Wednesday, July 16, 2008

All the world's a carnival in the Wal-Mart parking lot

I hate Wal-Mart, I really do.

Back when I was a kid (a moment of quiet reflection as I realize that I'm now old enough to say that), Mom and I used to go the the Wal-Mart in Franklin, IN. We'd stop by on the way down to the lake. And the crazy thing is I LOVED it -- it was so big, and everything was so cheap, and Mom would always get me something, I'm sure. But then again I was young and it was the only one I'd ever seen... Wal-Mart had not yet taken over the world.

Ah, the good old days.

Now, I hate it. It's always crowded and understaffed and dirty and filled with low-quality crap that I'm pretty sure some four-year-old in Taiwan had to make in a closet without access to electricity or running water. Even the smell, that Wal-Mart smell... how do they do that?

But from time to time, when push comes to shove, there are those moments when sadly -- oh, so so sadly -- Wal-Mart is the only alternative. Tonight was one of those occasions. The pisser is that they always have what I need. And cheap.

Man that annoys me.

But despite what you may be thinking, this is not diatribe against the menace that is Wal-Mart. No, in fact it's quite the opposite. This is an ode to the wonder of the Wal-Mart parking lot, that magical intersection of races, creeds, genders and abilities, socio-economic classes and criminal histories. Not quite the Promised Land that I think Dr. King envisioned, but a fair cross-section if you take the time to really look at it.

Yes tonight, as Rob and I trucked out to the car loaded down with bottled water, composition notebooks, and lots of chocolate (don't ask), and out into that asphalt expanse surrounded by neon signs and glittering headlights, we were overcome by the unmistakable smell of reefer. And a LOT of it. The three happy black guys chilling in the SUV had be be really mellow -- I'm guessing their fourth was inside picking up a boatload of snacks.

Having picked up a contact high on the way past the doobie cloud I spotted a single woman pushing her cart sort of erratically to her car. I assumed she just wasn't quite sure she remembered where she parked, but as I watched I realized that she was somehow distracted by the planes flying overhead. She actually stepped away from her car to watch them fly by, and I would swear she was talking to one of them.

I wonder if she talks to the helicopters, too.

Shortly after this I got in the car and waited for Rob to load up the goods (he's such a gentleman that way). Thinking the show was over, I sat back to contemplate whether or not I really did get a buzz from the fumes rolling out of that SUV. And then I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, what appeared to be a child riding some kind of bicycle across the parking lot... except it was moving a little wonky and too slow for a kid that big. I decided to take a closer look and realized that it wasn't a bicycle, but a TRIcycle. A big one -- I mean, really big -- and candy-apple red. And the operator wasn't a kid at all, but an older gentleman with rather long, flowing grey hair who most definitely suffered from at least one physical handicap, as the very large basket on the back of his "bike" (??) was holding his walker.

I kid you not. The dude was weaving around the Wal-Mart parking lot on a giant red tricycle, toting his walker on the rear and hell-bent for something on the inside -- maybe some snacks courtesy of the second-hand hemp haze, or maybe just shelter from the incoming air traffic.

I was done. I fully expected the carnies to start streaming out of the store and had an overwhelming urge to eat an elephant ear. It was quite charming, really... sort of like the state fair come early.

Good times. Good, good times.

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