Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Living and Dying at the Sam's Club

© Bruce Gaughran - 2010

Rev. 08/2011

It was a hot and humid Saturday morning and I was on my way to the Sam’s Club.  This was my first trip to the club even though Jenny, my wife, shops there at least once a month.  She had encouraged me to go shopping with her several times before, but I always found some excuse for bowing out.  Unfortunately, Jenny was down with the flu and I promised to help with some of the chores including grocery shopping.
I must admit I have always felt that having to buy a membership to a warehouse seems a little bizarre.  I cannot see any benefit in buying merchandise for a slightly reduced price if you had to pay some ridiculous price to join the club.  Jenny, on the other hand, can justify the membership fee for the discounts. 
I still remember her trip to the club a couple of months ago to have the tires rotated on the van.  Since she bought the tires at Sam’s Club, she was entitled to free rotations for the life of the tires.  She said she had two hours to kill while waiting for the service, so she decided to go shopping.  When she returned home, she had a new coat, two pair of slacks, dress boots, and a sweater.   The free tire rotation cost $140.  And you wonder why I am skeptical.
As I pulled into the parking lot, my first impression of Sam’s Club was not positive.  I would guess there was at least ten acres of parking with eighty percent of the lot full of cars, trucks, and motor homes.  “What did I get myself into,” I muttered. 
I slowly maneuvered my way through dozens of people, shopping carts, and vehicles to the front of the store where my wife said the handicap parking would be.  She was right; there were at least forty or fifty stalls for those of us who need special parking arrangements.  Remarkably, there was not one stall available.  My blood pressure began to rise as I slowly drove down one row after another looking for a handicap stall or for a vehicle that did not have the proper license plate or handicap permit.  As I sat in the middle of a row trying to determine my next course of action, the car behind me began to honk.  I rolled down my window and flipped the car, not the driver, the international one-finger salute as I gunned the engine and took off down the row. 
By now I had wasted ten minutes driving around looking for a free space near the entrance.  Frustrated, I drove out to the “back 40” and parked so no one could block my van’s side door.  I needed room for my wheelchair ramp.  I locked the door and navigated my way towards the store. 
My wheelchair’s tires do not do well in hot parking lots where people have spit out their gum.  If there is any melted gum or suckers in the parking lot, my chair will find it.  This trip was no exception.  I arrived at the entrance and noticed that my left tire had pink stringy-like stuff circling the entire wheel.  I cursed because it would take me an hour to clean up that crap before I could go in the house.
My curse drew the attention of the family behind me.  The mother gave me one of those looks as she hurried her children by.  The club’s greeter welcomed me with a smile.  When she asked to see my membership card I panicked for a moment.  Did I bring Jenny’s card or was it still on the kitchen table?  I began a pat down of my clothing and fortunately found it in my right shirt pocket with Jenny’s shopping list. 
As I entered the club, Jenny’s description of what to expect was right on.  It was one large, over-crowded warehouse with aisles of product stacked from floor to ceiling.  When I looked at the height of the three-tiered shelving, I knew there was no way I could reach one-third of the items.  Yet, knowing I had conquered worse obstacles before, I charged ahead into the bowels of the warehouse. 
I was a little intimidated by the sheer size of the place.  I looked for some kind of directory to show me where I needed to go, but could not find one.  I then spotted the Help Desk sign on the other side of the warehouse and immediately knew where I needed to go.  Unfortunately, there was a long line.  A nice young woman told me I needed to take a number from the machine in the front.  I pulled ticket number 79 and went to the back of the line.  A couple of minutes later the loud speaker announced they were ready to help number 52.  Whoa!  I decided I didn’t need help after all.  It was time to blaze my own trail.
I found a shopping cart and immediately learned that it took considerable skill to push a cart when using a joystick to maneuver the wheelchair.  Unfortunately, I did not possess these skills.  After almost wiping out two children and smashing into an island of summer lawn furniture, I decided I needed to focus more on steering the cart.  Being a quick study, however, I soon learned that if I placed my feet on the back of the cart, I did not have to push with the hand.  Problem solved.
