Adventures at Walmart

The more I go to Walmart with clients, the more I see that they are providing a service, many services, to people who need them. This is not an original thought I had. Susan Ingliss argued the point on Facebook last week. She’s right. Today I went to Walmart with a client who needed a money order to pay his rent. He also needed to withdraw cash and cash some checks. He got all three things done at Walmart for pretty nominal fees. If he had wanted to, he also could have bought groceries, had a key cut, emptied out his change jar and had it counted and cashed (again for not a lot of money) and rented a movie.

I understand the arguments against Walmart. I’ve never been a fan. But the more time i spend there, the more I see it as a sort of neutral gathering place, doing services that need doing for a little money here, a little money there. And the more I go to Walmart with clients and nothing terrible happens to me, the theory goes, the less I will hate Walmart. So far, this is not the case. But I understand these things take time. Because I am a trained professional.

Today when I went to Walmart, all my anxiety triggers were there. Crowds of people, check. Shiny floors and fluorescent lights? Check. Random beeps, boops, bells and other loud background sounds? Double check. But what really got my stomach knotted was the Second Sedan.

One navy blue sedan with handicapped plates parked sideways across three parking spaces is and was obnoxious. I commented to my client that that person must be Very Important to merit three spaces with their sedan. In my mind I was thinking, huh. I guess even disabled people can be total assholes.

As I turned two lanes down to look for parking I saw Another Sedan (also navy blue, different make, and with no handicapped plates) parked sideways, across three handicapped parking spaces. Both were aimed in the same direction, no one in either car. My brain did some calculations, as it is often wont to do. National sideways asshole parking day? No. Cops? no, not Chargers, Crown Vics or even Mustangs. No spotlight, no cage. And a cop with a handicapped plate? No. Coincidence? Probably. But brains hate coincidences. They’re all about connections and meaning.

What did it mean that there were two nondescript and not matching cars parked sideways across the disability parking spaces of a crowded Walmart? Gabby Giffords, September 11th, Boston Marathon… And also I didn’t even know about these:, The most salient explanation for the behavior of the people who drove these cars was that they were planning a terrorist attack and wanted to make a quick getaway.

I steeled myself. Remember there’s a client in my passenger seat as I’m making all these totally logical connections. Often the difference between the person who is the “mental health worker” and the person who is the “client” is just a teensy step. If I had been alone, I likely would have (not been in that parking lot, I grant you) left the store without going in and waited for the news story about the tragedy.

But I wasn’t alone. I went in, spent about 45 minutes in the store, the first fifteen were spent scoping out my hiding spots and pondering whether I’d throw my client in front of me if there was a shoot-out. Then I wondered about what kind of person I would be if I threw my client into the line of fire. Would people sympathize with my panicked mind? Would they judge me harshly? This line of thought led me to scope out hiding spots more thoroughly.

Maybe I should have called the authorities. After all, I did see something. Should I have said something?  I was picking out perpetrators (white guy, dark red hair, with his sunglasses on his forehead, ear buds in and carrying a large brief case), picking out first unfortunate victims. It just goes to show you…. Something.

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