How I Learned to Shop Locally

So, this blog started out as a resolution to get more out of living in New Orleans. To me, this year felt like the first one–post K–that it would be appropriate to highlight all the entertaining, fun stuff. It is also how I get my writerly juices flowing each day, like jogging– if you will. I try to be positive–to point out the good stuff, and in a way that is entertaining to read. But, occasionally I have a bad day, and am tempted to use this space to rant. But, I refrain! Why? Because rants are tiresome. But, I think I found a way to rant about yesterday and still bring it all back to the hazy point of this little project. So, here goes…

I have mentioned before that it is hard to get one’s primary needs met within the confines of downtown New Orleans. Yesterday I needed a new car tire, an oil change, some drug store items, pet food, and a garden hose. I called around  to nearby auto shops and no one had the tire I needed. So, I went online and realized that all of the needs I had could be met with one trip to the Walmart in Harahan. The convenience was just too tempting to pass up. Some friends of mine call this sort of trip “going to America.” And they are so right; furthermore, yesterday I think I learned a lot about what is wrong with America on my trip “there.”

So, I got to the auto shop part of the Walmart, where a woman employee sat in a feline position of leisure that said to me, “Don’t bother asking me to do anything.” I looked over and saw that every stall was empty. Not a single car was being fixed; and I counted at least half a dozen employees milling around. I explained to the woman that I had called ahead, and it had been confirmed that they had the tire I needed in stock. She disappeared for a long time, a line of cars formed behind me, finally she reappeared and told me that she didn’t have it. I asked to speak to a manager and then, miraculously, the tire I needed appeared. I was driving on a spare, so I decided to just let them do the work. I went into the store and asked where the lug nuts were–because I was missing one–and I was directed to an aisle where I searched for a long time and…nothing. The guy finally came over and determined that they were out. Fine.

Low blood sugar gripped my husband and I, and it turns out they have a VooDoo BBQ store inside the Walmart. The woman at the VooDoo cash register didn’t know how to work the computerized system and had to call over for a manager. The manager took our order. Later, the first woman appears with our food “to go” instead of “for here,” and, I have the wrong sauce on my wangs, and no blue cheese on the side! There were no other customers!

Speaking of wangs, I was seated with a full view of the corridor that lead to the employee area. A male employee slipped back there discretely, followed moments later by the female manager. Just about the time I was finishing my weird super-sweet wings, they reappeared, seconds apart, adjusting their clothes, at which point I told my husband, “I think those two people just had sex back there.” To which he said, “I think you’re right.” We left. We passed this:

Nary a black eyeliner was in the cosmetics section…We got back to the auto shop, where we were still the only car being serviced; and it was still not done. We went and waited in the waiting room where this was in my line of sight.

Okay, I feel a little better now.

So, here’s my point: I am not going to chalk this up to a few bad apples, as bad leaders are wont to do. And, no this is not karmic retribution for shopping at a huge, evil corporation outside of my Parish. (Well, maybe a little). This is systemic failure. None of these workers are paid a living wage. None of them have pride of ownership. No one has a sense of responsibility. No one sees a direct relationship between doing a good job, and working hard and increased pay, freedom, and upward mobility. It’s just this monolithic frustration for the consumer and the worker. This reminds me of a recent episode of This American Life about the failure of GM. It seems, all of a sudden, that everything in America is not too big to fail, but, so big it’s gonna fail. I realize that there is no simple answer for this, but this makes me want to say: Let’s start some damn small businesses downtown! (And of course I am aware that there are lots of people doing this already). I would gladly pay 10% more for my oil changes and eyeliner and dog food if it meant going somewhere with good customer service and fair labor practices. Come on! There’s a storefront with your name on it! Shoot, I’ll do the same!

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9 Comments

Filed under groceries, shopping

9 responses to “How I Learned to Shop Locally

  1. danielle

    (prospective) New Orleans small business owners unite!
    Love this post.

  2. Oddly, I had a similar train of thought yesterday about ‘How can we not have ‘x’ in the greater N.O. area?’, or especially FQ/Marigny/Bywater.
    A bonafide supermarket -common complaint- but also a post office (miss the little one in the Quarter on Iberville), and a DMV. You have to drive all the way out to the suburbs to…take your driving test! Might toss these things in Landrieu’s in box.

  3. Oh, and an animal hospital (though I understand Dr. Dusty is working on establishing that)

  4. mizliz

    sometimes trying to make things easier does nothing but muck up the works. i had a good walmart experience driving to NOLA once from Chicago. It was in Arkansas. It was the only superstore around. People were friendly, happy, and
    exstatic to be employed. They have kept Walmart out of the North Side City limits in Chicago, but Target can be a trip to hell as you described. A good well written rant can be good for all. Cheaper than psychotherapy.
    Enjoy. No place in the world like New Orleans in the spring.

  5. Mike

    I appreciate and understand your rant and the convenience of going to one place for your shopping needs, but if you don’t want to support a company that sells cut rate goods with poorly rewarded employees, take the time and effort to support a few local mechanic shops, make-up boutiques and restaurants. I manage to do all these things uptown fairly regularly without stepping foot into Wal-Mart

  6. lb0313

    Amen sister.

  7. @Mike.

    As I wrote in my confessional, I called around to mechanics and no one had I what I needed, so I succumbed to the Walmart temptation–which I try to keep to a minimum.

    Most of the time I do my shopping uptown–which is why I was calling for downtown entrepreneurship. It’s a little harder to be virtuous living down here, as post-K we still don’t have a lot of basic needs–like a grocery store.

    But, I take your point–it certainly can be done. I try.

    Thanks for feedback

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