Tuesday, August 14, 2007

On Walmart

I drove through New York State yesterday with the hopes of sleeping somewhere near the Catskills so that I might get up early and go on a hike. Instead I'm at a Barnes and Noble updating the blog, but I digress.

Normally the way it works is I look on my U.S. atlas for a town in bold letters that looks like it may support a Walmart. Then I drive there and usually manage to find it right away, usually on the edge of the type of sprawl mentioned in the Hot Springs, Arkansas post. I park, hang various clothes and towels by the window to block out the light, and try to sleep.

But last night I found myself on all sides of the tracks in Binghamton, New York, looking for that familiar blue and yellow sign. I was positively all over the map, cruising through some interesting neighborhoods, eventually landing in a K-Mart parking lot where a woman kindly directed me to the Walmart eight miles out of town. I found it and was relieved. Elated even. Then just disgusted.

It's a sad day when I'm excited to be at a Walmart.

As a young 'un with liberal leanings and a fancy pants edumacation, I've almost been trained to detest Walmart. But the problem is that to many Americans, Walmart is as American as apple pie and baseball. Defame Walmart and you may as well boo Nascar, spit on the Bible and piss on Old Glory itself.

There is the usual litany of objections to Walmart's practices, such as attempting to move into towns whether the town approves or not, trying to take over the world just like McDonald's and Starbucks, and the most popular - "it's ruining the mom and pop stores of Small Town, America!"

Unfortunately, these things aren't exactly top on people's priorities. Many people don't have the luxury to stress over China's emerging economy, but instead can only worry about what is in their daily lives. Ignorance is bliss, and in our society especially, money talks. As long as Walmart continues to sell cheap plastic crap, people will buy it when "competitively priced."

The Great American Roadtrip can be an intimidating endeavor when undertaken alone, so it's odd this shift in perception that has occured. I've slept in Walmart parking lots all across America this summer, and it will never cease to be the evil face of capitalist greed in my mind, but for this trip at least, it has come to be something more. It's a symbol of safety. It's continuity through a vast landcape, it's comfort from familiarity in uncharted territory.

Funny how that works.


LukisWeb said...

WOW! You were in Binghamton! You should of spoke up, and enjoyed my comfortable Futon in Corning, NY at my air conditioned house! No reason to stay in a Walmart parking lot if you could enjoy at least a futon mat! If I knew I would of invited you earlier, well if you are nearby again and looking for a Walmart parking lot my door is always open, and we have a Walmart 5 minutes away.

On another note we helped Paulie move out of his place Sunday, he is a Corning, NY resident no more.

Hope your travels are going well, and looks like you will make it to PA this weekend! :)

Ezra said...

I'd highly recommend the book "The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--and How It's Transforming the American Economy" by Charles Fishman. It's a pretty unbiased view of what Wal-Mart has done to the world economy--both good and bad. It gave me a better understanding of Wal-Mart, and helped me realize that they actually aren't like most corporations in that hey aren't greedy for the sake of getting bigger and bigger profits--they really are greedy to lower the price as low as humanly possible. Read it, it's fascinating.

Paul E. Shively said...


Seriously, I move away from the area and you go through it! Granted I'll see you this weekend, but damn dude I would have loved to show you around Binghamton. It's quite an interesting place. It absolutely depicts the rust-belt of America. If you get this, you should stop by the Mosquito Lounge and Grill at the intersection of Glenwood Avenue and Main Street in Binghamton. I tended bar for quite a while there and they will welcome you with open arms.

Scotticus said...

Damnit I got this message too late (the voicemail message too). I'm already in PA. Well, at least we'll have this weekend.

See you guys soon.

the chef said...


Henry Rollins does a brilliant 15 minute rant on Wal-Mart on a spoken word DVD I have.

You may enjoy hearing his similar, indepth view of the mega chain.

Being in various bands and doing spoken word tours he describes it, as I think you do, as a beacon of comfort and security.

Then he tears into the customers, employees isles and isles of crap... laugh out loud funny.

Next time you are around 'ol Ocky I'll pop it in for you or let you borrow it.

Be good...


P.S... I had the daunting task of putting the staff slideshow together by myself this year.

It turned out good but it sucked organizing it without your help (ie... getting people to contribute/ your personal contribution to the stock of photos).

There's a longer story but I'll save it for the next time I see you.

Scotticus said...

I'll be home on Monday and hope to stop by Ocky soon.

The Henry Rollins bit sounds cool. I'd love to hear it, and see the slideshow as well. And the Ocky drama movies.