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Friday, September 17, 2004

Superstore Haj

For the past few months I have been looking at a full-page ad for a huge electronics superstore that runs daily in the Seattle paper. The superstore lies somewhere out in suburbia. There is a map to the store in the ad. The map means nothing to me, as I have never been on that particular stretch of highway. It is in or near a city whose location I couldn’t say is north, south, east, or west of where I live in downtown Seattle. I have never been compelled to drive anywhere just to make a purchase. If I want something I walk or ride my bike downtown and buy it, but I kept looking at the ridiculously low prices in the superstore’s ad.

How could I sit idly by in my urban smugness while spindles of 100 recordable CD’s are being sold for under ten dollars? A five megapixel digital camera goes for $297! Who cares that I don’t know what the fuck a megapixel is, this is just too cheap to pass up. Laptop computers for $649 and software packages for $0, yes $0, after rebates.

On some days I simply ignored the ad. On other days I felt vulnerable, I felt that perhaps my laptop needed more umpf, more power, more memory; I had to have more something, damn it, and I didn’t want to pay a lot of money for it. My normally anti-consumerist fa├žade withered under the daily onslaught of $24 wireless routers and 160 gigabyte hard drives for $59 (after rebates).

What held me back for so long was the frightening suburban address. I would have to go by car to trade my legal tender for obscenely low-priced electronic gadgets. I asked people around me if they had ever been to this strange and wonderful place in the suburbs. No one I talked to had actually been there but they all had second-hand accounts of wondrous purchases made by friends of friends, their lives made fuller and more meaningful by prices well below the suggested manufacturers’ retail. Fear of driving denied me the superstore’s low prices and insanely large selection. Fear of driving kept me huddled in my urban bunker of high prices and complete absence of mail-in rebates.

But what if I went with someone else, what if I used the buddy system to find this suburban Mecca of high tech wizardry? One intrepid bargain-hunter may be defeated by a maze of suburban freeways and interchanges but surely two college-educated shoppers could make it to the pot of gold at the end of this asphalt rainbow. I grabbed a thick wad of cash and drove out of my inner-city over-priced ghetto.

It was raining, so the traffic was more of a mess than usual, and it is usually awful. It was also the one day that the superstore didn’t run its full-page ad with the map so we had no idea where we were going. I was vectored in via cell phone by a superstore ground traffic controller. 45 minutes later the superstore appeared like a vision, a vision with plenty of free parking. As we walked inside we resisted the urge to high five each other. I was focused on one thing: An external hard drive for my music-gorged laptop.

A group of attractive young female employees welcomed us as we entered. I think they were the superstore solid gold dancers. I was directed to the external hard drives by one of the five thousand or so employees of the superstore. Within minutes of entering the superstore I had a 160 gig external hard drive under my arm; but why stop there?

To make this already too-long story shorter, let me cut to the end. As I walked around in electronic wonderland I realized that I had lived this long without the appliance under my arm and that I could live a little longer without it. I put the hard drive back on the shelf. With the $227 I saved by not buying the hard drive I bought a $10 toaster and a DVD of The Godfather. I watched the movie last night and the DVD is damaged. There is no fucking way I would ever go back to electronic Mecca to return the DVD so I’ll just write it off as learning a lesson about trying to save a few bucks by going to a soulless superstore in suburbia to shop. I haven’t used the toaster yet.

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