My Walmart Purgatory

It’s early Sunday morning, and I’m at a gas station just outside of Detroit, filling up for a long drive home. Around 9 hours ahead of me, to be exact. The last thing I need to see on my dashboard, is the “low tire pressure” light on. I inspect the back tire on the driver’s side, and my fear is fully realized. I’m totally screwed! No, really. It’s a big fat screw robbing my tire of the precious air it needs for it to get me home. As per the hotel clerk, I was left two choices; the local gas-station mechanic, which wasn’t open yet, and would undoubtedly have access to limited supplies on a lazy Sunday morning, or the super-sized Walmart, just short of a mile down the road.  I hastily made my choice, and I suppose I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.

I’ve been to plenty of Walmarts in my time, and I’ve never taken issue with them before. You go in, get what you want, and get out. When I arrived at the Automotive Service Center in the back of the store, the doors were just being unlocked. I was fourth in line, and felt pretty good about that, never realizing I’d be “fourth” to wait 6 hours (excuse my lisp), just to have a flat fixed. But, wait I did. As mentioned earlier, it was a Sunday, and Sunday means there are limited resources available, and I was already down to zero Chick-Fil-A, so sometimes you have to take what you can get. What I got was a frustrated auto-technician with four cars, and no help. Still, I took him at his word when he told me it would take about 1½ to 2 hours. Though a little frustrated, I took it in stride, and with a fair amount of optimism, I set out to explore this vast land that was Walmart. I should have known something was terribly wrong, when the first thing I spied was a “pile of poo” emoji pillow.

This wasn’t going to go well, was it?

One of the customers who entered in front of me, a mother, decided to do some shopping with her daughter. That makes perfect sense. Get some things done while you’re waiting. From underwear and top shelf liquor, to chicken soup and rifles, this was truly a wondrous place, filled with anything you could possibly want… and some things you can’t imagine wanting. Unfortunately, I didn’t need to buy anything. Considering the range of goods they sold? I could’ve gotten my food shopping done, meats and dairy included. Then while there, bought some cheap Styrofoam coolers, packed it with ice, also bought at Walmart, driven the 9 hours, and safely made it home with perfectly chilled perishables. I was game to do it. I mean, we all know how much better groceries are from Detroit. Am I right? As I text my wife to let her know my status, I asked if she wanted anything, hoping she’d say yes. She said no, but she probably thought I was joking. I guess I was, but… not completely. That was the moment I began to feel a twinge of despair. I still had, what I thought was 45 minutes to go, and boredom set in quickly. What else is there to see?

As I crisscrossed the store, I noticed the lady from the automotive section, and her friendly young daughter, making the rounds in the food aisle. I happened to be in the food section myself, simply out of curiosity. I have a teenage son. This immediately means I’m going to talk to you about food in my house that my wife and I don’t eat. This boy of mine eats a copious amount of chicken wings, and I wondered if the prices were better here than where we get them now. I was surprised to find no frozen heat and serve wings. And here I thought this was a respectable establishment. I bet the Subway’s at the front of the store, doesn’t even make their own bread! I couldn’t find any Big Red soft drinks either. How many different ways can you let me down Walmart? I’ll find out later, that it was the wrong question to ask. As I made my way out of the food section, I noticed an Indian gentleman walk past me. I immediately recognized him as number three at the service center. Sometimes, I wonder if that’s all we were to Walmart, a number.

With my time nearing the end, I made my way back to the automotive desk… slowly. I figured, in my most altruistic thought bubble, “the technician could probably use a few more minutes.” When I arrived, all the numbers were there, though out-of-order. The technician seemed to be just about done with number 1. (Does that sound funny to you?) Number 1 was a hurried older asian man. When we walked in, he made sure he was number 1 by stepping in front of the mother and her daughter, affectionately known as number 2 and 2½. That immediately made me not like him, though I’m not sure if it’s because of his lack of chivalry, or because in hindsight, I didn’t think of it first. I’m just being honest.

