STEFAN KELLER — Staff Writer
Roads are generally empty at 9:45 at night, especially in a town of 5,000. Not a single car passed us on our way out of town. As we drove into the next town over we joined a small line of cars heading in the same direction and as it turned out, to the same place: Walmart of Naugatuck.
As we neared the intersection, adorned with its own stoplight (the fact that one store can generate enough traffic to have the need for a stoplight should probably amaze us far more than it actually does), we saw the line of cars winding its way up the driveway to the already over-crowded parking lot.
It was obvious we would never find a parking space, so we did what any other shopper looking for a good deal would do—we parked at the church next door. We were not the first to park there, and my brother even noted more cars filled the parking lot than would on a Sunday for the 8 a.m. service. A small path through the woods led to the parking lot, carved years ago by impatient shoppers before us. When we emerged from the woods, the calmness was replaced by chaos. Police officers shouted at cars parking illegally while cars continued to do so anyway.
People walked in from all directions, nearly getting run over by impatient motorists.
As we approached the store, an army of neon-vested workers greeted us while simultaneously aiding
police in parking lot control. Upon entering the store we were met with another barrage of workers
and hired security officers to assist with crowd control. Sales started at 10 p.m. so items were on shrink-wrapped pallets throughout the store, with signs kindly asking shoppers to wait until 10 p.m. to open. Of course, as the saying goes, “rules were meant to be broken,” although the circumstances of the rule-breaking were actually quite amusing.
A woman sitting on the floor with a cart next to her had cut a small hole in the plastic wrap and was proceeding to fill her cart with about 25 pairs of pajama
pants. Yes, pajama pants. I could practically see the family planning this out days before like a general plan for guerilla warfare. The head shopper
of the family would tell the woman, “All right Cindy, it is your job this year to buy everyone in the family pajama pants, and I will get the matching slippers.” I could then see the family opening presents
on Christmas Day. “Oh, that package is from cousin Cindy. If you get a green pair with Ninja Turtles on them I want to trade.” Now, I am not telling this story to bash the woman specifically but to comment on the culture that supports this.
When you open your fuzzy pair of pajama pants, what do you think? Considering the context I just described and at risk of being a little harsh, I could describe it as a feeble attempt to say I care about you through the exchange of a generic gift that took less than a second to pick out, based on the colors and styles that could be reached through a small hole in the shrink-wrapped display at a discount store. So choice, time and money were all limited at the benefit of the frantic shopper. Like I said, a little harsh, but there is still a small amount of undeniable truth in that statement.
Continuing with the story: at 10 p.m., the noise in the store rose to a deafening level as people tore plastic wrap off displays and started hoarding as many items as they could into their carts. Pushing and shoving became acceptable as items disappeared far faster than it likely took to set them up. My brother and I stood back and watched, valuing our sanity more than a cheap set of Tupperware containers (one of the most popular items).
When we finally reached the checkout counter, a woman in front of us was trying to pay for everything she had bought. Out of respect I will not mention the amount, but let’s just say she had to put half of it back because her credit card would not accept such a large transaction. When we left we saw that parking had extended to closed stores across the street from Walmart as well.
So, what is your reaction to all this? Likely many of you shared the same experience in the hunt for holiday bargains. Many of you also likely know that this was also tame compared to the pepper-spray incidents and bar-like brawls that captured national attention. However, we must then ask ourselves where all of this leaves us as a culture. We must ask ourselves where the value of a good bargain stands in comparison to our common courtesy and how a cheap gift represents our love for those we care about.
I say all this as a critique but as well as a participant.
I also bought something that night—the full DVD release of Planet Earth for only $10 plus tax. A bargain is a bargain, and how could I pass up the opportunity to see animals I would never see in my lifetime and gain a fuller appreciation of the Earth, all from the comfort of my own living room? I am as much a part of this consumer culture as you are—a consumer culture that has as much control over us as we have over it.