There are those rare moments in the flow of daily life, about as rare as a solar eclipse, when history does a quiet, tectonic shift, and the ordinary landscape suddenly looks irrevocably dated, in an unannounced, unnerving way. Mark Morford – at the San Francisco Chronicle (give yourself a treat and subscribe to his feed) – writes what it was like during a recent trip to Lowes:
…One fine and sunny Saturday just recently, I visited a sparkly new Lowe’s home-improvement megastore to spec out a replacement oven for my apartment, an experience I was dreading not merely because it was the last place I wanted to spend a pristine Saturday, but because on weekends those places tend to be crammed and torturous and teeming, and such crowds generally give me hives.
I needn’t have worried.
It was like walking into a private game reserve, or some sort of museum of the long-lost American dream, a spectacle not unlike being the last person on the planet. The huge doors swooshed open, and I was greeted with the eeriest scene imaginable, aisle after aisle of shiny new roto tillers and chainsaws and barbeques, lawn furniture and rolls of sod and lighting fixture and every exotic gorgeous manly power tool imaginable.
And not a single human in sight.
Check that: a handful of humans milled about, but most were sales clerks looking equal parts bored, lonely, confused. The few actual customers I finally noticed were barely visible at all, swallowed up by the gleaming mountains of unsold goods, like a few tiny ants in a farm designed to hold ten thousand.
It was, in a word, disquieting. It was, in six more, strange and dreamlike and unexpectedly sad.
I had the same experience a few weeks ago – of walking into a big home improvement store, with mountains of shiny, pristine merchandise on shelves stocked to the gills, aisles and aisles of it, and no customers in sight. A few days ago, I visited a gigantic Whole Foods Market – which had plenty of customers – but I couldn’t help but wonder whether the moment has passed for ever-bigger retail stores. This store seemed as big as a football field, with who knows how many tens of thousands of square feet. How they could possibly run it at a profit baffled me. At the checkout, high end boho lifestyle magazines with names like "Simplify" called out, but they too, seemed to be published from an earlier age when there was such a thing as "discretionary income".
I felt like getting a camera and taking pictures of the inside of Lowes and Whole Foods to show my grandkids, what the full-blown consumer lifestyle was like, in all its glory, back in America, before the crash.