literally never occurred to me to even go there.

Furthermore, it's just barely more expensive to shop elsewhere. I can only think of one category of items that are so markedly cheaper at Wal-Mart that they might tempt me to transgress in the future: office supplies. My locally-owned office supply store, while manned with a helpful, knowledgeable staff and fully stocked, is about twice as expensive to shop in than my local Wal-Mart. A true bummer.

Everything else... no problem. The local grocery stores are well-loaded with all the paper towels I could ever need, and when it comes to so-called "durable goods" even though Wal-Mart is often cheaper initially, I could never relate the litany of stories I've collected about how their crappy products quickly fail and must be replaced - resulting in an overall higher cost and more trouble for the customer. When I spend slightly more at another store, I save a few cents in gas by not having to drive down to Wal-Mart... and with gas prices climbing, that means something. Finally, the instant stress-reduction of not having to deal with Wal-Mart's propagandistic, frenetic, Orwellian atmosphere was worth whatever few bucks it cost me to shop elsewhere.

I'm no hard-core social critic, and I know that there's a lot of folks out there who really can't afford to shop anywhere else (according to Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel And Dimed, often Wal-Mart's own workers!) and I'm not gonna condemn them for it. I also know that Wal-Mart's empire isn't gonna collapse just because one guy in New Mexico stopped shopping there. I will even, at last, confess that now that I've proven that I can do without Wal-Mart in my life - even on the pathetic budget of an independent musician and writer - if I deem it necessary to shop there in the future, I'll only feel a little guilty about it.

I'm not sure how to wrap this up... after all, I stand by my conviction that most of us could do this, and I'm not looking for y'all to throw me a party or anything. But I'm one of those guys who pissed and moaned about Wal-Mart for years, and I suppose I'm proud that I finally did something about it. I can say that my life is better for it. As I once heard a comedian say: You can't have everything... where would you put it? And who needs more crap - plastic or otherwise - in their life anyway?

Adios for now, BanjoSnakers!
Chipper

2 Comments:

Anonymous Phineas T. Scumbucket said...

It works the same with television, I've found.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous David said...

I love that story, and I love your convictions. I feel the same way!

11:58 AM  

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original artwork by Chipper Thompson

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