The Five Stages of Wal-Mart Grief

Last night I headed out to our local 24-hour Walmart to buy school supplies. This weekend is our tax-free holiday in North Carolina; it began at 12:01 midnight (this morning). Here is my sad tale.

1. Denial

10:45 Drive the ten minutes to the store, blasting old 80’s tunes on the radio. No late-night errand is complete without Chicago or Air Supply. Pull into Walmart parking lot, remarking how busy the place is. “There must be a lot of other people doing the same thing I am,” you think. With a spring in your step, you secure a cart and decide, since you have a little time to kill, to do a little grocery shopping first.

Everything is going great! This is the best idea ever! I am so smart and thrifty!

11:10 Head to the school supply section at the front of the store. Pick up a few items on your list, trying not to give into disappointment over a seeming lack of variety. Remember the school-supply aisle at the rear of the store. Perfect. The better selection is hiding back there, and you find everything you wanted.

Walmart is not that bad. The employees are friendly! That man wanted to talk Red Sox with me: I love that!

12:01 Congratulate yourself on completing your task in ample time. Walk to freezer section and put a celebratory choco-taco in your cart.

2. Anger

12:02 Begin march to front of store to check out. Wait a minute, why are the lines so long? Why do they only have THREE registers open out of twenty-plus? Why are there at least TEN customers in each line?! It’s MIDNIGHT, people, why aren’t you all in your beds?!

Grrr…no matter what time it is, there are always impossibly long lines at the checkout counters at Walmart. I’m tired. I don’t like it here. Blarg. Why am I so tired? My bedtime in college used to be one AM or later. Oh wait, that was ten years ago. Someone hand me the Polident and tuck me into bed. Grr.

Attempt to soothe your anger with reading a checkout-stand magazine as the line wait continues for twenty minutes.

3. Depression

12:20 Finally make it to the head of the line. Start unpacking school supplies from your cart onto the conveyor belt. As the cashier scans the first of your carefully-selected portfolios and binders, you decide to get a verbal confirmation of what you already know: the tax-free shopping started twenty minutes ago.

“This is tax-free, right?”

“No, it doesn’t start until one AM.”


“I thought it started at 12:01,” you say, referring to the printout you got off the internet earlier in the day, which you diligently brought with you.

Cashier looks extremely annoyed, sighs deeply, and goes to find a manager.

12:25 Manager approaches, and over the din of the angry mumbles from the customers behind you, you hear her say,

“We started downloading the changed prices at midnight, but they don’t take effect until one o’clock.”


“Well, I guess I need that stuff back then, because I don’t want to check out until I don’t have to pay tax on it.”

Manager voids the order while you restock your cart, apologize to the angry people behind you, and turn around back into the store, which has now become a bit more like prison.

Return celebratory choco-taco to freezer.

*sigh* I’m so sad. I’m so tired. Why did I think this was a good idea? Braving the crowds at Target with the kids would be better than this.

Just thirty minutes ago, you were high on school supplies. The smell of fresh pencils and new paper had obscured your vision….made you silly…made you stupid. You now see what your rose-colored glasses were hiding: every single aisle is jammed with boxes for restocking. The employees act like you’re in their way, crossing in front of your cart without warning and not even acknowledging your presence.

The light is grey and harsh as you stumble around wasting time. You buy a few more groceries. You sit down on the bottom shelf in the book section and page through a magazine. The electronics department, over your shoulder, rings deafeningly loud with Michael Jackson’s Number Ones and the movie Cars. An hour ago, this was fun. Now it’s the stuff of bad horror films.

Will I ever make it home? Is any amount of school supplies worth this torture?

4. Bargaining


Maybe if I get in line right at one, they’ll get me right through. If they just get me through the checkout line faster, I might actually darken the doorstep of this store this time next year. Or not.

In an ironic twist, the lines are remarkably shorter than they were an hour ago. You have just one customer to wait behind. This still takes ten minutes, since the customer is getting her daughter ready for college.

Also in an ironic twist, your (different) cashier smiles as she confirms that, yes, the tax-free pricing has taken effect. She is the picture of friendliness and courtesy.

It’s almost as if the store — nay, the entire Walmart empire — is toying with you.

5. Acceptance

1:20 As the total rings up and your cart is filled up with the tax-free merchandise, you remind yourself that you’re in Walmart. You should have known. Yes, there are five young children who need you at home, and they will be greeting you in about five and a half hours’ time. But there’s coffee. There’s always tomorrow night for sleeping. At least you don’t have to cram some shopping into an already-packed weekend.

1:40 Arrive home, carrying packages with you. Make repeated trips to car. Remark how quiet your neighborhood is at this hour. Unpack refrigerated groceries and wearily head upstairs to bed.

1:55 Your husband stirs in bed, sighs, and asks, “how did it go?”

You have no trace of sarcasm or malice in your words as you reply, “do you see what time it is?”.

You’ve finally accepted your fate.

Your process of mourning is complete.

This post was originally published on 8/7/09.

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