Wal-Mart — I’m OK with it


I used to go out of my way not to shop at Wal-Mart. It wasn't necessarily the argument Sam Walton's chain of behemoth discount stores was causing the death of the local retailer, though as a newspaper employee I was acutely aware boutique advertisers and not mega corporations were funding my meager checks.

For me, it was more a personal snobbery. Though I was poor and shopped at thrift stores, I'd turn up my nose at girls parading around in ill-fitting, badly sewn attempts at the latest trends. If those were the kind of clueless people who patronized Wal-Mart, I'd skip it, thank you.

That all changed when I moved to a small city and got a dog. After buying enough expensive treats and gear from PetCo, I found myself in the pet aisle at Wal-Mart and was blown away by the all the money I could save.  My dog needed a constant supply of food, bones and leashes. This wasn't about clothes anymore.

I gradually started buying other things there, including clothes. Not everything in the fashion department is spot on, but if I can rock it, who cares.

And it's no secret most Wal-Marts let RVers park free overnight. So I have spent more money at Wal-Mart on this trip than at all the local stores (which I still purposely go to), combined.

When I got to Arkansas I was reminded that Sam Walton founded the company in Bentonville, today a city of about 20,000.

There is a museum there and I made a special trip to visit it.
Along with a nice collection of memorabilia, there's an emphasis on Walton's business philosophy. The most notable of his tenets, I think, is to embrace change.

After all, the discount department store was as much a part of the inevitable future in the 1960s when Wal-Mart was founded as a drastic restructuring of newspapers is today.

Walton got his start in boutique retailing and would regularly visit other stores to get a sense of what customers gravitated to.

I believe (as he did) that local retailers still have a future. I believe newspapers have a future, too.

I also believe forerunners embrace change.
Wal-Mart's business model will no doubt get a wakeup call one day, too.

Today there are 3,520 Wal-Marts across the U.S. and 3,593 in 15 other countries. The company's stock has split two-for-one an astounding eleven times since it was listed in 1970.

Not bad for a self-made Joe from Arkansas.

Here are recreations in the museum of Walton's first office, his last office before he died (with a closeup of the books on his shelf) and the red pickup truck he used to drive.

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For those who feel lost

I tell myself one of the reasons this trip is so exciting is because
I never know which of my 300 million "neighbors" I might meet.
America is full of different types of people. It's dauntingly big geographically, too.
In uncharted territory I could find myself feeling lonely or displaced.
But the longer I'm on the road, the more I feel at home — in big
cities, small towns, unincorporated lands or on Indian reservations.

St. Paul, Neb., a guy sitting next to me on the tractor ride to the
drag racing strip randomly asked where I was from. Turns out he'd been
raised in Moses Lake, Wash., not far fromWenatchee where I used to live and work.

In Idaho, I took a small detour to Lapwai on the Nez Pierce Indian Reservation, where I met and interviewed a guy who was sick with cirrhosis of the liver.
Three months later in northwest Oklahoma on a different
off-the-beaten-path reservation, I engaged in small talk with a woman
who tells me he was her step son. She also said he died July 14.
I am glad to have met him and glad to know his suffering is over. If I
hadn't asked the woman her last name I'd never have known.

When I
was in Gillette, Wyo. on the coal mine tour, I was drawn to a cool
young family that had recently moved to the area. I took their picture
and gave them my card. They visited my blog and told me they know the
pastor of the church I visited in tiny, out-of-the-wayOrofino, Idaho.

And while I was in Omaha, Neb., I got an email from a woman who'd stumbled across my website while googling Kenya. She says she was amazed to discover I had interviewed her Kenyan-bound daughter a couple months earlier while I was in Missoula, Montana.

small-world connections, along with feedback on my postings and help
from strangers when I experience mechanical difficulties, are what keep
me going. They're like a trail of marshmallows someone left in my
personal woods to tell me I'll be OK and am doing the right thing.

They make me wonder, too, about the surreal stories and connections that exist in all our worlds, yet remain undiscovered.

