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If you're looking for the ravioli...

Posted Friday, January 23, 2009, at 2:45 PM

Oops — I did it again. I went to Wal-Mart on a Saturday. I don't know why I put myself through this every weekend. Why does anyone? I spent one summer as a Wal-Mart cashier, and I know first-hand that even an hour spent in that madness, whether as an employee or a shopper, is enough to put any girl in a foul mood.

It begins with the parking lot stalkers. You know who I mean. They spot a shopper with a cart full of groceries and hold up traffic so they can follow the shopper to his or her her minivan, put on their blinker, wait for her to unload her groceries, return the cart, and leave — all so that they can pull into a parking spot that's 20 feet closer than the next one available.

Inside the store, there are screaming babies and crowds so thick it's impossible to cut a clear path down the cereal aisle. Move too fast, and you're doomed to a cart-on-cart collision or to follow the clueless old gentleman moseying down the walkway while his wife makes a beeline for the pork chops. Move too slow, and you'll get your heels nipped by an overzealous shopper who is following too closely. Take a second too long to select your Hamburger Helper flavor of choice, and shoppers will swarm to get around you and, in the process, block you into the aisle.

Yes, it's much safer to grab your food and run — preferably at the same time.

It's annoying, and yet, I often find myself foraging for food at Wal-Mart on the weekend. It's the most convenient time, and really, it's not much different any other day of the week.

Last weekend's shopping list included ingredients for a baked ravioli casserole: frozen ravioli, mozzarella cheese and spaghetti sauce. It went well until I hit the frozen foods aisle in search of ravioli. Clearly, the ravioli would be in the section marked "pasta." Right? Wrong. So, so wrong. Wal-Mart's definition of pasta, apparently, means stuffed pasta shells, dumplings, and "heat and serve" pastas, sauce included, in plastic bags.

I looped around and headed back down the aisle. Lean Cuisines, veggies, tater tots, ice cream. Definitely no ravioli to be found. Honestly, it's not like ravioli is a kitchen rarity. It had to be there somewhere. My fourth time down the aisle, I was a little embarrassed. I mean, really. Why did I have to be THAT weirdo monopolizing the floor space in the already cramped frozen foods aisle?

As I peered once more into the shelves of "frozen pasta," a sharp pain on my left hand jolted my attention. In a woman's attempt to pass me, she had sideswiped my cart, and my fingers — wrapped around the outside edge of my cart — were being scraped and pinched between our two carts. I must have yelped in pain, because she swiveled around and uttered an "Oh, I'm sorry, dear."

I gave up! The stuffed shells would make a decent substitute. I tossed them into my cart and made a run — well, a crawl, in Wal-Mart time — for the cash registers, flinging lettuce and bananas into my cart along the way. That was enough shopping for me. Luckily, the breakdown had come at the end of my excursion.

Despite my frustration, I couldn't help but soften when I saw the weary cashier standing at the register, the counter stacked with groceries and an impatient customer watching her every move. Oh, I remember those days. A Saturday is not a Saturday at Wal-Mart until you've been ordered to double-bag all the groceries (even the bread), yelled at for denying double coupons, or grown sore from lifting endless, heavy containers of kitty litter, soda and laundry detergent.

When it's my turn to check out, I habitually organize my groceries the Wal-Mart way: frozen food together, refrigerator items together, no dishsoap or Windex in with the food items. I smile. I say please and thank you. I load my own groceries. When I pass the Wal-Mart greeter, I smile again and wish her goodbye.

Since my days at Wal-Mart, I've worked in a few other retail and customer-oriented jobs. While it may be easy to brush off high school or college work experience as mindless and temporary, I believe that's far from the accurate description. I've often thought that the world would be a happier place if everyone had to work in retail at some point. Wouldn't we all have a greater appreciation for those frazzled cashiers and sales associates? Would we be more likely to remember our manners? Less likely to berate a worker who has simply made a mistake? More understanding that company policy is policy, and that we will never be the exception to the rules?

The truth is, we learn a lot from those "mindless" jobs of our teenage years. And while we may move on to "bigger and better" things, some former co-workers will remain at those jobs long after we leave. Work is work, after all.

Who knew a trip to Wal-Mart could be so humbling?

And, in case you were wondering, my stuffed shell casserole was delicious — but I'm still hoping to find that ravioli someday.

Update: As I wrote this blog, I began to worry. What if the ravioli really was in plain sight, and I had merely overlooked it in my haste to get my shopping done? Boy, wouldn't I look like a dummy if I got 10 comments saying, "Duh, Robyn, the ravioli's right there! How could you miss it?"

With a much calmer, and more determined mind, I returned to Wal-Mart in search of the ravioli. And guess what? I finally found it...in the frozen snacks section.

Snacks? Really?

Showing comments in chronological order
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Excellent blog and you are 100% correct about the entire shopping episode, although any day or time during the week is exactly the same shopping there, even after midnight. Thanks!

-- Posted by stephk on Sat, Jan 24, 2009, at 7:54 AM

I NEVER brush off anyone who is earning an honest living!

Funny that I just read this, because it is Saturday and it's off to Wally World I go!

Thanks for the thoughtful blog!

-- Posted by Lumpy on Sat, Jan 24, 2009, at 11:35 AM

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Mind Games
Robyn Gautschy
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Robyn Gautschy writes for special publications at the Southeast Missourian. She is a 2008 graduate of North Central College in Naperville, Ill., where she studied journalism, sociology and gender and womenıs studies. She enjoys discussing everyday life situations because they are almost always related to bigger and more complex issues.
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