I just got back from a business trip to the lovely San Francisco area. I always have to say “area” because although my plane landed at the San Francisco International Airport, my time was spent mostly in the town of Petaluma, approximately 40 miles north of SF over the Golden Gate Bridge. Petaluma is so remote, people that live there apparently don’t know where it is. While talking to the concierge at the hotel, I asked him how he liked living in Petaluma. He said “Jesus, is THAT where I am? I gotta get outta here!” He left immediately, heading south. I hope he didn’t end up in Oakland.

The Bay Area is very nice. Lots of millionaires, billionaires, and skrillionaires. If you’re unfamiliar with what a “skrillionaire” is, they’re the people mostly likely to yell “I’m rich, beeyatch!” to you as they pass you in their Lotus on the 101. We took a ferry ride one day, heading from Marin Co. to the SF harbor area, and as we passed Angel Island I asked our de facto tour guide if any of the 50 or 60 houses within my range of vision were less than $1 million. The look I got in return is similar to the look I give my 5 year old when he asks me if he can have an Xbox while he’s playing the Playstation 2. “Most of the houses you see cost multi-millions, Damian.” That shut me the hell up. I know there’s tons of rich and wealthy people in the world, especially in our land of Low-Fat Milk and Organic Honey, but to see so much wealth condensed into such a small area was depressing. You know how the town you live in has 1 or 2 “nice” areas, where the local upper crust chills? Well, take all of those, put them together, provide some upscale shopping, and that’s what it’s like to be in Marin Co., California. The O.C. can kiss Marin’s ass.

Shopping is an issue there, however, if you’re not of the landed gentry. The local temperature in my town was 95 degrees when I departed. The local temperature in SF was around 60 when I landed, which is enough of a difference to make me colder than a pimp’s heart. To me, the solution is simple: find a Wal-Mart, buy a cheap-ass windbreaker, and call it a day. One problem: no Wal-Marts. Anywhere. I expected to not find any in the City – hell, SF is pretty small, by city standards, and there’s literally nowhere to put a giant blue and gray shoebox. The shops available to shoppers range from “Damn, this is expensive” to “You must be fucking kidding me. No shirt costs this much.” Obviously it’s not the place for the thrifty spender. But I figured once I got outside the city and over the bridge, I’d see them popping out all over the place, like dandelions in an open field during summer. After all, what place isn’t completely permeated and utterly saturated by the Waltons’ satanic seed? THAT place. That’s where. Here’s the difference: people here go to Wal-Mart. People there have heard of it.

When I asked my coworkers where the nearest Wally World was, they “RCA Dogged” me. You know what I’m talking about: they cocked their heads to the side and gave me a quizzical look, just like that terrier in the old RCA commercials. It was as though I had asked them to show me their bank statements and their underwear. “Uh….I think there’s one about 10 miles from here…” one said. “Really? When did they put that one up?” said another. As I watched them go back and forth in amazement, I realized that these people simply hadn’t subscribed to the Gospel According to Sam, like I have. Don’t get it twisted; I don’t deeply love Wal-Mart. It’s more agape than eros. In fact, in many ways I despise how they infect an area, killing mom-and-pop stores, suffocating boutique places, destroying landscapes, and often leaving empty shells when they decide to upgrade to a Super Wal-Mart, the retail equivalent to the first Death Star. I’m not drinking the Sam’s Club Kool-Aid. However, where else can you buy a car battery, a bag of Double-Stuf Oreo’s, and a dish towel at 3am? The necessity of having these items at 3am is irrelevant – the fact that you can is what’s important here. Despite my desire to hate, I find myself inexplicably drawn to the raw availability of Wal-Mart. And with several within my driving range, I never have to go without.

Lacking a WM, I ended up at a Kohl’s . Kohl’s is to Wal-Mart what Rick was to Magnum on “Magnum, P.I.” – a poor substitute. Sure, he had the wavy hair, and he owned a bar, but he was no Thomas Magnum. Neither was Higgins, even though he was secretly Robin Masters – ah, but I digress. The point is (if I ever actually had one, which is debatable at this juncture) that Wal-Mart seeps into your everday life. You find yourself getting damn-near everything there, even shit you never thought you’d buy at a place like that. Example: medicine. Not the over-the-counter stuff like aspirin, I’m talking REAL stuff – prescription meds. Honestly, do you trust the same company that sells ammunition and dog food to give you the correct dosage? Then, once you’re all comfy with that idea, you start taking your car there to get serviced. Some places have in-store nail salons and eyecare facilities. And to top things off, they’ve teamed up with another completely ubiquitous franchise, McDonald’s. Many Wal-Marts have a Mickey D’s built right into the store, near the check out. Soon it’ll be like the movie Demolition Man, where every restaurant is Taco Bell. Mmmm, Taco Bell chalupas. I swear, I’d cut a sucka to get a southwest chalupa with no cheese or sour cream.

Thank God the Strattera I’m on keeps me focused, huh?

Maybe the Petalumans have it right. Maybe in the case of Wal-Mart, less is more. I read that in a book somewhere. I probably bought it at….ah, you saw that one coming. Smart audience.

Peace.

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