As the technician began taking care of number 2 (giggle), new people stepped up to the counter. There were so many, that I lost count to who was what number. I just know, after they were told, “he’s the only technician there, AND he will be taking a lunch.”, no one waited. Of course, at that point, both my curiosity, and that of number 3 had been peaked, so I asked this overworked, somewhat plodding technician about our cars. I knew the answer before he spoke the words. They seemed to drip slowly out of his mouth, like a scene in a movie. I saw every movement of his lips as they enunciated the words; “It… will… be… about… 3… hours… AND… I’m… going… to… take… a… lunch…”

Ok, then. I guess that’s that. I turned around, and made my way back into the beer-label shirt jungle that was Walmart. I spent much of this time, trying on hats that didn’t fit, shirts I wouldn’t wear, and pants that I– Actually, I just left those alone. Camo is not my color. I did buy new sunglasses. I bought them, ripped off the tags with reckless abandon, and walked right back into the store, defiantly holding my receipt high for the security cameras to see.

I was beginning to understand something deeper about Walmart. Something insidious. You tend to hear things. Specifically, things about Walmart after midnight. Some would say, never go into a 24-hour Walmart after midnight. Others, would say, it’s the best show in town.  As I waited a ridiculous amount of time to have a hole in a tire repaired, I’m convinced that those people haunting the aisles of Walmart into the wee hours of the morning, are simply waiting for their cars to be done. Would you look as good after 13 hours? Would you?

I had to get out, I couldn’t take anymore. The walls of the stadium-sized superstore were closing in on me. I had to keep it together, so I dashed out the front door, past a greeter into a beautifully sunny day, with blue skies above. No longer constrained by the walls closing around me, I walked the length of store outside. 10 minutes later, I came across an oasis. A tiny little restaurant. Finally, a place with room to breathe again. I could see all eyes on me as I walked in, and sat alone in a booth. Of course, I checked my shirt for stains, but that wasn’t it. They knew. Somehow, they could tell. I know it. It was sympathy, mixed with fear. They could see how long I was waiting for Walmart to finish with my car. Or, maybe I was just delusional after three hours. Either way, it felt good to sit down and have a meal. I felt renewed. Something about, wings, and eagle’s strength, writhing-or is it-rising up? Maybe it’s in the Bible or someplace.

With renewed vigor, I made my way back to Walmart. Also, the restaurant needed the table. Still, I was determined not to be broken. I stormed in, chest puffed out, and allowed myself to be greeted anew. Only one thing stood in my way at this point, an extended potty break. But after that… watch me soar!

Feeling lighter, and with hands washed, I was determined not to crack under the pressure. I marched back to the automotive center, ever confident of a positive outcome. I checked my zipper, and for stray toilet paper, so as not to spoil the moment. I arrived to see the rest of the remaining numbers there as well. Number 2 was smiling, but hesitantly. I wasn’t sure why. There seemed to be some clear progress. The second of our group was completed. Surely, now that the technician had taken care of number one and two (still makes me giggle), it was sure to be smooth sailing, or so I thought. I missed one little step to the finishing process earlier. 

Apparently, every time they finished a job, a supervisor, who knows nothing about cars, must make their way over, and sign off on the job as completed. That’s fine. I mean, how long could it take for a “supervisor to the automotive department”, as announced on the overhead speakers, to get there. Well, the answer is about a ½ hour. Fortunately, while he waited for the approval to come through for number 2, he used one of the many other bays to bring in number 3’s vehicle, as to make up for time. At least, that’s how I saw it go down in my mind. In reality, he continued to turn people away at the counter with his aggressive threat of lunch, and waited for the supervisor to come check off the appropriate box.

By the time the supervisor arrived, my indian friend (number 3) was complaining about the long wait, but I had a better idea. Every time another supervisor walked by, they got my best passive-aggressive huff and sigh. I knew after a few of these, someone would think, “this man is clearly upset, but refuses to berate me with an assault of angry words. Let me help him immediately.” Now, I don’t want to tell you, I told you so, but a solid hour or so later, another supervisor came by to sign off on number 3’s car, and then apologized to me quite sincerely for the delay. They were even able to bring in a second mechanic, to relieve “the angry lunch guy.” Yup, another hour, and I’d be on my way.

