Wal-Mart Trip to Store #4687 (King of Prussia, PA)
When Sam asked me to lead a midnight trip to Wal-Mart, I was pretty psyched for it. I do a fair share of night wanderlusting and I rarely get to share it with others since most sane people opt to sleep. So, on Tuesday, March 25, 2009, a group of about 15 Fords and Mawrtyrs met up at Stokes Auditorium for a midnight trip to Wal-Mart. I was really thrilled that Harrell decided to join us, despite the fact that though he was pretty jet-lagged and tired from a full day of traveling and “among friends” activities.
The Wal-Mart we visited is located in King of Prussia. Most people are familiar with King of Prussia for the ginormous mall, but yes, there are actually other things in the area. The Wal-Mart Store is located less than a minute from the KOP shopping complex. This is the route we took to get there:
Upon arriving at Wal-Mart, we gathered around a fruit kiosk and introduced ourselves. I also asked everyone to say whether or not they’d been to a Wal-Mart and I was surprised that our midnight trip marked the first trip for about a quarter of the group! Next, we moved onto our first activity of the evening: a scavenger hunt of sorts. I’m more a fan of experiential and participatory learning than instructional learning, so I opted for a scavenger hunt format over giving a formal tour. I made a booklet with a list of absurd items for people to find, ranging from “something that is colorless and useless” to “the most futuristic thing” to “something that is ephemeral that starts with an ‘E’” to “what you think that Jay Gatsby needs or wants the most.” I told everyone to find three items, write them down (along with the price and aisle number) and report back to the fruit kiosk in about a half hour.
People were more confused by my directions than I had anticipated. “Only three items?” “But there is no aisle for this…?” “What’s the point of this?” Inside, I had to laugh at these questions…they were, after all, a part of the point of the project. But I think that all questions are worth answering, so here are my responses, which I explained after the activity was over:
1. “Only three items?” In a store as huge as Wal-Mart and with a list as long as I created, looking for three items is absurd and doesn’t make any sense! When you’re at a Wal-Mart, you’re thinking big, but I wanted to interrogate that notion by make people select just three items. That way, people weren’t frantically running around the store trying to amass as much information as possible. Rather, I wanted people to think about what they wanted to write down since they had to choose only three. I wanted people to really look at things, not just see them momentarily and move onto the next task once they found what they needed. While I don’t have one verb to describe what the scavenger hunt was about, what I described in the previous sentence is how I would define “shopping.”
2. “But there is no aisle for this…?” For the most part, aisle numbers don’t really exist at Wal-Mart. It’s simply too big, so things tend to simply be organized in broad categories. Someone in the group had commented that they had gotten lost in the store. When you think about, it’s pretty crazy to think that there is enough stuff to fill a Wal-Mart — in fact, so much stuff you can actually get lost in it! (And when I say “lost,” what does that really mean?) Anyway, the aisle question was designed to emphasize how Wal-Mart is really a non-place. After all, where are you when you’re in a Wal-Mart? Yes, I know that we were in King of Prussia, PA…but were we, really? There are tens of thousands of Wal-Marts across the globe and they are pretty much all laid out the same way, so it does it really even matter where you are? Is there really a Wal-Mart that embodies site-specificity? Harrell told me about an artist who worked as a Wal-Mart greeter as a project for two years and then made a fresco for the store, so I guess that store was a little bit more unique. Unfortunately, when the store changed its color scheme, they made the artist remove it. Damn corporate branding identity!
3. “What’s the point of this?” Because you’re on a midnight trip to Wal-Mart with Harrell Fletcher. Wal-Mart is all about utility and when you’re with me, I’m all about abandoning it.
Here are some shots of people looking for their items. I really enjoyed watching Harrell when I ran into him throughout the store. I have never seen anyone so interested in looking at things at a Wal-Mart.
When we reconvened at the fruit kiosk, I asked everyone to share the favorite thing that they had found. I didn’t define “favorite” for people on purpose, but it was interesting to learn that some people definitely interpreted it as in a thing that they would buy. I asked everyone to write down their favorite pick on a master copy of the list, that way we’d have a copy and we could give it to Harrell. I unfortunately didn’t get to see Harrell before he left, but it is a good excuse to send him some mail. Here is a scanned copy of the list:
And speaking of mail, that was the second activity of the evening. Harrell wanted a souvenir for each trip, so I chose to make postcards. Beyond the fact that I really enjoy postcards and mail, I wanted people to think about how they would tell someone about the trip. By most people’s standards, going to Wal-Mart is pretty mundane and therefore not worthy of sharing with anyone. However, I genuinely believe that mundane things are the most exciting parts of life, so I was curious as to how people would describe going to Wal-Mart. Like the scavenger hunt, the postcard activity was all about debunking the typical Wal-Mart experience. Here is the postcard:
Some people chose to share their postcards. More people wrote them to their parents than I expected. I hope that people actually send the postcards. Here are some pictures of the postcard activity:
In case you were wondering, some people actually bought things at Wal-Mart. I think it’s almost becoming a cliche to hate Wal-Mart, but I’ll just say that I didn’t buy anything. Also, the Wal-Mart monster image is not something that I created. I found it when doing a French project in 10th grade, so I have been waiting about six years to use it for something. It is one of my favorite pieces of art and I wanted to share it with everyone.