My time in Whiteclay

I got pulled over (again!) on a remote highway through the badlands area. The officer told me Washington to South Dakota is a drug trafficking route.
He asked where I was going and I told him I was headed to Whiteclay, had he heard of it? "Yes, I've heard of Whiteclay," he said with a frown. "WHY are you going there?"

He warned me repeatedly to be careful. "It's like nothing you've ever seen," he told me.
In many ways he was right, I guess, though I have been to Portugal and seen poor, disfigured and diseased people begging otuside the cathedrals. And there are many dusty, impoverished towns in Mexico.

What stands out about Whiteclay is how the ugly side of alcohol abuse (which, depending on one's tolerance, is pretty much as crippling as drug abuse) is on constant display.
No one even tries to hide it.
There's a "no open container" law. But the nearest Nebraskan police are stationed more than 20 miles away and they don't come around too much, I'm told.

I tried not to have prolonged interactions with anyone who was obviously drunk, the same caution I'd exercised anywhere.


But in the morning, during a free breakfast the BonFleurs host in partnership with Hands of Faith, another Whiteclay ministry, I talked, prayed in a group with and shook hands with lots of street people.

A guy who told me his name was Harrison showed me a cool way he tells his life story with a piece of paper, by folding it into a plane that first flies high then loses its wings due to alcohol abuse.
The ripped off pieces of wings spell the word "hell." But the remains of the original paper make a cross and by turning to Jesus, he says, the scraps can be rearanged to spell "life."
After showing me that, he rearranged the letters back to make "hell."

"So, which is it for you now?" I asked and he pointed to the rearranged scraps.
"Are you drinking again?"
He nodded and looked ashamed.

Harrison likes to say he's a perfect screw up and who am I to say I'm better? I've done my share of pavement biting. And from observation, I can tell you Alcoholism is a greedy bitch. Once she gets her claws in you, she tries to not let go.

All in all, I feel blessed to have met him and the others, who by the end of the day were probably lining the main street again like a menagerie of ghosts.

Sober, they were coherant, dignified, respectful. I do not feel they were trying to con me. They were not judging me or wishing me to fail. Sober, they were friends.

More ‘adventure’

I got pulled over the other night (first time!) for driving like a dumb girl and turning down a side street from the center lane. The cops (two guys who were probably younger than me) let me go with a warning, but not before a half hour of processing.
After the serpentine belt incident, I'd switched out my insurance papers to have the ones with my emergency roadside coverage more handy. Sadly, the dates on those papers are expired.
And my license was in my camera bag, which is tucked out of sight above the driver's area.
I had to retrieve both things from the inside of the RV and in each case, one officer had to follow me with his flashlight and instruct me to move slowly.
I'm glad they followed process because for their safety, they need to.

I kept thinking about the stories police officers get about a person. A youngish woman in a van from Washington state with a growling pit bull in the back. She doesn't look like the picture on her license. Seems nervous and says she's headed no where specific. But no warrants or signs of drug or alcohol use…

And then there's the story a journalist gets — what a person voluntarily reveals about their history, motivations, relationships. Warrants and a lack of insurance are usually left out of that.

Each method reveals a story and neither is really complete.

Am I the woman the cops see or the one interacting with the people I interview?

A scorned system

I have been thinking about universal aspects of Native American culture and why they are so appealing to me…
It would be nice to be in touch with the earth and your body, family, God. It would be rewarding to have a few tasks that you got progressively better at — tasks assigned based on your skills, wich you were honored for and reaped the benefits of.
I agree with the idea of not being wasteful and using every part of every thing, taking only what you need from the planet. It is, again, an issue of respect — respect for the land and for yourself.
With such a mentality, you could not feel significantly richer or poorer than your peers. You would not be bored or bingeful or depressed. Your life on this planet would be put in perspective. Your few days would be spent in thanksgiving to your creator, fellowship with your peers, and peace.
Take away that system of collaboration, respect and closeness with nature, though, and despite your ideals, you'd likely be where Indian cultures are today, in a limbo stage, celebrating the wisdom of the past, with few modern breakthroughs. It is a scorned system. Pearls tossed before swine and trampled.