Adventures In Everyday Consumerism

Jennifer’s letter is perfectly ordinary. It’s the tale of one day in the life of a consumer, a mother, trying to run some errands. Her ToDo list reads: Send letter at post office, return grandma gifts at Walmart, shots at Kaiser. Of course, it’s not as easy as that, because nobody knows how to do their jobs anymore and the dang sauce pitchers exploding off the shelves and whatnot.

Her excellent letter, inside.


Jennifer writes:

    “I’m not sure if what to call this story…I’m not sure if it’s an actual consumer story, but it does involve one government agency, an HMO, Walmart, and a killing spree- so it should be interesting if nothing else. It was originally just a cool moment of customer insurrection at the Post Office, but it gets better (or worse.) .

    Today was the last “errand day” before the first day of school, so we got up extra early to run through our list of chores. The first stop is the post office, which is so notoriously busy we showed up at opening time to avoid the rush. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I got in there- three clerks and only two people ahead of me. The first was a mail carrier who was finished pretty quickly but apparently had some chatting to catch up on. The second came to pick up a letter which was apparently very, very heavy, because it took them fifteen minutes to ring up..

    By this time, there were about twenty people in line behind me, which was okay, because it was my turn. Alas, it was not to be. Two of the three clerks seemed very occupied with things out of sight, and the one I expected to call me up seemed to have forgotten how to make eye contact. After about five minutes of fiddling about, while customers behind me in line started sighing and twitching, she picked up a tray of rubber stamps and left the room. Almost immediately afterward, the other two followed, leaving the desk empty for a good ten minutes. Not once did any of them speak to, acknowledge, or even make eye contact with anyone in the line, which by now stretched out the door and was beginning to get grumbly. The postmaster poked his head out briefly and then ducked back out of sight. The clerks began to return, one by one, but still failed to notice the twenty-odd people milling about making snarky comments about the postal Service. I decided it was a now or never moment, and waved at one of the clerks who seemed to be walking off again. She looked sort of surprised that I was speaking to her, mumbled something about ‘being right back,’ and started off again. I made some sort of protest, and she waved me over- and still, no eye contact.

    One of the louder grumblers just sort of lost it and started demanding some attention. After his third, very audible, “excuse me,” one of the other clerks actually looked at him- and then walked away. My clerk grabs my box and rings me up- for what, I’m really n ot sure, because she never asked me how I wanted to send this box. Mr. Grumbly is now demanding she go fetch the postmaster, but she can’t do it, because she’s “helping a customer.” I t ake my box back and tell her no problem, go ahead and get him, I’ll wait, and I’d like to see him too. She waves Mr Grumbly to the Passport Office for “customer service,” but he’s not having it. So the boss lady comes charging out from the back and starts ordering the guy to “Calm down, sir, you’re causing a disturbance,” at which time all hell breaks loose as about twenty people announce their support of “sir” and his commotion. Mr Postmaster sticks his head out briefly and retreats, and boss lady tells us that the postmaster is not in today. Dumb looks all around.

    When left, customers were gathering outside , planning a group complainathon. (BTW- Fremont main PO at Dusterberry) A partial victory for the People, not a complete disaster.

    So this is where I planned this to end, but the saga continues- next stop, Walmart. The Fremont Walmart is a particularly dank, crowded, scary place to which I never willingly go, except that today I have to exchange grandma’s gift of dockers an d yellow t-shirts to my punk rock seventh grader. Follows the long line at customer service, which requires I surrender my Driver’s license number (?) I take my little plastic card, grab a cart, and head for the boy’s department- or at least I try, but my cart won’t let me- every few steps, it lurches hard to the right and nearly whacks a passer-by in the butt. I turn a corner and a display of ‘sauce pitchers’ explodes off the shelf all over me, and of course everyone is looking right at me as if I’d pulled a Uri Geller. I find my stuff and lurch to the checkout, where one of the biggest Walmarts in California has TWO checkers on the day before school. The wait is an hour, and I have no book and the only available reading is Angelina & Brad, Jon Benet, and forty-one quick n easy crockpot recipes. When I finally get to the front, I have half a dozen items which refuse to scan…and of course, every single cranky person in line is glaring at me, because I must have intentionally chosen the only package of Batman underwear in the store that won’t scan. A complete disaster, made even worse by the discovery (back home) that a pair of jeans is defective and needs to be returned.

    Next up is good old Kaiser, where my five year old is going for his fourth immunization shot this week. Not that he needs any, but they have mysteriously ‘lost’ all of his immunization records from two separate branches. He’s back again because four times they have told me he has what he needs to start Kindergarten but each time I present the new record, the school sends me back, where Kaiser gives him another ‘replacement’ shot and sends us back. (the one flower in this heap of cow pie is Monica, the tireless employee who hunts down records, calls doctors for me, and gives me secret back-door phone numbers, we LOVE Monica!.) Two days before school starts, they called to tell us the records are gone, and the appointment they deemed unnecessary is now necessary- and unavailable. I am directed to call a special number to beg for an emergency appointment, because my son cannot go to school without these shots, and if he is not in school by day two, he will be sent to an ‘overflow school’ a mile away. I make the call on my cell while running errands, and use up ALL of my minutes while on hold for three hours, after which I give up, leave an ‘urgent message’ which is of course never returned. The next day I call the pediatric unit to beg interference and they tell me there has never been any appointment necessary for injections. Skip a few more annoyances, and we’re getting the last shot. I stop by the pharmacy to pick up my older son’s medications “while I’m here,” where they want to charge me a hundred bucks because they are not generics. Skip three hours of me trying to explain exception codes (and even producing my checkbook to show three months of sixty-dollar payments) to Kaiser pharmacists , and I’m out of luck because the one person who has any idea what’s going on is gone for the day. I cough up the hundred bucks, but I can’t have the medicine until I sign a form, where I am asked to print my name and Driver’s license number. the clipboard containing about a half-dozen other people’s numbers is left on the counter for about twenty minutes. I complain to the pharmacist, who tells me the info is ‘confidential,’ and I point out that can hardly be the case if I have access to six stranger’s vital statistics. He shoots me a worried look and takes off, and at the end of all my haggling over co-pays, he tells me that his manager agrees and as of today they have a new policy. So Kaiser, seventy-eight, People, one. I think.

    In between Walmart and Kaiser, we witnessed the tail-end of an “accident” on the road near our house; we later discovered our neighbor a block over went batshit and spent the afternoon running people over. Not really relevant but I guess it put things in perspective.”