In case you haven't heard the collective war cries rising up from the citizens of Boulder, Colorado, they are about to get their first Walmart -- one of the new "neighborhood market" concepts.
Walmart pisses off liberals everywhere, and it's not the big-box chain with the best ethics record -- but people shop there because the products are cheap, and many of the stores are convenient one-stop spots where you can buy food, clothing, shelter and get your tires rotated. I've shopped at Wally's, motivated by poverty-stricken desperation, and I don't mind buying sundries there -- but purchasing edibles at Walmart is a filthy, humiliating, borderline terrifying experience that I hope never to repeat.
Here are five reasons to bag buying groceries at Walmart. At least Whole Foods gives you a kiss and a reach-around before screwing your wallet.
5. The Soviet Russian produce. I swear that buying fruits and vegetables at Walmart reminds me of those old film reels showing people trying to buy food in Soviet Russia. Walmart's dirty, half-empty produce bins are not a comforting sight, and the sight of shrunken oranges, limp celery, bags of salad mix with slimy brown leaves smearing up the inside of the bags, and gaping shelf-holes where the bok choy should be is even less appealing.
The sparse, ratty selection is only trumped by the often-steep prices of "exotics" -- which to Walmart apparently means collard greens and yellow apples. And for the love of russet potatoes, don't ever, ever ask any employees in the produce section if they have anything that isn't out on display, because you will waste twenty minutes of your life waiting for them to turn off their iPods, shift their eyes around to look at anything but you, and tell you four different times in four different ways that what you see is what you get.
4. Not the greatest product selection. I was once searching the aisles in the grocery section of a Walmart, and I couldn't locate vegetable broth in any form of cubes, paste or powder. After asking two employees who both told me I "wasn't their area," I lucked out and stumbled upon an employee who actually had a working knowledge of the dry goods section, and when I asked about the elusive product, she said something like, "You gotta go somewhere else for that specialty stuff -- we just have normal stuff here."
Okay, so I then had to add vegetable bouillon to my mental Rolodex of specialty products, and thank her without appearing to be snotty. Sure, vegetable extract *could be* considered fancy sh*t, but it really isn't -- and it's not any more or less sophisticated than chicken or beef. I don't expect Walmart to carry some of the things I use -- like Indian hing powder, dried organic kiwi fruit slices or squid ink pasta -- but I think that American palates reflect at least a perfunctory taste for seasonings other than ketchup and Italian dressing in a bottle.
3. The meat and seafood are being held on life support. When I cruise past the seafood "department" at Walmart, I feel guilt and shame when I see the two or three fishes lying in cryostasis with their dry, scaly skins and cartoonish black eye sockets. I hope they had good lives, because their ignominious, funereal appearances are bringing no joy to human customers. And strolling through the meat section is just as depressing, since the rows of frozen chicken parts have price tags on them that seem unnaturally low, and the bins of bleedy beef roasts reflect prices that seem unusually high.
And every time I've broken my own rules about buying ground beef at Wally's, I get a visual reminder of why I made this rule in the first place -- because it might be pink on the outside, but it sure ain't on the inside. The meat and seafood at Walmart might be legally dead on arrival, but the stuff looks like zombie-fied carcasses being kept marginally edible by some evil sorcery, with the spell being broken once you try to cook it.
2. You never know if you're gonna end up on that "People of Walmart" website. We've all heard about the website that shows photos of folks shopping at Walmart, all snapped camera-phone wielding dicks who seem to have an unusual knack for catching people picking their noses, digging up in their crotches, wearing stained Looney Tunes T-shirts and holey, ass-crack revealing sweat pants.
I'm always in abject fear of being caught in a random photo while shopping at Walmart, even if I'm not dressed inappropriately for the venue or touching any part of my genitals.
Seriously -- it's embarrassing enough to be caught shopping at Wally's without the added paranoia of having to wear sunglasses and a hoodie, and to be on the lookout for self-appointed TMZ wannabes jumping out at me from behind breakfast cereal displays. And although Walmart is not exactly the runway at Dolce & Gabbana, I don't know anyone who actually gets dressed up to shop there, and I don't want my jammie-jams-sporting ass being used to publically humiliate me. If I wanted that kind of exposure, I'd get drunk on Ultimate Long Islands at TGI Friday's and take off my shirt again.
1. The customer service at Walmart makes me want to take up a life of crime.
The greeters greet when they feel like it; the cashiers are haggard, have bloodshot eyes and exhibit textbook signs of bi-polar disorder; the customer-service employees are screeching harpies whose parents never loved them; the stockers are so stoned that Snoop Dogg looks at 'em and says "Dayum..." and if there are actual managers that work at Walmart, I've never seen one.
Friendly, competent, customer-service oriented Walmart employees are an urban myth up there with unicorns, magical elves and low-cost loft rentals downtown. I admit I can be a crusty, jaded misanthrope when it comes to large crowds of strange people, but Walmart employees make me look like Miley Cyrus. They look miserable and seem to really resent people shopping in the store at that pays them.
It makes me think of all the things I would do to avoid the crushing fate of ending up where they are. I'd rob banks wearing a Halloween mask, sell plasma until I am so dehydrated I can't urinate, even slap on some fishnets and sell my kibbles & bits to avoid working at Walmart.
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But while I can bitch about the customer service being hellishly bad, I actually feel sorry for the folks who work at Walmart. It might have popular merchandise and groceries for low-low prices, but it also has low-low pay and even lower morale. While other chains like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Sprouts and even King Soopers have higher prices, at least their workers are friendly and engaged -- and I'm willing to pay a little more for that.