Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Walking Away - Chapter 8: Saying Goodbye

Jack finished the last bite of cheeseburger and washed it down with the last swallow of Pepsi. This was going to be his last supper, not cooked over a campfire anyway, in awhile and he had wanted a big old greasy cheeseburger and fries. He had found a small café on the north side of Harrison, Arkansas that looked like a good candidate and had stopped. Now that he was finished, he was going to get the last supplies before he headed up into the mountain on the south side of town and drove the last forty miles to where he was going to leave his car and pack his gear into the wilderness.

It was eight in the evening so there wasn’t going to be much open now besides Wal-Mart and the local grocery store, but he figured they would do. He stocked up on flour, sugar and other non-perishable foods first and drove down the roads towards Wal-Mart. It really chapped him that he was going to have to spend money at Wal-Mart whom he hated with a passion but he really didn’t have a choice. Where else was he going to get hunting supplies at this time of night?

Wal-Mart was pure evil in Jack’s opinion and the reason society seemed to be decaying at the seams. When they came into a town, or rather right on the outskirts, they would throw up a huge building with a concrete sea of a parking lot and open their doors twenty-four seven. The local mom and pops would compete for a while but they all eventually met their demise and moved on to a small town or just gave up completely. Meanwhile, other businesses that weren’t in direct competition with Wal-Mart such as your strip malls, fast food joints, movie theaters, banks, etc would move in the vicinity to capitalize on the increase of traffic and people. Behind them on the main streets of these towns, quality businesses were replaced with pawnshops and adult bookstores as the buildings slowly decayed and eventually became abandoned, gang hangouts or crack houses. What was more disturbing to Jack was the cycle was beginning all over again with the Super Wal-Marts. Because the land around them on what had been the outskirts of town had been built up and Wal-Mart’ized over the years, they have to build the bigger stores on land further out of town and once again, the same businesses, like lemmings, followed shortly after.

Instead of the days of his youth when you could go buy a pound of nails or some laundry detergent and talk to the cashier for five minutes about the upcoming basketball game, you got some local pimply teenager working for minimum wage who was more interested in the next kegger than giving you service with a smile. At the bigger Super Wal-Marts, even the pimply teenagers were being phased out over self checkout machines which didn’t give you any chance to talk to someone and made you bag your own merchandise. Instead of running into a neighbor at your neighborhood store, you milled around among the hordes of people all clustered at Wal-Mart with more chance of winning the lottery than meeting someone you know. If he were a terrorist, Jack thought he could do more damage bombing a Super Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon than trying to strike heavily guarded government buildings. As he walked in through the doors and accepted a cart pushed in his general direction by a disgruntled looking old man who had probably squandered his retirement money at the casino, Jack hoped that there weren’t any terrorists thinking the same thoughts at this Wal-Mart for the next hour or so.

An hour later, Jack stuffed the last of his purchases into his already overloaded car, and shoved the cart back towards the general vicinity of the cart coral. He walked back to his car, backed up and started driving across the acres of concrete towards the outlet road that would lead him back to the highway but stopped and pulled into a parking spot instead. Had it been a Saturday afternoon, he probably wouldn’t have found a space that close but as it was, there wasn’t a car within thirty slots of him. Jack got out and looked back at the entrance of Wal-Mart. He remembered a line from an old movie with Harrison Ford called Mosquito Coast, modified it to suit the situation and yelled as loud as he could, “GOODBYE WAL-MART, AND HAVE A NICE DAY!”

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