Sam AND his Club

I don’t like to tote this, but it turns out that I’m part of a fairly elite club that allows a single person to buy enough of something — be it chocolate chips, asparagus, or a palette of Whirlpool ovens — to prepare food for an entire army. And with the aforementioned ingredients, those cookies would be absolutely disgusting. But fortified with protein. And iron. From the ovens. And how can I accomplish such a feat, without a permit? Oh, I have a permit. Well, more of a membership. To Sam’s Club.

The basic premise behind Sam’s is that you need 14 times more of something than you initially planned. Everything, even avocados, is sold in bulk and/or discounted. Need a retention pond? No problem — here’s six of them. A dunderhead husband might look at his lovely wife and say “Oh, we can get six retention ponds and save 11%.” The wife will say “But we only need one retention pond, dear.” And he will reply “but then we don’t get the discount, dear, his vocal italics suggesting veiled irritation. “We can just put the other retention ponds behind the shed and get them out as we need them!” as if suggesting that her supposed lack of wisdom is outshining his cunning spendthriftery. Sure, it sounds absurd, but I have personally witnessed at least one exchange in the aisles of Sam’s club that looked remarkably similar to this little transcript. I may have even participated in one with Emily. But I can say with great assurance that we’re never going to run out of retention ponds at our house. Ever.

Turn right. After a relaxing drive down the boulevard and a playful wave at the pallet of geese, you slowly work your way around the Sam’s Club gas station, where gas, too, is to be bought at a discount, especially if you need 100 or more gallons. This is the only way that Winnebago drivers can afford their enormous wheeled chateaus.

I am always amazed at the control mechanisms in place at Sam’s Club. To drive into its mighty complex is to witness an example of suburban planning and the resulting bulky sprawl. Lines and arrows, painted in bulk on the surface of the parking lot, keep us on the straight and narrow, carefully maneuvering our high capacity vehicles to be parked and prepared to convoy your wares back home. D’oh! You forgot your palette jack and gantry crane at home!

After stepping out of your car, you have a moment to behold the wailing wall of Sam’s Club, where the warehouse theme is king. False factory windows and expressionless facades give you the special sense that you are entering a world totally separate from those terrible stores where they sell individual bottles of pancake syrup. Only one bottle? Only 12 ounces? Unbelievable!

As you walk up to the door (which opens automatically, your majesty) you are greeted by a kind yet stern Samcurity guard who happily yet forcefully requests to see your membership card. DO NOT try to circumvent the Samcurity guard! I’ve only seen the top of the handle, but I’m fairly certain that she’s got a tazer gun. “I forgot” is a really hard phrase to scream while you’re being electrocuted. It is certainly not the first saying that comes to mind.

Provided that you’ve exhibited your club membership card, you’re now part of the bulk shopping elite. From the jewelry counter, one can see strawberries, TV’s, trees, fireworks, legal pads and wrapping paper (it’s never too early). Realizing that these items don’t carry themselves, you endeavor to find a loose shopping cart. You’ll never find one in the store proper; it’s time to go out to the breezeway and get your CART:

C- Cart
A- Adorned (with)
R- Ridiculous
T- Tires

The carts are huge, mammoth even, since the cart must be able to transport the merch. Wide enough for two toddlers to sit side by side, these plus size wire mesh cages are begging to be filled with bulk toner, a queen size mattress and watermelons. Your kids still have room to play a regulation game of rugby in their spacious seats. Yes, even the carts are bulk sized!

After procuring your cart, which included another flash of your membership card to the Samcurity guard, the shopping begins. You’re not shopping at a regular store. You’re shopping the same way that the owners of a regular store would shop. That’s why you can buy “vendor pack” candy product, excellent for “C Stores”. It doesn’t take long to figure out that a C-Store is a convenience store, the abbreviated code acting as a fog to the mind of the customer. Once you realize that you’re paying a sucker’s price at the C-Store for Skittles, you’ll have a momentary breakdown — right there in the three-lane aisle. “I can’t believe I was paying more than 47.3 cents per unit! That’s the last time I go to the airport C-Store for Skittles!” This is a common exclamation heard in Sam’s Club stores across the country.

You fill your cart with 7 bowling-ball sized bags of Skittles, packed in an even larger shipping crate that has zero charm. There are no colorful rainbows or fun pictures of candy, but rather a dull corrugated cardboard box with block printing: “SKITTLE PRODUCT”. No worries: you’re shopping like the shopkeeper, and you’ve passed the savings right on to you.

After shoving your kids out of the way so that you can manage to get a 55 gallon drum of cola firmly planted on your cart (can you give me a push, ma’am?), your senses kick in as your sensibilities are dulled. Is that some kind of sausage that I smell? Are those water crackers I hear being broken into bite-sized pieces? Do I hear paper cups being spread across a stainless steel surface? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes. There are samples. Suddenly, your cart isn’t so heavy, in part because you’re making your 17 month old walk after you realized that he was taking up precious cart real estate. This is one of the only moments in your journey to Sam’s where you will actually run, since your nose is making promises, your taste buds demand results, and your legs — crazy legs — are subservient to your five senses.

She’s wearing a green apron and a very non stylish hat that functions first as a hair collector, which is good because she’s dividing salmon into 2 inch portions and jamming them into paper cups that look like little petrified coffee filters. A toothpick impales the fish, which has gone from swimming happily in Seattle to providing you with 3 grahams of protein so that you have the sustenance to continue your bulk shopping in Jackson, Michigan. Thank you, gill. And thank you, apron lady. Or should I say apron ladies, for they are many! Take a stroll, take some delicious grapes, some hot pocket chunks, and a dixie cup of Member’s Mark Juice. Forget you, lunch! Oh, and get some food for the kids since they are far less afraid to cry in public than they should be.

