Friday, June 02, 2006

Five Places to Forever Avoid

If they were handing out two hundred dollars at the gates of hell, I still wouldn’t want to go there, as much as I enjoy the feel of fresh Franklins, so when I hear about money-saving offers at certain conglomo stores, it doesn’t make it any easier for me to cross the threshold and succumb to potential evils that lay within. Hey, I just recently read a book about the Spanish Influenza, but I’m not about to go out and look for it. Take for example, any large retail store such as Cost-Co and Sam’s Club on any given Sunday afternoon, where it’s all elbows and idiots, and you’ve got all the fixings for a ruined day. Of course, if you hate the general public to begin with, this will only further congeal your detestation of what you think society has boiled down to, the lowest common denominator bent on the concept of “me first because I have grown up with the idealized self aggrandizement that I have earned it by merely existing.” Perhaps it’s just me. Maybe I’m too sensitive to the invasion of my personal space. Maybe I am the only person in this overly crowded world who enjoys shopping without that tense feeling that I’m battling every other person in the aisle around me, that they’re breathing up all of the air, that they lack courtesy… and if someone walks in front of me while I’m looking at something on the shelf without saying “excuse me,” I will run amuck.

Over the course of my life, I’ve amassed a list of places I will, by choice, never to go again, under any circumstances. Today, I visited one of them and it solidified my feelings about modern retailism, the culture of capitalism and the state of common ethics among my fellow mankind. Some things are less important than others; for example, I have no further interest in going back to Mexico, at least the parts you can drive to from California, which usually means the vile, sleazy side of the country, Tijuana and Rosarito, where under-age neophytes swill beer, crooked cops on the scope for an easy scam and on every corner there’s some kind of show that involves a donkey. I just don’t need that in my life: I have Sam Adams in the fridge, I’ve paid all of my tickets and if I want to see a show with a donkey, I’ll rent "Shrek." I never want to set a single foot into South Central Los Angeles after my odd run-in with the police there in 1990…plus, I don’t think I’m welcome there (at least according to the little old lady who order the cops off of her street. “We didn’t call you to come down here and you have no reason to be here.” I won’t go to an AMC theater, buy a truck from Sunrise Ford and/or the Dodge dealer in my city, or eat a hamburger at Carl’s Jr.

There are as many reasons why I won’t offer patronage to a place as there are places on my list. Here are a few of the biggies:

1. Wal-Mart: From the half-hearted octogenarian greeting at the door to the gum-popping lazy-eyed high-school dropout at the check-out stand, Wal-Mart lacks the fundamental ability to make me feel welcomed, appreciated, and satisfied as a customer. Never was I asked to be helped, never was help given when I asked. The narrow aisle are dirty, stuff strewn everywhere and they carry the worst products on the market. Let’s not mention the incompetence that runs rampant on all levels. Case in point: all I wanted was a key made, and the guy behind the key counter couldn’t figure out the “strange” key I wanted duplicated, as he has apparently never seen a key to a locker before. He made my key from his best guess from a wall full of blanks and the duplication was an easy half-inch longer than the original. When I asked if it would work, without hesitation, he replied, “No, but you can buy it anyway if you want.” Pure genius.

2. McDonald’s: Plain and simple, I want to live, and I’d like to do it with a mild toe-hold on the platform of good health and good food. I don’t always do that because I make poor food choices, but when I do, at least I’m not giving money to a soulless company bent on world domination (I kid you not). Plus, when I do die, I don’t want to go to hell (and collect $200), and giving patronage to McDonald’s is like the grease under by sled. McDonald’s is immoral, unethical, and anti-environmental. They sell their ideals to impoverished countries who have little control over what a quality diet means, they push that “the American Way,” is synonymous to the golden arches, and they pass along fast food culture until it causes an addiction…in impressionable children… “so they crave it fort-nightly…” All of the characters McDonald's employed were specifically designed to entice children to eat there,when it is the worst food possible for a growing child. As Kara mentioned in her blog yesterday, read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and watch Morgan Spurlock’s documentary “Super-Size Me.” These two experiences will cure you of eating not only McDonalds but any of the chain fast-food restaurants, and for the past few years, since reading the book and watching the documentary, I had one Big Mac last year, compared to having two twice a week, which was common for me in my misguided youth. For these reasons, I don’t eat McDonald’s, Burger King, Del Taco, KFC, Carls Jr. (they’re so offensive I have to mention it twice), Jack-in-the-Box, and Wendy’s. Where do I eat (but shouldn’t)? Subway (they’re evil, but at least its somewhat healthy), In-N-Out (look for the bible quote on the bottom of the cups) and Taco Bell (no cows were mistreated in the creation of a bean burrito).

