If no one has yet developed an economic indicator based on how long you have to stand in line to check out at Sam's Club, they ought to. While the size of the crowds at Sam's aren't quite infamous, I would say they at least approach the notorious level.
But on my recent trip, however, the crowds were largely absent. Now I wouldn't say you could have shot a cannon in there, but there was certainly more room than normal to maneuver. In fact, I managed to execute what I consider to be the Pentathlon of Sam's shopping: Downloading 300+ digital photos; Darting across the front of the store to retrieve diapers; Navigating three aisles of frozen foods to pluck a bag of dinosaur shaped chicken nuggets from a cooler like Indiana Jones snatching a jade idol from a quickly descending stone gate; Guiding the cart over to the T.P. which is sold only by the acre thus requiring that it be precariously perched on top of the diapers reducing visibility and increasing drag as I steer the cart toward the check out; Finally, the purchase and consumption of one giant hot dog (with free single serving kraut). All to be done on the lunch hour, of course.
Now normally it's touch and go if I am going to make it back to work within the hour time limit, but this time it was a breeze. In fact, if I was so inclined, I could have stopped to enjoy a paper cup full of Cajun salmon or yogurt smoothie being hawked by retired ladies in matching black aprons and hair nets. You've seen these ladies, they're usually surrounded by a crowd like Britney Spears with a shaved head after a fender bender. It's normally a feeding frenzy in there and these ladies are the chum-dealers, only with coupons.
There were two curious incidents during my trip, though.
First, at the snack bar another patron complained that the Coke from the fountain had a strange taste. She proceeded to try the rest of the beverages, indicating each was somehow fouled, until at last she settled on the lemonade. I had the Cherry Coke but couldn't detect the offensive taste, so I just gutted it out and seem no worse for the wear. No word yet on if the picky patron's porridge was too cold or too hot.
Secondly, as I was checking out, an elderly couple came up and got in line behind me. Among their purchases was a set of bathroom towels. As the woman laid the towels on the conveyor belt, she noticed a thread hanging off the edge of one of them. She half turned toward me and said, "someone should tell those people in India to cut off these threads." I didn't have the heart to tell her that India probably forgot to cut the thread because they were too busy answering the technical support calls for large US corporations, so I just smiled and gave her a non-committal, "yeah."
Then she said to me, "maybe after this revolution we will start making some products in this country again. That would be nice." By this point I am done paying and I'm already thinking about that single size packet of kraut, so I am only half listening, but when an unassuming grandmotherly type starts talking insurrection between the prune juice and bridge mix, it gives one pause.
Now I'm not saying this woman was advocating armed resistance. She may have just meant 'crisis' or 'upheaval', and said 'revolution' by mistake. It's not entirely out of the realm of possibility that a shift in global trading patterns could result from the current economic conditions. Maybe she was just thinking back to a time not that long ago when the United States made the stuff that it (and much of the world) used, as opposed to now where we just borrow money so we can use more stuff. The former seems like self-reliance, the latter like addiction.
Then again, this is the Wisconsin 8th. Our geography lends itself to a nice mix of post-industrial aspiring elite and post-apocalyptic armed survivalist. This is one place that Obama could have given his clinging to 'guns and God' speech and quite literally been talking about the neighbors. Maybe this frail looking woman guts and skins her deer using only a knitting needle. Who knows?
Maybe, like so many of us, she feels unsettled by the events swirling around her. Maybe she looks at the 25 gallon drums of mayonnaise filling the shelves at Sam's but then thinks about how conditions in the country seem to be getting worse, not better, and decides to pass. I mean, who knows what could happen in the time it will take to use up that much mayonnaise?