Sunday, July 12, 2015

American Initiation

I took my virgin voyage through Costco yesterday. And wasn’t that interesting.

I expected gallons of olive oil and large bags of chips and 48 rolls of toilet paper and such and there they were, but didn’t realize that Costco was also selling mattresses and TV’s and refrigerators and wax for your car next to the package of 250 cookies. It’s a modern-day consumer shrine to stuff, people circling in oversized shopping carts like kids in a candy store. Wheeee!

I had an excuse to be there. Had to shop for a one-week family reunion with 55 people and so we needed quantities beyond the norm. And on the positive side, I suppose there is some ecological benefit to packaging one enormous bag of peanut-butter-filled pretzels than twenty smaller ones. Costco indeed fills some practical need for industrial shoppers or families with 12 children or special events like this reunion.

But it is bizarre. In fact, so much so that it’s kind of crazy fun for a one or two time experience. A bit like Las Vegas. Not exactly the model for sustainability or a healthy fulfilled lifestyle, but just so far out on the edge that you gotta love it. It’s like the freak show of the American circus, the eccentric uncle of the supermarket family, the excessively exuberant weird guy who lives for material things.

And yet. A bit depressing that this is the weekly shopping for many American families. The drive out to the mall, the sprawling parking lot, the bad lighting, the buying more of many things you never really needed in the first place, the worker who knows where something is on his aisle, but has no idea what’s happening over on Aisle 371. A stark contrast to the outdoor farmer’s market with the vendor talking lovingly about her tomato crop, the singer and guitarist over by the peaches, the quiet buzz of social conviviality. Well, I suppose I can be grateful that we have both, but it’s clear which kind of commerce I prefer.

That we are a material-oriented society is the understatement of the millennia. There is a place for Costco in the ecology of shopping, but I just hope it doesn’t become the temple we worship at. 

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