Tuesday, January 10, 2012

adventures in Brookings: the WalMart edition.

I went to school in a very small town. The population hovered around 1000, and everyone knew everyone else and everything that everybody was up to. (“Did you hear Bill got a new tractor?” “Oh yeah, she’s a beaut! But did you hear about Larry’s new shed?”)

I did not actually live in said small town; we lived in the country about 15 miles away. From where my parents’ house sits, the nearest McDonalds is 30 miles away. Same goes for shopping malls, Pizza Huts, and basically all of civilization.

The 30-mile-away mecca is called Brookings, and it was the go-to location for anything and everything. When I went to college and told people where I grew up, they often asked what I did for fun. The answer? I went to Brookings.

Not by myself, of course. We usually gathered a carload of friends and hit Highway 14 all the way to the big city. My friends and I took turns driving: we might ride in Meagan’s blue Taurus one day and in my 1987 Park Avenue the next. During my final two years of high school, I’d say I went to Brookings at least twice a week. Oh, to have a disposable income again.

Now, Brookings is no metropolis. Compared to my hometown of Arlington, though, it’s enormous. Brookings clocks in at just a shade under 20,000 people, and there are way WAY more options for entertainment than in Arlington. In Arlington, your only choices were the bowling alley and the city park. But in Brookings, the possibilities were endless.

There were a number of places in Brookings that my friends and I frequented, and I’ll cover them all in due time. For now, though, I’m going to talk about our number one high school destination: WalMart.

I know what you’re thinking: WALMART?! Yes, I know it sounds less than thrilling. But going to WalMart was a big trip for any of us. When you have to travel 30 miles to get there, it always seems like a bigger deal than it actually is. Additionally, if you wanted to go shopping in Arlington, you were limited to the gas station and the grocery store (and if you came at the right time, the hardware store and antique shop on main street might be open). Compared to what we had in Arlington, WalMart seemed like the greatest place on earth.

Sure, we went to WalMart to kill time. We usually came to Brookings to go to a movie at the Cinema Five, but there was always a gap of an hour or so to fill. After we ate dinner, what else was there to do but go to WalMart?

Once in a great while, it was actually necessary to go to WalMart. Maybe someone needed toothpaste, or someone’s mom had asked us to pick up some paper towels while we were there. 
You could shop for Calla, as well.
Most of the time, though, our trips were purpose-free. That’s when we had the most fun.

Looking back, I realize how insufferable the WalMart employees must’ve thought we were. Brookings is still a fairly small town, and we came into WalMart often enough that the employees were sure to recognize us. I’m sure they rolled their eyes and figured that as long as we weren’t shoplifting, they might as well leave us alone.

Back in our high school WalMart heyday, the only WalMart we had just your regular run-of-the-mill WalMart. The Super WalMart would open up during my senior year, and we had our fair share of fun there, but most of our adventures took place in the old non-super WalMart. One of the fixtures in this old WalMart was an employee named Terry.

Do you remember the old SNL skit about Pat? 
No one knew if Pat was a man or a woman, and no one ever will. Terry was Brookings’ very own Pat, complete with the ambiguous name. My friends and I were borderline obsessed with Terry. Every time we went to WalMart, the first task was to figure out whether or not Terry was working.

The really strange thing about Terry was that, depending on the day, Terry could look like either a man or a woman. Terry had long black hair that he/she always wore in a ponytail: nothing too unusual about that. However, you’d come in one day and Terry would be wearing a baggy t-shirt and camo pants (Terry loved camo pants). But you could come in the very next day, and Terry would be wearing eyeshadow and a pink sweater. Terry has curled bangs today: what does that mean? But wait, today it looks like Terry has a mustache. Terry was an enigma.
See that ponytailed head right behind Bob's
We spent the better part of a year trying to figure Terry out. But suddenly, POOF: Terry was nowhere to be found. When we hadn’t seen Terry in two weeks, someone (I think it was Bob) got up the courage to ask one of the WalMart employees what had happened to Terry. Bob was given the very helpful “Terry doesn’t work here anymore.” We came up with a few theories of our own: Terry had saved up all of his/her WalMart paychecks and was finally able to move to California. Terry had joined the military (camo pants, remember?). Terry had eloped with his/her significant other (named Pat, of course). We never found out, but we always hoped that Terry was happy.