Since you can’t get the taste of the Member’s Mark juice to leave your palette (in your mouth), you decide that it’s good enough to spend a few bucks on, so you get your own palette (of wood) and wedge it on to your third cart. “Three carts is enough” says you, now making your way to the checkouts. You will soon see why they give you food right before you leave.

It’s because you have to undo everything you’ve just done, namely, loading cases of shrimp and crates of, well, smaller crates, back out of your cart and on to the conveyer belt. Fortunately, you’ve had a good 10 minutes standing in line to devise your custom bulk unloading strategy. And then its smooth sailing from there as they do the good work of loading your newly purchased items into bags, bags designed specifically for the purpose of easy loading from store to car, from car to house. Oh, the convenience of bags!

You fool.

“Paper or plastic?” is one question that will never, ever, ever be raised at Sam’s Club. Their bags are your bare hands. Your hands are their bags. Sometimes you can snag a cardboard box or two that they’ve emptied, but those boxes are usually only 40% boxes, in that they are missing significant sections of box wall and box floor, both of which are vital for holding your merch in place. But that doesn’t matter because you’ve been asked for some ID, specifically, your membership ID, which, upon being scanned, tells the cashier everything about you. Your name. Your membership status. And… well, that’s probably it, but still, they didn’t know that before the swipe, right? The computer displays your name for all to see:

“WELCOME TO SAMS CLUB, A D A M D A V I D S O N”

I wish the computer would analyze my purchase history and come up with a snappy nickname like

“WELCOME TO SAMS CLUB, A D A M ‘MUST DRINK MRS BUTTERWORTHS LATE AT NIGHT WITH THE SHADES DRAWN’ D A V I D S O N”

Obviously, the computer would need to have some pretty advanced algorithms to pull off that kind of embarrassing analysis. Scan after glorious scan, it must be able to make some kind of educated guess about your living, eating, driving and even sleeping habits. But that doesn’t matter, since you are now reaping the benefits of membership, having saved dozens of dollars because you bought thousands of something.

Once everything has been loaded back into your cart, you must now walk the Sam’s gauntlet, a a dangerous and unnerving path to egress. Cigarettes are kept in a chain-link prison. Tires are stacked as a mighty vulcan fortress. Why would you need to buy 10 tires? It’s too many for even two times around your car, but not nearly enough for your 18-wheeler. You keep walking the gauntlet. Dirty looks abound, since you are clearly feeling confident enough to steal something because you “deserve” a little extra because of that “embarrassing” moment at the register involving the fact that you may have “bought” your membership form a membership scalper “outside”. Oh, they know how you work. And you’ll be checked out — again — once you get in line to leave. That’s right: there’s even a line for the exit.

“Hello” you say to the kind older Samcurity guard stationed at the exit, equipped with a sharp highlighter, her hand extended in full expectation that you will provide her with the proper documentation to be excused to the parking lot. You were given this document, printed on two sides, upon my leaving the altercation at the cash register where you tried to put a 40-pack of Ammonia in a box marked “Clorox”. She is looking at your receipt, then looking at your cart.
Looking at your receipt, then looking at your cart.
Receipt.
Cart.
Cart again, just to change it up.
Receipt.
A look into your eyes and you am given the pink (or yellow, or orange) flag to leave, in the form of a highlighter swipe across my receipt, ensuring that I am authorized to depart because I have rightly paid for everything in my carts. I’m glad they do this. It probably discourages people from stealing tires while someone else sidetracks the “ungreeter” during the exit interview. I know that I’ve considered such a caper at least a time or two. I am more than willing to endure a full cart scan and guilty-until-proven-innocent pat down before I leave. After all, this is an elite club where TSA guards come to be trained.

Your membership card gets you in to the building. An impossible to counterfeit highlighter swipe gets you out.

Incidentally, who is the highlighter on the receipt for? No one will see your receipt again, right? Me thinks they’re going to put a check-out guard shack at the entrance. After loading the trunk of your car, carefully putting the giant bag of skittles next to the sharpest part of the jack, you clutch your marked receipt as your lifeline, knowing that if the guy at the shack doesn’t see that pink line that starts out fat and then becomes kinda skinny (the way Mildred always draws it), you won’t be released from the compound. But that’s okay. It keeps the only marginally serious shopper away from your treasure trove. Failure to comply will result in you seeing firsthand why they call it Sam’s Club. Hint: it’s made of rough-sewn wood and leaves a member’s mark.

You’re driving home, feeling especially victorious because you just pulled one over on ol’ Sam. He didn’t even see you coming! The sound of skittles rolling around in your trunk reminds you that maybe you should’ve also bought some garbage bags or a 4-pack of Shop Vacs.

\\\
The author means nothing bad by this and hopes that they won’t revoke his membership. -Ed.

About radamdavidson

I'm a husband, dad, and pastor living in Portage, Michigan. I suppose I'm a euphoric melancholy generalist with average skills, experiences, and passions across several intertwined disciplines and hobbies including music, speaking, writing, leadership, ministry, and collecting cultural artifacts from the 1980's -- mostly vintage boomboxes. You can read my blog at www.radamdavidson.com, subscribe to my podcast (RadCast) or friend me on facebook.com/radamdavidson. about.me/radamdavidson
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