3. K-Mart, Ross, Mervyns, and any no-name clothing store: I know we’re in a changing world, and I understand that the demographics of this part of the country are constantly changing, but when I walk into a K-Mart or a Ross and I’m the only person who is willing to speak English, including the recorded advertisements on the PA system, then I need to find a new place to shop… even though the last time I was in a K-Mart was years ago (and I vowed never to return). I took Spanish in high school, and I openly embrace the cultures of other countries…when I’m in other countries, but I resent it thrust upon me when I’m in my own country. If that is the desired deomgraphics of Ross and Mervyns, I respect that wholeheartedly, but there are many people in this country and many languages. If you're going to offer one alternative, you should offer them all. I should start speaking Innuit and wonder why I don't understand where the bathroom is. K-Mart seems to be a haven for this mentality, plus, the aisles are dirty, the shelves poorly stocked and organized and I feel like I need a shower when I’m allowed to escape.

4. My local HMO: Sometimes, when I’m feeling completely healthy and I want a few days off of work (I know, I work for myself; don’t mess up my point), I’ll stop by my local urgent care center, sit next to some wheezing old woman and her 14 rambunctious children, all of whom are carrying some random virus, and take a deep, lung-filling breath. I sit back and wait for the little buggies to invade my system, wrecking havoc with my white-blood cells and laying me up for a few days’ of rest. Urgent Care, when you don’t have an appointment so you have to wait among the suddenly and violently ill, is the worst place for a mysophob such as myself to hang out. I’d rather suffer a slow painful death at home than subject myself to a battery of new illnesses, and I’ll only go there if I can’t control the bleeding myself or if it would look funny if I set the break myself.

5. A Mormon church on Sunday morning: When I was about 10 years old, a friend asked me to go with him to his church, and from that day forward, I understood what a gazelle feels like when on the horizon around him he sees nothing but lions licking their lips. I was fresh meat, and all around me I heard the scraping of knives on the sharpening block. In front of everyone, I had to stand up, because I was a non-initiated visitor from the paganisms of every other religion, and explain why I wanted to visit the church for their service that day. I never felt more uncomfortable in front of a group of people than I did that day… and I once told a joke about screen doors on a submarine while I was addressing the Polish Navy. Ahem.

Does this list make me an elitist, a stuck-up patrician who thinks he’s better than everyone else, at least better than the people that habitually visit the five places mentioned above? No, I’m sure I’m completely normal in my preferences, but does it make me a cautious consumer who values the money (and soul) I worked so hard to get (well, sometimes I don’t work so hard). Of course it does, and who among us isn’t like that? Who wants to be treated poorly, get bad service, shoddy products or ineffective solutions to our daily problems. I'm not going to give my money to these billion-dollar companies just because they offer low prices. I'd rather pay more at other stores and be treated with respect and appreciation. At McDonald's, I'm just a number, at K-Mart, I'm just one more person in line before you can go on your break, and at the HMO, I'm only a hypochondriac who needs an expensive placebo.

One further note: I get frosted by people who use the phrase “keeping it real,” to signify their lack of quality, attention to class and dignity. You’re not keeping it real; you’re not keeping anything real… you’re a lazy, indolent sloth who’d rather not do his job and justify this lethargy by sluing trite clichés in lieu of the truth: You don’t know how to make a duplicate of a key, face it. I have to go to Home Depot, where a retired senior citizen can use the same exact same machine to produce the desired results from the exact same key blank.

It is all about customer service, where the customer is a valued member of the retail process. Lately, I haven't been feeling that; I've been feeling quite expendable, especially since you can buy anything you want without even leaving your house (or talking to a single person), but what's worse is when you and the sales rep at the check-out counter don't even exchange a single word during the whole process. And if you use a credit card, there's no interaction at all. At Target, on a few occassions, I'll make note of what they say to me, and it is these two things only: "Would you like to save 10 percent by opening a Target charge card?" and the cursory "Have a good day." Taking it to the next level is the self check out counters at Home Depot and Albertson's, where you don't even need to say anything to anyone... pick it off of the shelf, scan it, bag it, pay for it and you're gone. Convenient? Sure, if the end result is to avoid human contact the rest of your life.

If this is the way the world is headed, then my list of places I don’t plan to ever visit will only get longer and longer. Desea el servicio de cliente vivo!

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