MIKE MASTERSON: Back in the melee

Posted: August 25, 2018 at 2:51 a.m.

There I was again, clad in what should have been a Kevlar vest and camouflage big-boy pants on the front lines of the Walmart wars we who regularly charge the teeming aisles readily understand.

There’s no way a person can spend time in one of these block-and-asphalt behemoths without sharing common experiences.

I’m talking of course about the slow-ambling, aisle-blocking, increasingly motorized fellow shoppers, many of whom are clueless of others swarming around them. I equate it to being inside a massive beehive from the moment a parking spot opens and I enter while several others often are exiting the same door. Signs mean nothing to legions of veteran Wallyworld warriors.

I’d girded my loins and adjusted my attitude in preparation for my latest foray so nothing that happened could raise my blood pressure. Well, not more than 10 or 20 points, anyway.

Anyone who overcomes their naturally inspired frustrations caused by the experience is most assuredly a candidate for lay ministry, perhaps even a monastery.

It make no difference which store or supercenter I visit, the sights and stories remain familiar. The same threats to patience and civility exist from coast to coast and beyond. Even the time of day doesn’t seem to make matter much. Although, in fairness, I’ve yet to attempt a 3 a.m. visit.

I’m not telling my fellow Walmartian brothers and sisters anything they haven’t experienced and I haven’t written about before, usually at least annually.

Some Internet wag recently made a video that divides store shoppers into categories. Besides being humorous, his analysis is dead-on, especially when it comes to us Walmart patrons.

First he celebrates the person (mostly men) who think they don’t need a cart or basket in such places. They are the ones with arms full and trying their best to stretch for that final item to somehow balance gingerly atop their collection. Very often, these “buggyless buyers” are seen dropping one or more items they can’t possibly stoop to retrieve without dropping the whole shebang into the aisle. In the interest of transparency, this person all too often would be me.

Next he cites “the ghost.” This is the partially filled basket left, usually near or at the center of an aisle, its shopper missing in action. Usually, those who come face-to-face with this phenomenon must shove the phantom basket aside to get past. As with other categories, this is a symptom of a self-absorbed failing to realize others are thick in the battle swirling around them.

Third is the “snacker.” The temptation for these folk, especially hungry ones, is too great to overcome, so they wind up tearing into a bag of chips or box of cookies or whatever is most convenient to consume immediately. The rationale is not altogether irrational since at some point in the immediate future they realize they will purchase it. To them, convenience of the moment supersedes any pesky traditional expectation of civility.

“The proxy,” he explains, is the husband or family member who stands in front of a shelf, obliviously blocking access for others, while he (usually) determines over a cellphone which item and brand and size he is supposed to get and where in the store it’s located. Yes, that too, on occasion, has been me.

Then we have anxieties triggered by the “corner cutters,” who come whipping their carts or scooters around the sharp edges of relatively narrow crowded middle aisles into the main traffic flow without stopping to see who is coming. I’ve encountered several of these, even collided with a couple. Now I just shrug, smile and tell them: “Hey, it’s Walmart.” They always smile back knowingly.

Next, he notes “the inspector” spends considerable time yet again blocking potential access for others, often in front of the produce, toilet tissue and other aisles as he or she squeezes, smells and otherwise examines the merchandise in search of the perfect purchase. This can prove time-consuming since, as we realize, perfection is never attained.

“The reunioners” huddle in groups throughout the stores. They block aisles for everyone else while they catch up on the latest gossip and chit-chat. The topics are unimportant, only that they visit, laugh and ignore everyone else trying to somehow get past. Yes, I’ve been guilty of reunioning in the canned mackerel and condiment aisles. And by golly, I’m not proud of it.

To these I’d add the store’s own aisle-blockers who regularly take up half of already jam-packed aisles to methodically unload their merchandise carts into the shelves during daytime shopping hours. This invariably occurs as paying customers are trying in vain to get to the very items being blocked by the employee.

In the checkout lane, he says, we’re likely to meet “the couponers” who hold up the process while itemizing every 50-cent savings as their line grows longer.

There also are “the credit card neophytes” who repeatedly attempt to pay their bill without success until a manager finally shows up to re-educate them on the chip aspect, or how to slide it correctly, or do whatever managers do to break the logjam. I’ve seen some of the most frustrated and impatient expressions in these lines — yes, including my own.

Finally, he cites the “check-writer” who has to rummage for identification from some forgotten place in a wallet or purse then is uncertain of that day’s date. Only those in a hurry wind up stranded in these checkout lanes, by the way.

Yes, my friends, the shopping experience in modern America, not only in Walmart, can be both a harrowing and frustrating adventure filled with memories you’d really rather forget. Any wonder online shopping is booming?

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.