As I rode down the first aisle into the electronics section, I was amazed at all the different products that were available.  You could buy almost anything here.  But, finding someone that could answer your questions about a product was almost impossible.  I spent far too much time playing with the keyboards of the PCs, the joysticks of the video games, and remotes of the TVs.  I knew I had to bring our son, Duane, here.  We would have a ball checking everything out.  After an hour in this section, I knew I had better get a move on it.  There was a Braves game on TV this afternoon. 
I turned left out of the electronics section and almost ran into a table full of food.  When I saw the plate of meatballs with toothpicks stuck in them, my stomach growled.  Wow, it was already lunchtime and I had not found one item on Jenny’s list.  Well, there is always time for free samples.  I stuffed two meatballs in my mouth and took one more for the long trip down the next aisle.  Feeling slightly guilty for taking three, I threw a box of frozen meatballs in the cart.  Since everything is discounted, I reasoned it must be a good buy.
I looked down the center section and noticed there were several other tables of samples.  If any of those samples were as good as the meatballs, I would be a fool to pass them up.  I went from one table to the next, “sampling” the products.  By the time I had tried everything at least twice, I was now taking home four 48-ounce cartons of orange juice, one five pound fillet of salmon, one box of frozen pizza with six large pepperoni pizzas inside, and two 64-count boxes of meatballs.  Yes, I did say two boxes of meatballs.  After two trips to the table and sampling nine of them, I decided I should buy another box.  I had now learned the so-called “benefit” of shopping at a warehouse club.  Everything comes in giant sizes or multiple items per carton.  When I looked down at my shopping cart, I thought, “We are going to need a bigger freezer!” 
I was now ready to start shopping.  As I reviewed Jenny’s list, I became concerned that the frozen items in my basket might thaw by the time I finished.  With that in mind, I promised myself that there would be no more distractions.  I scanned the list and then started a focused run down the middle of the warehouse looking for the correct aisles.  Two loaves of whole wheat bread had to be in the bakery section near the front.  I tried to turn the cart around and almost ran over an elderly woman in a tank-top and hip-hugger shorts.  She had more tattoos than a retired Navy boatswain mate.  I apologized, but she scowled at me, mentioned my heritage and kicked the cart. 
I managed to turn around and make it to the front of the store without further incident.  I found the bread and tossed them in the cart.  My next item was spinach salad.  I believe I saw the produce section in the back of the warehouse near where I ate the salmon samples.  On the way out of the bakery section, however, I spotted the muffins.  These were not just any muffins.  These were the largest muffins I have ever seen.  Even better, they came in a carton of twelve … four each of chocolate, blueberry, and poppy-seed.  Well, they looked too good to pass up, so they also went into the cart.   
It is a long way to the other end of the warehouse, but I found the spinach salad and also the mushrooms that were #3 on the list.  I was feeling pretty good about my newfound discipline and shopping skills, but also thankful I was riding and not walking.  This place is enormous. 
The fourth item was spaghetti sauce.  I searched several aisles of foodstuffs without any success.  I finally stopped to rest my weakening left arm.  These carts are heavy.  A nice looking woman was coming down the aisle towards me, so I gave her my best smile and asked if she knew where I could find the spaghetti sauce.  She returns my smile and points me in the right direction. 
Off I go again, but I notice my left arm and legs are becoming a little fatigued from pushing the cart.  I turned down the next aisle and sure enough, I come across a half-dozen brands of sauce.  Unfortunately, each brand only comes in four or six jar lots.  Jenny had written “1” beside the spaghetti sauce.  Was that one jar or one carton?  Was that one carton of four or six?  Well, I did what any smart shopper would do; I checked the prices.  Buying six jars of the 24-ounce generic white-label brand saved $2.21 over the more popular brand.  As I shoved the carton on the rack under the basket, I beamed.  “Jenny will be so proud of me.”
