I’ve always lived in cities. I groove on grids of streets with curbs and sidewalks. So when I moved to Indianapolis, I didn’t consider living in the suburbs for a minute. But to get a better school system, I did buy an older home in the old suburbs outside the old city limits. (The city and county merged in 1970.) Out there, the grid gave way to cul-de-sac neighborhoods that even now lack certain city services such as water, sewer, and snow removal. These neighborhoods empty onto large arteries, which empty onto larger arteries, which pave the way to large, generic shopping strips. Wal-Mart ho!
I shop Wal-Mart. It’s about 20 minutes away along congested roads. I have to park at the back of the lot. The store is usually noisy, packed with rude customers. The unhelpful staff all have thousand-yard stares. The checkout lines have ten full carts in them. And then I have to drive back along those congested roads. I always come home whipped, but man the money I save.
The other day, a lady at church said that she goes to the Wal-Mart in Brownsburg, a nearby suburb. She said it might take a few extra minutes to get there, but its a much nicer store. So yesterday I made my grocery list and headed out to try it.
I’ve traveled the two-lane road to Brownsburg many times to visit friends. Traffic is usually light to moderate, making for a pleasant drive past a lush city park and over a reservoir, and then into the next county with cornfields and new housing developments. I enjoyed this trip as I always do – and arrived a full five minutes faster than I could ever get to my usual Wal-Mart.
I parked about mid-lot. As I navigated the store, I heard something I had never before heard in Wal-Mart: politeness from fellow shoppers as we steered our carts around each other. “Oh, pardon me.” “Excuse me.” “Oh, I’m sorry!” I quit counting after the 10th time I heard this, and by the time I was ready to check out, I caught myself thinking that it was becoming tedious to return so many apologies! Except for those polite exchanges, and the normal-volume conversations of other customers, the store was remarkably quiet. Even though I had to go back and forth through the store’s unfamiliar layout to find everything I wanted, I felt none of the usual tension or fatigue. My shopping completed, with energy to spare, I found a checkout line with only two carts in it. The young woman at the register chirped a friendly “Hi!” to me and we chatted about the weather. As I picked up one bag of groceries, the handle broke. I about fell over when she stopped scanning, opened another bag, and helped me put the broken bag into it. I have never experienced something like that at Wal-Mart before. And then I wheeled my goods to my car, loaded them in, and made the pleasant drive back home. I unloaded my groceries and put them away, and then did not need to sit on the couch for an hour to recover.
Last night, at the Brownsburg Wal-Mart, I got a serious glimpse of why people move to the suburbs.