I had never been to a Costco, or any buy-in-bulk type of store for that matter, in my life, until this past Friday, December 30th, 2011. I just never had any of those kinds of stores within a reasonable distance. I figured if I can get the same stuff at a store that’s only a few blocks away, why bother driving for 45 minutes to save only a little bit less on way more crap than I need?
This weekend, I finally stepped foot in to a Costco. It took me 26 years of living, but I did it. And it was terrifying, or maybe overwhelming. I’m not sure. It doesn’t help that it was a holiday weekend and everyone was out buying food for their New Year’s family meals, as I was.
While there, I made a number of observations, many of which are in no way original. Anyone that’s ever gone to a Costco or BJ’s or has only heard of these places knows the stereotypes and what to expect. The thing is, I was floored, astounded, shocked, to discover how much truth there is behind every stereotype and cliché I’ve ever heard about bulk shopping centers. It’s like watching another member of your own ethnicity or nationality be the living embodiment of every negative stereotype of your ethnicity or nationality. It’s terrifying and disappointing yet somehow kind of entertaining and amusing.
So, yeah, here are my observations, in no particular order, which is fitting seeing as there is no such thing as order in a Costco; only chaos and savings.
Carts Like Goddamn Trucks
I never thought a shopping cart could give me an inferiority complex, but it did. The shopping carts at Costco make the carts I’ve used at every other store feel like a brightly-colored PlaySkool playset of a grocery store shopping cart. I’m a small guy as it is, so I imagine getting behind the wheel of a Costco shopping cart gave me the same feeling felt by Frodo and Sam as they left the Shire for the first time and entered the cities of man. It’s that sense of entering a world that is sooooo not built for people of my stature.
My head floated about a foot-and-a-half above the cart’s handle bar, with arms extending outward just below shoulder level. I looked like Kilroy, but with more terror in my eyes and a 20-pack of croissants under my nose.
The Mass Of Humanity
Right off the bat, I loved the openness of the aisles. There’s a sense of freedom and airiness to the aisles that you don’t get at regularly sized stores. The downside to this, though, is the unstructured insanity that comes with that much freedom. With that much open space to work with, everyone, myself included, tried to take advantage by not giving a shit about what we did with our carts. We were all a bunch of grocery shopping James Deans as we threw caution to the wind, gave “normalcy” and society’s unwritten “rules” of shopping the finger, and we left our carts wherever the hell we wanted as we left them near the bread while we gandered at the $5.99 pack of 200 frozen shrimp. We ignored any semi-structured concept of traffic flow. It was like a traffic jam in India. Carts were pointed in every direction, everyone blocked at least 3 other people, and no one said excuse me or pardon, instead opting for wild hand gestures that were nothing more than thinly veiled F*ck Yous and F*ck Offs.
Costco Changes The Way You Think
During my almost hour-long Costco adventure I overheard two sentences that I had never heard before that originated from a mindset that I had never experienced before. It’s the Costco mindset. It’s a different subculture than what I’m used to.
While squeezing my cart through the meat section, a rather large man with a blue tooth attached to his ear was making sure he had everything he needed before he made his way to the checkout lines. As I passed him, he said this to the voice in his ear while looking in my general direction:
“You want fabric softener?…Oh, you mean butter?”
A few minutes later, again in the meat section, a woman called her husband over to tell him that the pack of 20 chicken breasts she was holding was, and I quote, “the fanciest chicken in the world,” and the reason these chicken tits were the Faberge eggs of the raw chicken world is because, and again I quote, “there are a lot of them.”
Quantity = Fancy
These are very specific sentences that come from a very specific state of mind. These aren’t just funny little bits overheard in a public space. These are indicative of a cultural mentality. It’s a mentality in which the obese easily confuse clean clothing with cholesterol and where quantity beats the shit out of quality.
Remember how I said going to Costco was like watching the physical embodiment of awful stereotypes? Well, within an hour I was given an front row seat to witness one of the most prominent stereotypes about Americans – we love over-doing it. We love big. We love anything that is way more than it needs to be. Even as an American I was taken aback by how much we apparently love to over-do it, so imagine how someone from another country much view us? Probably was wasteful pigs.
Damn, this one’s kind of a bummer, huh? I’m sorry. Let’s talk about portals.
It’s Like Walking Through A Series of Portals
I was walking through large crates filled with various snack foods – trail mix, massive bags of chips, Pop Tarts, popcorn, men’s swimming trunks, polo shirts, socks…wait, what?!
That “how did I get here?” feeling is common in Costco, apparently.
In a daze, I walked through the baked goods, ogling at the sweets and treats. The sights that met my eyes were as follows: cookies, cupcakes, doughnuts, flat-screen TV.
People always talk about how you can walk out of a Costco with a weird selection of items, but no one ever mentions how surreal it is to be squeezing a melon for ripeness and then take two steps to your right and find yourself surrounded by a wide selection of car tires, only to take another few steps and find yourself wondering if you should buy a blender. It’s as if someone connected a Home Depot, a Firestone, a Best Buy, and a grocery store via a series of invisible portals and you are never given warning as to when you’re entering a new portal. The only way you know you’ve passed through a portal is when you get that overwhelming “WHERE THE F*CK AM I AND HOW DID I GET HERE?!” feeling.
It’s disorienting and a bit strange, but at least now I know what store to avoid in the aftermath of the apocalypse: Costco. Because every idiot, moron, and big stupid faces out there will be hitting up Costco because they think they’re going to need a 47-inch TV along with their 1,000 cans of Beefaroni.