THE PARKING LOT
Martin Luther King day is one of several holidays when you can count on the Wal-Mart parking lot being full. I'm sure it's that way at all Wal-Mart parking lots. Just last week my friend Harvey told me that 100 million people shop at Wal-Mart each week. Harvey doesn't shop there, but I have no reason to doubt him. After all, he owns their stock.
100 million people sounded like a lot of Wal-Mart shoppers until I did a little research. Wal-Mart has over 4300 stores around the world. That means that, on average, 23,255 people shop at any given store each week, or 3,322 people per day. Many of their stores are open 24 hours a day, which puts the average at about 138 shoppers per hour per store. Not too shabby. I should look into buying their stock.
Their parking lot tells a different story at least on Martin Luther King Day. There were well over 138 cars there and, at an average of two shoppers per car, Wal-Mart was booming. I had just arrived from McDonalds where I purchased a hamburger and a small coke. I parked fairly far out in the Wal-Mart parking lot, where I sat in my truck eating my hamburger and observing parking lot life. I was not disappointed.
It was 30 degrees and windy, with gusts up to 25 mph, so I left my truck running with the heater blowing as I ate my hamburger. Willie Nelson was singing, "If you got the money, honey, I've got the time." Willie, Wal-Mart, and MacDonald's hamburgers seem like the perfect combination for a single guy out for a fun afternoon with his dog and diesel truck.
Watching people cruising for parking spaces at Wal-Mart is a lot like watching guys cruise for women in bubba bars. They spend way too much time looking for the best ones when they could have gotten a less attractive one right away. Hey guys, you're not looking for wives at bars, and you are not looking to buy a parking spot at Wal-Mart, so quit acting like connoisseurs.
Nevertheless, people will spend five minutes or more searching for a spot close to a store entrance in order to avoid a 30 second walk from available spots further away. I think it has something to do with thinking small. If we can find a really good parking spot, it becomes one of those small triumphs in life that make us feel better about our larger failures.
Shortly after parking, I watched a runaway shopping cart blow into the side of a white SUV. I'm sure it dented the vehicle because it was blowing at the speed of a fast trot, and I could hear the impact over the noise of my diesel truck engine and Willie. During the 15 minutes that I watched, there was at least one people-less cart in motion at all times.
Seagulls also populated the parking lot. They were gliding, swooping and waddling to and fro as if imitating some of the shoppers. It seems like it was not so many years ago that I had to drive an hour east to the Atlantic shore to watch the seagulls. Now they come to Wal-Mart. I'm not sure why.
A second cart blew out in front of a car that was driving past and bounced off of its front bumper. Just as it seemed like the carts were starting to outnumber the cars, a couple of employees came out and began their ritual of stacking carts until the line was so long that only the most macho of employees would be able to push it. A lady sat in her car, turn signal on, in front of some prime parking real estate that was occupied by a shopping cart. She waited approximately four minutes for the employees who were gathering carts to work their way down to clear her spot.
Surely all of these cars did not belong to Wal-Mart shoppers. After all, it was a strip mall where Wal-Mart was on one end. Proceeding down the strip from Wal-Mart was a 1-hour Photo, Value Gifts, Game Stop, Dots, Payless Shoe Source, Dante Pizza & Pasta House, a U.S. Post office, the China Chef and Greenwood Cleaners. But none of these places seemed to be doing any business.
An SUV drove past me with a large Tweetie Bird on the back. Then another with a Rebel Flag vanity plate on the front which seemed out of place with its Pennsylvania license plate in back. I noted only one "God Bless America" sticker and no American flags a significant decrease from only a year earlier when the World Trade Center disaster created a major boom for people selling such things. Perhaps life is getting back to normal again and patriotism was, as I suspected, only a disaster-induced fad that began a sharp decline at tax time.
A small girl ran out into the street in front of Wal-Mart with her panicked mom in hot pursuit. A teenage girl came out carrying a large lampshade a bad idea in windy conditions, but she struggled with it and made it to her car without incident. And as I drove out of the lot and into a beautiful sunset another cart blew past me and some seagulls stood like beggars, sad to see me pass by without any handouts. Next time, I'll buy two hamburgers.