I could also see that Big Store had some bargains. Close to the front was a jewelry counter, all lit up and showing engagement rings for less than a thousand dollars and one man was talking about a set of tires in the back he was getting “for half of what Goodyear charged”. I didn’t need rings or tires so I started down the aisle, looking for the things on my list.
Of course, Eufaula is a good thirty five miles from my house and the Big Store is eight miles past that but a summer evening is a good time for a drive. Ponder and I always liked to drive with the windows down catching the smells from whatever grew beside the highway. That evening, the smell was mostly honeysuckle. I caught a stink of paper mill once or twice and a big whiff of skunk as I passed a motel, but mostly it was honeysuckle. It was honeysuckle when I turned toward onto the short road that ends in the Big Store parking lot.
Now, no one told me about that road. It was dirt and chert rock for half a mile before it dropped so steep, the chert rolled off the road. It drop was full of gullies from rainstorms and I had to shift down and ride the brakes to get to the bottom. I hated to think about how I’d get up on the way back. Once it bottomed out, the road just fanned out into a parking lot without any lights or pavement. I didn’t guess there would be so many cars! It looked like a Wal-Mart lot crammed with everything from clunkers to Hum-Vees. People still parked in rows like there were lines painted and I left the Big Mule next to a bunch of scrub trees at the back of the lot. Through the cars, a steady stream of people were all headed for what looked like a big cave opening with a lot of lights at the mouth.
I didn’t expect a Roach Coach to be at the Big Store but there was one, chrome gleaming in the car lights, next to the mouth of the opening. Lots of people were gathered around it, laughing and drinking sodas and eating what the girls had fried up inside. I’ve seen what goes into those Roach Coach burgers and I wasn’t about to spend my money there.
Instead, I walked straight to the entrance, where a man checked my membership card. There were red arrows painted on the concrete floor that pointed to the right and an empty place for shopping baskets. I thought I’d keep an eye out for an empty buggy somewhere in the store. On the left, was a line of cash registers with cashiers checking people out and customers lined up behind each register.
It wasn’t till I got past the entrance that I saw the Cavern part of the warehouse. The floor was smooth cement and the wooden walls went up about twenty feet but above that the walls and ceiling were limestone. The limestone was crisscrossed with electric cables fastened into the rock and florescent lights and mechanics lamps hung down every few feet or so. The aisles were made up of gigantic shelves stacked two levels high and from the back I could hear the toot of forklifts, probably carrying more goods around.
I figured the Big Store would be pretty and bright but I was wrong. For all of the hanging lamps it was dark on the inside, not well lit at all. The store lamps only created pools of light right beneath where they were hanging and in between those light circles it got plumb gloomy. I wasn’t expecting the clutter either. I knew the Big Store sold everything from the cradle to the grave but I didn’t expect all of the clothes would be folded into stacks 3 feet high or hung so many on a rack that you couldn’t really see what was there. I pulled at one stack of black dresses and found they all looked like tank tops with skirts sewed on to the bottoms. Hardly something I’d wear. At the end of one aisle was a bin of women’s sandals, one style but all different sizes, each pair tied together with a plastic cord. Women were tearing through those ugly things a mile a minute but it wasn’t worth the fight.
I never expected such a mix of people in the Big Store. Lots of them looked like the families I had worked for with the men in khakis and golf shirts and the women looking stylish. Some other folks were more like me, wearing clean jeans and t-shirts but a lot of people needed to be cleaned up before you could throw them in jail. Imagine, walking through The Big Store wearing tube tops and open shirts with stomach fat bulging over your jeans! One thing I did see: you could pick out the regulars easy cause they wore their membership cards around their necks, hanging from blue cords. I decided I‘d buy me one of those cords; it was a good idea.