It was time to plant the spring garden, and I needed a watering wand — specifically, a Gardena-brand watering wand. But after a little research, I found to my horror that the only store in Southern Oregon that carried it was Fred Meyer.
I'd lived in Ashland for a few months, and I'd been avoiding Fred Meyer. I'd walked into one years ago, on a trip to Bellingham, Wash. I'd gone in there to use the ATM, and I was staggered by the array — televisions, furniture, clothing, sporting goods, groceries. It looked like a Sears had collided with a Safeway, and a Pier One had skidded into the wreckage. People pushed carts piled high with ketchup bottles and alarm clocks and tennis rackets and toilet brushes. And as soon as I walked in, I swear, they all stared at me. I warily made my way to the ATM and then hurried out of there, a little spooked.
Who were those people, and what did they need with all those toilet brushes?
So here I was, all these years later, walking into a Fred Meyer again. I chose to enter via the garden center, figuring I'd grab a watering wand and make a fast exit. I passed racks and racks of pansies, which should be Oregon's state flower in springtime because they like torrential rain, and the snow doesn't kill them. I nearly tripped over boxes of summer bulbs — dahlias, alliums, lilies. These Oregon gardeners were a hopeful lot, fond of blossoms bigger than their heads.
The orange Gardena packages drew me like a beacon. I picked out one and turned to leave, but the aisles of fence wire and bath mats and mayonnaise elicited a little chirp from my inner homesteader. I told myself it was all in fun; I didn't really shop at a place like this. Still, I'd been told the weather would turn hot soon, and I was in need of some sandals. So I thought, what the hey, let's go look at the shoes.
The sandals were roosted among rows of shoes stretching off to the horizon. I'd never seen so many sandals in my life. And no salespeople hovered around to bug me. Serve yourself. Try some on. It was shoe-shopping heaven.
I spent a half-hour trying on sandals and picked out a perfect pair that didn't look ugly and didn't fall off when I changed direction. They were on sale. In fact, even the sale items seemed to be on sale, and signs told me they'd take more off at the register. It was some kind of mathematical vortex where, before long, they'd be paying me.
Now I was juggling a watering wand and a shoe box, and some skirts over in the clothes department had caught my eye. I realized with some embarrassment that I was going to need a shopping cart.
Within an hour, I'd piled my cart high with a skirt, two shirts, some dahlia bulbs, some moisturizer, a box of Raisin Bran, a bottle of ketchup and a toilet brush. And sandals and a watering wand.
Ever since then, I sometimes find myself thinking I could use a pair of pants. Or an air conditioner. Or silverware. So off I go to Fred Meyer, where I pile my cart high and eye the tourists flipping up their sunglasses as they come through the doors. I know they're here to ogle: "Look, honey, they buy pickles and underwear in the same place." I stare at them. This makes them nervous.
Get ahead and look, tourists. I'm shopping here.
Amy Miller is a freelance writer living in Ashland. She swears she does not, and never has, worked for Fred Meyer.