“Teachers pretended to believe in the importance of what they taught, art and history, save the Earth, respect your fellowman, but they shopped at Wal-Mar like everybody else, while their neighbors’ businesses went under. His classmates sang in church on Sundays and Wednesday nights but somehow the girls got pregnant anyway. He wondered why the all spent so much time convincing themselves they were somebody else.”
– Terry, from Bitterroot by James Lee Burke
Yeah, I try not to be one of those “teachers.” I don’t always succeed in that sometimes all the mom and pops have been put out of business, I can’t afford them, or I need whatever it is now and mom and pop are twenty miles away/closed/offline/etc. I haven’t been in a Wal-Mart in at least a decade. I get that their environmental policies have improved somewhat and I get that yes, I’m paying a nickel more for toilet paper, but their stance toward workers hasn’t really improved and I’d spend more than a nickel driving to the nearest Wal-Mart. I also have this thing about going to those giant stores full of “stuff” because I know that it’s way too hard to go in for toothpaste and come out three hundred dollars lighter carrying things you have no place to put, don’t need, and aren’t sure how you ended up buying.
And I get better service from people than companies. Really.
I had a pair of earrings I bought on Etsy. I somehow lost one. Looked everywhere. No earring. Now, if I’d have bought them from some sellers or most companies, I’d have been out of luck. Instead, I contacted Organikx and she said she’d be happy to make another. I sent off the one I had (so she could match it and, you know, because I didn’t need one earring) and paid her (half what a new pair would cost). She sent back the pair a few weeks later.
Bigger and better example: Pants for Hubby. Anyone following me on Twitter a few weeks ago probably heard about the Pantspocalypse cause by Hubby waiting until the last possible moment to try acquiring pants for his best friend’s wedding. When we couple this procrastination with the fact that he’s kind of an odd size for down here (34” by 36”), we get me calling every store in the South Florida area and pulling my hair out. Among others, I called:
- Off Saks Fifth Avenue
- Ralph Lauren
- Tommy Hilfiger
- The Gap
- Banana Republic
- Banana Republic’s outlet store
- Men’s Wearhouse
- Some fancy-pants “European menswear” place on Las Olas
- Old Navy
- J.C. Penney
You get the idea. Only three places had anything that would work. The BR outlet told me they “might” have a pair “somewhere.” (Always promising.) Men’s Wearhouse and Off Saks told me they had some unfinished pants that were long enough, but the pants started at $80, they couldn’t guarantee they’d be hemmed in time for the wedding, and they weren’t entirely sure they had the right material (something light for a “guayabera summer formal” dress). Then, I called Austin Burke. They claim to have all the “famous brands” and all that. I don’t care whose name is on the label, though. I care if Hubby looks like he’s going wadin’ or not. Again, they had unfinished pants. Except, theirs were a little cheaper and they could hem them on the spot.
So, I talked Hubby into a trip to Miami. (We had to go down there for the rehearsal anyway.) He got one on one service from a salesperson. He found two nice pairs of pants. The sales guy marked them up and sent them off to be hemmed. We waited on the couches and chatted. Fifteen minutes later, we had two pairs of pants for around $160. (Given Banana Republic wanted eighty bucks a pair plus shipping and most of the stuff at Men’s Wearhouse started at $130 a pair, that’s not so bad. They’re also really nice pants.) Austin Burke stays in business by catering to celebrities and business people, but for occasions when you can’t get away with Dockers (or similarly casual pants, which were the only thing most of the above stores had in his size, if anything), it’s a great place to go.
But then, there’s also kind of a backlash against people who try to shop locally, against people who try to go to “mom and pops.” It’s the same sort of “who do you think you are” rant that comes up when one mentions recycling or organic foods or “Monsanto” for that matter, this “you’re not a real American” crap comes up. Except. But. Because. Wait. I want stuff I buy to last. I want my neighbors to have jobs. I want to get what I pay for (even if I have to pay a nickel or a dollar or ten more). I want my food not to kill me. I want my food not to kill other people or the planet. I want to be a good person and live a decent life and not get all stressed out about the little things and not get caught up in the world of greed and back-stabbing and lies.
I’ve tried all that. I worked in corporate America. I worked in advertising. I’ve worn the suits and sat in the cubicle. I’ve commuted and eaten food out of little plastic prisons. It didn’t make me happy. I spent a good deal of my days crying at my desk, actually. And I realized I don’t want a BMW (or Mercedes or other random status symbol). I don’t want a corner office I spend more time in than I spend at home. I don’t want designer pants and purses that only serve to advertise someone’s logo that was slapped on in China or India.
Hmm…guess I’m really not all that American anymore.