 Who da MAN? I think you know. (wink, wink.)

I was so grateful that I decided to replace the tire instead of fix the flat. Well, I would’ve if they didn’t tell me they couldn’t fix it. So, after waiting five hours at this point, for a $10.00 job, now I’m told I must fork over $100.00. I’m not sure if this is how it’s supposed to work? I ended up waiting at Walmart for 6 hours, that’s someone’s work-shift, and then they got paid? Towards the end of my purgatory here, I was strongly tempted to apply for a job retroactively. By the time I left this place for good, I certainly had a fair idea of where everything went.  

Finally, it was my time. My car was done, new tire in place, and the wait for a supervisor was on. My money was on Gail, who signed off on the mister snooty asian man’s car. Number 1 if you remember. But, Bobbi Sue did show up for numbers 2 and 3. Still, it was a nail-biter as a third entry entered the running. Annie got there quicker than all of them, and I think she probably would’ve been happy to see me on my way. But she really needed to fix the computer at the counter. All of a sudden. For 25 minutes. But man, when she was done, she signed off on my car, real quick-like!  

My friend Dave, who I should’ve been sharing a nice long meal with in Ohio by 11:00 AM, strongly suggested that I ask for some compensation for my troubles. I didn’t actually want to, but even after 6 hours, I hadn’t quite been frustrated beyond belief, so I figured, why the heck not? They did seem very sorry as they apologized repeatedly. With that in mind, and a line of people forming behind me to pay for other automotive paraphernalia, I asked kindly, “Ma’am, I waited an awfully long time, and you seem very sorry for my trouble, is there a way I might be financially comforted for that trouble in some small way?” By this time, I had finishing paying, and despite how long I waited, I didn’t want to be the cause of anyone else’s long wait. Still, I figured, how long could it possibly take to throw a few bucks on a gift card. 

Oh, the magic of the megastore.

The supervisor, completely amenable to my request, began to scrounge around for a gift card. Seconds turned to minutes as they moved with speed, like that of a slug crawling across a patch of ice. Soon, with an obvious desire to make me a more satisfied customer, the supervisor cried out to the sales associates around her, “Does anyone know where they keep the gift cards over here!?!” I wondered, “Was there a concerted effort to keep me from a reward for all my troubles?” I honestly couldn’t say. But, after a few more minutes of milling about behind the counter, and supervisors crying out in desperation for a blank gift card, I finally cracked. I looked back at the growing line of customers frustrated by their “longish” wait (HA!), and I just begged for my receipt. Nearly in tears, I could barely warble out, “please…just forget it. I just want to leave. Please ma’am, let… me… leave… The door is right over there, and I have my keys in my hand” She handed me my receipt, and I walked out THANKING HER for letting me leave, without a gift card. I was free, but in the end, Walmart had won. I kept it together almost till the very end, but I was weak. I walked out of the store for the final time, head hung low. But even in my sorrow, freedom never tasted so sweet. 

I tip my hat to you, Walmart of Michigan, and shake my fist too. I concede the victory to you. May our paths never cross again.

As I finally hurried along, the time was 2:00 PM. This guarantees that I am in for a long night of driving. Still, I was determined to meet up with my friend Dave, but because of my ordeal, instead of a meal, it was just a coffee. To be frank, I wouldn’t say that I stopped for coffee, as much as I drove past him on the side of the road, and tossed a styrofoam cup in his direction. No need to be too concerned though, it was an iced coffee.

Good times. Good times.

This… was my Walmart purgatory.

And now you know.

Note: The story represented here is a somewhat embellished, but totally true tale of my extended 6 hour wait in a Michigan Walmart. It was vitally important to find the humor in the moment for my own sanity. I hope you enjoyed the tale, first for humor’s sake, and then as a warning the next time you walk into a Walmart.     

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