Last year, when I saw Wal-Mart was building a "neighborhood market" on Collins Street in north Arlington, I thought it was a stupid idea.
"There's already a Wal-Mart, like, ten blocks away," I muttered under my breath.
But then I started thinking about how every time I go into that Wal-Mart, the one by the Ballpark, it looks like it's one step away from devolving into complete chaos. Not a big step, either, like the assassination of an archduke; a small step like the assassination of a pig in the Pacific Northwest.
I suddenly found myself looking forward to a new, smaller Wal-Mart: a Wal-Mart where there weren't UTA students hollering across the paper towel aisle as they compare brands. A Wal-Mart where if you walked in around 1 am on a Monday morning, there wouldn't be a bunch of parents shopping with young children.
Still, I was skeptical. In the past ten years, I've lived in seven cities and each Wal-Mart, even the one in Portland, Oregon, where you might think they'd only sell chicken from a co-op near Mount Hood and the only shoes you can buy are made of hemp, attracted a clientele that wasn't exactly a responsible steward of the public space.
One time when I lived in Houston, I was standing in line behind a particularly interesting family. It was, late enough that the kids probably shouldn't have been out shopping. There was a young girl asleep in the cart, a young boy who was standing in the cart, a woman of somewhat generous proportions and a gentleman, who I believe was the father but who did not exhibit any characteristics that led me to believe he was the pants-wearer of the household.
The mother, apparently upset that the boy kept standing up, continuously pushed him down, explaining to him that he was "nothing but a [colorful metaphor]."
At one point, she looked at me and rolled her eyes, like "Can you believe this kid? What is it with kids today, standing up when you take them to Wal-Mart at 1 am like they own the place?!"
"I don't think he knows what that means," I suggested.
"He's gonna find out," she replied.
"I'm sure of it," I said. "You seem to have a real handle on the situation."
She rolled her eyes again, this time in the direction of Dad, who immediately looked straight down. She did, I would point out, stop using the colorful metaphor, at least until she got through the line.
When I got to the check-out stand, the cashier was so impressed that when she couldn't get my cinnamon rolls to scan, she comped them. That's the kind of fortune one can expect when you walk into a Wal-Mart and confidently make eye contact with people, or at least wear a shirt. I was their king!
So into the new Wal-Mart I ventured. So thoroughly was I shocked at what I found inside: it was clean and quiet. All of the other shoppers were also wearing shirts.
At one point, a guy who worked there came up to me and asked if I was finding everything I needed.
"We just opened, so a lot of people are still feeling their way around," he explained.
I asked him where the cheese was, not the fancy cheese we were standing in front of, but the regular kind that comes in slices.
"These are the store brands," he said knowledgeably. "The cheese you're looking for is right over here."
What an experience! If not for the sign out front, you'd have thought we were in one of those gourmet cheese shops you hear about on Rodeo Drive!