While checking the prices of the hand soaps on aisle 47, I heard the “William Tell Overture.”  I pulled out my cell phone and saw it was Jenny calling.  “Hey girl, how are you feeling?”
“Better, honey, thanks for asking.  Where are you?”
“I am still at the Sam’s Club.  I only have three more items to pick up and then I’ll be on my way home.  By the way, I saved 97¢ by buying the 48-count generic toilet tissue.”
“Do you know what time it is, honey?”
I paused and realized I had no idea.  “No, not really.”  I looked at my watch, “My gosh, I can’t believe it's 2:30 already.  This is taking longer than I thought.”
“Honey, you have been shopping for over three hours.  What have you been doing all this time?”
I know my wife and sensed that the conversation was not going well.  It must be the flu making her a little grumpy.  “Well, there are a lot of decisions to make.  It is not like there is only one item to choose from,” I said defensively.  It was time to show her how well I have done.  “Look, you would be so proud of me.  I saved $2.21 on the spaghetti sauce and …” 
Jenny did not give me a chance to finish. “Frank, what else did you buy?”
I looked over my shoulder wondering if she was behind me.  How else would she know that I had bought something else?  Based on the tone of Jenny’s voice, I carefully considered how to answer her.  “Oh, just a couple of items on sale.”
“Like what?”
I told myself not to become defensive, but it was hard to ignore the challenge.  “Well, you know those fantastic muffins they have in the bakery section.  I know twelve is a lot, but we can freeze what we don’t eat right away.  And, the chocolate ones will be great with vanilla ice cream.  You know how our son loves chocolate and vanilla.  Should I also pick up some ice cream?”  Not waiting for an answer I continued, “Oh yah, I bought some frozen meatballs.  The salmon looked good, so I picked up a package of fillets also.  Let’s see, the club has a great price on frozen pizzas …” 
I never got a chance to finish.  “Pizza!  You bought meatballs, salmon fillets, muffins, and pizza.  They were not on my shopping list.”
“I know, honey, but they were all great buys.”
There was several seconds of dead air before she continued.  “Frank, I want you to listen to me.”
This time I had to interrupt, “Jen, what’s wrong?  I get the feeling you’re upset about something.”
“No, I am not angry … now listen.  I want you to return all of the items that are not on the list.  Then I want you …”
My defense mechanism had now kicked in.  “Jen, I do not understand.  These are all great buys.”
Frank!  You will put everything back that is not on my list.  Then you will go to 'checkout'.”
 “Okay, I understand.  Put everything back that is not on the list.”  When she did not comment, I reassured her by saying, “Then I will pick up the last three items and head for home.” 
“You are still not listening.  Forget about the other items.”  I heard a deep breath on the other end of the line.  “Just return everything not on the list and then come home.  I will go shopping next week for the rest of the items.”
The tone in her voice caused sweat to start running down my forehead into my eyes.  “Alright, dear, I am sorry I upset you.  I know you are not feeling well.” I dabbed my forehead with my sleeve.  “I’ll be home in fifteen or twenty minutes.”
A calmer voice responded, “That’s great, honey.  I’ll see you shortly.  Drive safely.” 
For about a minute, I stood there staring at the cart full of food.  I considered keeping one box of meatballs because they were so good, but then thought the better of it.  Unfortunately, it took me longer than I thought to return the items.  For some reason I felt the need to apologize to each of the women giving out the samples.  When I arrived at ‘checkout’, the lines were ridiculously long.  Thirty minutes later I had finally paid and was ready to leave.  I glanced at my watch and groaned because I knew Jenny would wonder why I was not home yet.
It was on the way to the exit that I saw it.  I could not believe my eyes.  I stopped in front of the display and my heart began to race.  It was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.  After several moments of just sitting there drooling, I pulled out my cell phone and dialed Jenny.
“Jenny, you would not believe what they have on sale.  It is a Panasonic 60” high-definition television with the capability of simultaneously viewing two ball games at …” 


  1. I love your stories, I’ve read the Cat Story and Shopping at Sam’s so far, and I’m supposed to be working! Great way to start the morning though, with a smile and a laugh. Now I will get to work. Have a wonderful day!

  2. This is great! It reminds me of every trip I've ever made to the mega stores!


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