As a specialty contractor (specializing in the design, installation and service of custom water features) in Tucson, Arizona, I find myself at one or both of the big box home improvement stores on an almost daily basis. Though I won’t identify them, their names rhyme with “Blows” and “Chrome Repo.” Admittedly, I am the poster boy for inefficiency when it comes to getting what I need. I’ve always relied on my memory, which was once first-rate. Now that it’s beginning to slip a bit (my wife bought me a Sudoku puzzle book, I assume in the hopes of staving off Alzheimer’s; I forgot where I put it), I’ve been slow to embrace the concept of writing things down. Not that it would matter; these home improvement giants have been designed to ensure that I traverse every square mile of their interiors in the hope that I will lose myself for a day and buy any number of products I hadn’t been aware I needed (until I passed them).
On one particular trip, I went to purchase bags of cement and plumbing supplies for a job I was starting that day. Usually I try to pull up to the pallets of cement located outside; the three contractors’ trucks so rudely parked in front of them precluded me from doing so. I would have to hand load the bags inside the store onto a metal cart, then push them to my truck and load them again (which sucks, I don’t care how old you are, because they weigh eighty pounds apiece). I parked by the contractor’s department where the cement is stored, figuring I would get them last, then walked the quarter-mile or so to the entrance at the other end of the store where the plumbing department is located. I grabbed a regular shopping cart on the way in because the heavy cart I would need for the cement is never available at that end of the store.
Presently I pushed toward an employee, who presumably and by the threat of termination is required to make eye contact and state the following, or a variation thereof:
“How’s it going.” Note the punctuation; a lack of any real interest had rendered it a statement rather than a question. The notion to say anything at all had no doubt been etched into his brain by hours of mind-numbing training.
“Crappy, thanks. My daughter moved out-of-state and now she’s going to get married. I’m having trouble coming to grips with the fact that she’ll never live in my house again, and worse, I might hardly ever see her.”
“Um…Uh…Can I help you with something.” Ooh! I had obviously found the employee of the month; nice transition into programmed question number two.
“Yes, you can: I need eight bags of premixed cement from the west end of your store and a bunch of pvc fittings from the east end. How’s about you get the cement, I get the pvc and we meet back at milepost two in, say, ten minutes?”
“Um…Uh…” Never mind. I’ve stumped the band. I press on, and soon hit on a bit of luck: an abandoned metal cart halfway down an aisle. I trade up and round the corner to the cry of “Hey! Who stole my (bleep)ing cart!? Son of a (bleep)!” Well. I might have helped you look, but with a mouth like that, you’re on your own.
I reach the plumbing department and grab a dozen or so pvc fittings (total weight: ten ounces or so) and a ten foot stick of half-inch pvc pipe. I place the fittings on the four hundred pound flat cart, but am forced to carry the stick of pipe (it’s too long, and would roll off the cart or stick out at odd angles and rearrange floor displays as I pushed by) like a lance with my left as I push the cart with my right. Onward, now, as I push the quarter-mile back to the masonry department for my cement.
As I head north, the front right wheel of my cart inexplicably begins to wriggle like a tribesman in a war dance; the fittings on the cart join in, and several skitter across the aisle. Before I can stop, one of them wedges under said wheel and the cart emits a sound not unlike an elephant farting (I’ve never actually heard one, but I’m assuming it would be loud and sound like a fitting under a cart wheel). A very nice looking young lady looking at washing machines turns at the sound; I offer a weak smile by way of apology, which apparently comes off as more of a perverted leer (unintentional, I assure you). She regards me as though I were a hobo with a stolen gift card. Who do you think you are, lady? First off, I’m a happily married man, I’ve no interest in you and if I did, you’d be lucky to have oh whatever. I gather my things and press on.
Dang! I need silicone. I turn left just in time, but my cart seems strangely drawn to the display of shop towels piled at the end of the aisle. As I overcorrect, I notice the woman reading the label from a bottle of Gorilla Glue (an albino gorilla dressed in an overburdened white blouse and a distended pair of matching white capris, she clearly had something in need of glueing). Too late: I stab her with the pipe in her ribcage, or more accurately, between her second and third rolls of fat; it’s as though I’ve jousted with the Michelin Man and emerged victorious. I apologize profusely, lest she pound her chest and pummel me repeatedly about the head and shoulders. She is actually very sweet in reply, and I feel bad for my appraisal of her. I offer my best advice with respect to adhesives, which she promptly ignores by choosing another brand. I hope your mug handle breaks off in your hand and your triple frappuccino spills all over your ample lap, Gorilla Woman.
Finally I complete the Bataan death march to the masonry department and push my cart alongside the bags of cement mix. They are, naturally, stacked below a low shelf so that anyone in need of them will have to lift the bags while bent over at the waist; first, though, I have to move the broken, spilling bags from the top of the pile. by the time I finish, I am stuck in this position; I resemble Quasimodo looking for dropped change for the next ten minutes.
The checkout line is long and comprised of grumpy, impatient contractors. The checkout girl is on the phone, and her customer looks at the rest of us apologetically. Something is wrong. Screw this. I’m outta here. I push the heavy cart, now six hundred forty pounds heavier, back across the front of the store to the cashier at the other end. I do this with my right hand while my left still carries the stick of pipe. After a ten minute wait, it’s my turn with the cashier, who asks me the next question from the Home Improvement Worker’s Manual.
“Did you find everything you needed?” No, I didn’t. That’s why I’m standing in front of you now.
“You know, I’m not sure. I’ve only been back and forth across this store three times. I’m sure there’s something else I need. Maybe I should pull out of this line I’ve been in for the last ten minutes and push this cart back and forth a few more times…on second thought, let’s just call it a visit and I’ll try again tomorrow.”
After some more titillating conversation and the raping of my credit card, I gratefully push out into the morning sun, only to realize that my truck is parked back by the masonry department and I still have another quarter mile to go before I get to pick up all those bags of cement again. After a choked whimper and a near silent dingdang it, I push off up the parking lot, fighting the epileptic front wheel which has me veering back and forth like a drunk driver.
I really don’t have the answer for how “Ho’s” and “Gnome Creepo” can make things work better for me; I suppose a little more patience on my part might make things easier (I noticed as I pushed by that the outside pallets of cement were now accessible). I think perhaps a few more checkout lanes would help, along with a shuttle or light rail system inside the store.