Monday, December 28, 2009

Adventures in Bargain Shopping

Christmas is over. The month of anticipation and shopping is past. The elf has been returned to the North Pole. The wrapping paper and boxes are in garbage bags, the toys are neatly put away in the playroom, the various videos from Santa and President Obama (no really!) have been deleted from my e-mail, and the Christmas movies will all get one more watching before being deleted from my DVR. Today, we are having a day of rest. We are not leaving the house. My son and I are wearing pajamas. My daughter is in a princess dress. Of course, she isn’t wearing one of the new ones Santa brought her, but her old tried and true Aurora dress, which I believe counts as her personal version of slumming it.

Why do I mention this? I set the scene today to explain why on Saturday, the day after Christmas, I went to Target to make a return. My thought process was simple – crowds vs. kids. Either I braved the crowds alone on Saturday, or I took the kids with me on Monday. Never having ventured to a store on the 26th, I had absolutely no idea what to expect.

The first clue that I was in trouble came before I even entered the parking lot. There is one way into the shopping center containing Target, and it shares a stoplight with the adjacent mall. I naively thought that the backup was due to heavy mall traffic. Sadly, this was not the case. Picture a maze. There is one true path to get to the center, but many shortcuts and side paths that lead nowhere. Now, picture the maze filled with cars going in every direction and you’ll have the basic idea. So, I did what any sane individual would do and I headed for the service corridor behind the stores, bypassing the entire parking lot. Yes, I would up on the opposite end of the store from its one door, but since I am not actually the Wicked Witch of the West (despite the fear that I would inherit the hat from my mother) I don’t melt in the rain and just walked the rest of the way.

Now, considering the amount of cars outside, I expected an equivalent number of people inside. Strangely, this was not the case. Customer service was empty and I made my return with ease. But then it got weird. There wasn’t anyone actually in most of the store, excepting the electronics department. I walked around for a few minutes and only saw the same one guy on crutches looking for something to buy with his gift card. He was having a hell of a time. The aisles were stripped bare of any form of merchandise. Entire racks hung empty, entire rows of shelves were vacant. There wasn’t a sale to be had because there wasn’t any stuff to buy. Even the Christmas section was devoid of anything worth more than three dollars. But where were all the people? The parking lot was packed! What the hell was going on? I finally realized the truth – the aisles weren’t crowded because there was nothing to stop and look at, so people just kept wandering around. The entire store was a slow-moving mass of people with empty carts and empty hands. As long as I kept rotating around the departments at the same pace as the rest, we’d all just keep circling each other, distant moons and planets all in the same orbit.

Back in my car, on the far, far side of the store, near nothing and no one, I witnessed another strange phenomenon. Every minute or so (I sat and watched to be certain) a car would drive around the back of the store, never to return. I pondered the possibilities. Alien abduction? Black hole? Large package pick-up? Time warp? Police trap? My choice was simple – drive into the fray and spend the next hour moving inch by inch out of the parking lot, or take a leap of faith and follow the disappearing cars. I chose wisely. Turns out, someone had opened the gate to a neglected service road that led into a residential area and I was out and on my way within 60 seconds.

What have I learned from this experience? No return is worth the bewildering emptiness of a store that has everything having absolutely nothing.

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