Perched on a ridge atop Vail’s China Bowl is a large day lodge known as Two Elk. Yes, this is the one the eco-terrorists set aflame. The replacement is identical except for one feature. The bathrooms are on street level. Or should I say snow level. You don’t have to clomp up and down stairs at 11,000 feet in your ski boots, and believe me, that’s a godsend.
Most times when you enter Two Elk you’re frozen. Having ridden the wind-ravaged Orient Express and then taken the transfer poma. And after removing one’s skis, and going through the double door, I immediately enter the bathroom, where I’m comforted by the aroma of apple pie candles.
Having become accustomed to the smell, my nose drawn to the flame, after multiple visits I inspected the jars, and that’s when I learned the candles were replicating apple pie, it said so right on them. And for Valentine’s Day, Felice set out to buy me my own apple pie candle, so I could relive the Two Elk experience right here at sea level.
So she called.
That wouldn’t even occur to me. That here in Los Angeles you could pick up the phone and make contact with someone at Two Elk, who ultimately told Felice that they’d purchased the apple pie candles at Wal-Mart.
That’s what led Felice to the two story edifice in Panorama City, a desire to elate me on Valentine’s Day. But while there, she decided to also pick up a PlayStation, and that’s how we ultimately got hooked on Rock Band. But the geek at the counter, outfitting her with all the necessary accoutrements, sold her an HDMI cable, so we could see the Rock Band images in all their Hi-Def glory.
But Felice’s HDTV is from the generation before HDMI. We had to use a component hook-up, which turns out to be quite good. And were left with one HDMI cable, which has a value of approximately $100 if you’re out of the loop. Finally, on Saturday, before going downtown to see Margaret Cho at the Orpheum, we journeyed into the heart of darkness, to Wal-Mart, to return the cable.
Remember that old TV show, "Big Valley"? Well, it is. Took us about twenty minutes to drive to Panorama City. And after passing Galpin Ford and its satellite dealerships, and burned out buildings, we found ourselves at Wal-Mart.
Let’s start with the abandoned buildings. If this is how the richest nation in the world looks, what’s it like in the third world? Is it tents with holes? Or does our media just refuse to expose how bad it is across so much of the U.S. landscape, how much our rich have ignored our poor?
Restaurants. Montgomery Ward… They were fenced off, relics of the seventies and eighties, the last economic boom here in the urban hinterlands. But Wal-Mart was still standing. Sam Walton’s gift to the poor.
It was all early models in the parking lot. You could barely find an automobile built in this century. And as we walked up to the building, there were people milling around. You see in America, Wal-Mart is a destination, entertainment unto itself, for those who can’t afford movies and all the diversions displayed on TV.
Felice got in an endless line to return the HDMI cable. I went to the jewelry department, to get a new battery for her watch.
I was stunned. I’d never been to Wal-Mart, I believed the store was clean, well-merchandised, just with cheap prices.
There was barely a permanent fixture in the joint. If the manager got a phone call saying the Russians were coming, he could clear the place out in a matter of hours. The floor looked like it had seen the feet of a billion customers, and hadn’t been washed once. The clothing hanging from the racks? In colors and of a quality that you would never wear.
I didn’t believe Felice. I didn’t believe they would sell replacement parts like batteries at Wal-Mart. I figured it would be like Costco, or even Best Buy. Take your probems elsewhere!
I had to wait for the employee to finish b.s.’ing with her family. And then she took out the dullest putty knife, one that wouldn’t even cut a child, and cracked open Felice’s watch. A Timex. That she was lending me while my watch was being repaired.
Oh, this woman opened the watch. And the battery immediately jumped out, hit the counter and is probably still rolling away somewhere. Fuck! Now what?
A second employee, marginally more informed than the first, said the required battery number might be inscribed in the cover. Turns out that was true. They found a new disc. They inserted it in the watch. Then the clerk handed all the pieces to me and told me to put them together.
Did the pieces have to align? What did they look like before she’d taken them apart? I squeezed the pieces together…but the watch only half-closed. Should I give it to the beefy man who just bought a $15 watch to close? The clerk wouldn’t touch the watch, she didn’t want to break it.
But then she went under the counter and retrieved a device made just for this purpose, to squeeze watches back together. She could barely assemble it, but then she wouldn’t use it, she didn’t want to squeeze my watch to death.
So she tried to get the attention of a third clerk. Who she called by name at least twenty times without acknowledgement. Finally, the second employee just took the contraption and squeezed the watch back together, using all the force she could muster, to shut up the original employee I’m sure.
But it worked. And I wasn’t even out five bucks.
And then I went to the bathroom.
There’s one scary guy in there. He’s using a paper towel to clean his corn cob shoes.
Yes, they looked like corn cobs. They couldn’t be leather. Probably plastic. They almost looked cool. But I’d be amazed if they cost more than ten dollars.
And when I was done with my ablutions, I joined Felice in the returns line, where she was next.
But in front of her was a woman with her baby.
The baby, I felt so sad, she had a skin condition on the side of her head.
Then I looked at the mother, she had the worst acne I had ever seen.
And when done with the transaction, this woman, the mother, took a box…about 2x2x1, the kind a good-sized floor fan would come in, and dropped it in her shopping cart. It’s just that the box was large and the cart not so big. So, doing it carelessly, she clunked the baby on the back of the head, whiplashing the child in reverse. The clerk immediately came to the rescue, repositioning the box and rubbing the infant’s head. Then off they went.
I still haven’t recovered from that. In an upscale joint, they would have called child services. Hell, in an upscale joint they treat your watch like it’s a family heirloom. We’re accustomed to attention, white glove service, but not at Wal-Mart.
Our chores having been accomplished, I told Felice I wanted to take a spin through the store.
The shelves… Were stocked like Britain after the war. The holes in the inventory were staggering.
Before we left, I wanted to see the CD department.
I’d say it was sad, I’d say it was depressing, but that wouldn’t convey how lame the music department was. A rack and a half of CDs, jumbled up incomprehensibly. I found the Eagles CD, they had plenty of them, but many were inserted into the slots askew, as if someone had taken a break in the middle of merchandising them.
I saw one girl steal a glance at the discs, but not one person pick one up.
This is America. Or maybe not, maybe in a different neighborhood, Wal-Mart is…more upscale? But in Panorama City, the Wal-Mart is a diorama of Iraq. You want to know what it’s like living in war-torn nation? Go there.
As for the inhabitants… They resembled nothing so much as the characters in "Dawn Of The Dead", rambling around in the air conditioning, there on instinct.
I don’t know how many of these shoppers were registered voters. And, if they were, whether they would vote at all. Or whether they were truly informed on the issues. But I’ll tell you one thing, their story is not being told. The media is ignoring them. And the upper middle class considers them untouchables. And Wal-Mart isn’t even respecting them. Figuring they can’t afford to shop anywhere else.