Our WalMart trips weren’t based solely on Terry-spotting, though. We invented a whole series of WalMart-based games, as well. You may be wondering how we enough time on our hands so that we could actually develop games. Honestly, I have no idea. We were all getting good grades, we were involved in a ton of extracurricular activities, and we were hard at work on college applications. I guess we just knew how to prioritize (or something).

Anyway, it’s not the WalMart games involved a whole lot of planning. The first game was a scavenger hunt of sorts. My friends and I would start at the entrance of the store and give each other ten minutes to meet back by the registers. The goal? Find the goofiest thing possible. Whoever returned with the silliest item available for purchase in WalMart won. What did they win? Bragging rights: but bragging rights were worth a lot in my circle of friends! No matter who won, the items we found around the store were guaranteed to be fantastic. From decorated toilet seat lids to tiny potted cacti, WalMart had it all. Every now and again, we’d find something so hilarious that it begged to be purchased. Bob and I once bought a bizarre little baby doll and named it Shaneequa Fabio.

We did really well on the scavenger hunt that day.
Our best game (and probably most obnoxious) was called WalMart Hide-and-Seek. It was exactly what it sounds like. WalMart Hide-and-Seek was different than traditional hide-and-seek in that you’re a hider and a seeker at the very same time. During WalMart Hide-and-Seek, you were constantly on the move. You would peek around corners and scoot quickly across open spaces to avoid being located. If you spotted someone before they spotted you, you would yell their name, and they would be caught. You and your prisoner of war would then join forces and continue scouting for everyone else. In order to win WalMart Hide-and-Seek, you would have to capture all of your friends. We usually played with four or five people, so even if it was one person versus the four (a “captain” and three captured friends), if the lone wolf found the group of four first, the solo player would win. That’s the thing with WalMart Hide-and-Seek: the tides could turn without a moment’s notice, and it was adrenaline-fueled harmless fun.

In all our years at WalMart, not once were we asked to behave ourselves. Maybe we weren’t actually as disruptive as I remember us being, or maybe we were a good source of entertainment for the employees. All of our antics were best accomplished with the store was more or less abandoned, like at 8 o’clock on a Tuesday night. I can’t imagine that the employees had anything better to do, so maybe they actually enjoyed our visits. But probably not.

The one and only time an employee ever got visibly irritated with us was during May 2006. I was home for the summer after my first year of college, and Bob had graduated from high school that very day. After the celebrations were over, Bob and I drove to WalMart for old times’ sake. We were being our same crazy selves: this time, we spent a good portion of our visit taking pictures in the giant silk flower section. For some reason, we had a pink watering can shaped like an elephant. 

Bob set it down in the flower aisle, and we dipped next door to the vase aisle in order to create some lovely flower arrangements (that we were actually going to buy, believe it or not). We were fully intending to come right back for the pink elephant watering can… when it came flying over the tops of the shelves and landed at our feet. Bob and I looked at each other, then looked at the watering can. We slowly stuck our heads around the corner to see who the culprit was. We saw no one, leading us to believe that WalMart hires ninjas.

When I went to college in Morris, Minnesota, I was faced with a similar situation: our only option was Pamida (BLECH), and WalMart was 45 miles away. The city of choice this time was Alexandria, Minnesota. Alexandria had way more to offer than Brookings did: after all, Alexandria had a Target. My roommates and I would use our (extremely rare) free evenings to take trips to Alexandria, and our main destinations tended to be Perkins and Target. Nevertheless, we did stop by WalMart every now and again.
Nobody does $.88 candy like WalMart.
After I graduated from college, I spent time in Denver, New Orleans, Minneapolis, and have landed (for now) in Sioux Falls. They are all much bigger cities than Brookings, and I didn’t frequent the WalMarts. However, there’s something about that Brookings WalMart that is ingrained in me. Every time I drive by it, even though I have ready access to two Super WalMarts in Sioux Falls, I think, “Should I stop? What do I need? I’m right here, after all.” Old habits die hard.
We still can't pass up the five dollar movie bin.
So the Brookings WalMart will always hold a special place in my heart. But don’t let this post fool you: there’s much more to Brookings than just the WalMart. Stay tuned for the next edition of Adventures in Brookings!

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