Costco: The New World Order - Get in Line
By Jack Dolan
As an American, I shop at Costco. I don't know if Costco is worldwide just yet, but, like McDonalds, it will be and we invented it. Remember that, world.
I believe Costco is, and I say this with great respect for our national parks and monuments, the quintessential American experience. I think that when visiting dignitaries come to our country on diplomatic fact-finding missions, our envoys should bypass the Hoover Dam and Cape Canaveral: they should take them directly to the nearest Costco. Treat them to a dog and a combo slice. Let them rub elbows with our great-unwashed proletariat in their natural environment. It's like the Wild Animal Park, but without the chain link.
Costco is the model for America's future; maybe even the world's future. Its 21st century shopping in its purest, distilled form. It doesn't need to attach itself to a mall or take up prime real estate on Main Street. It is self-sufficient, like a space station. Costco would survive on the moon if they had enough room for the parking lot.
For those few who have never been to a Costco, let me introduce you to the future of shopping. Our Costco in my town is its own universe, centered on a monolithic warehouse kind of like the sun that radiates out to its various satellites; a gas station, 24 Hour Fitness, Jack in the Box, etc., all orbiting the periphery of its gravitational pull. Connected by a great geometric expanse of white-striped blacktop linking these outposts to the mother ship, the warehouse dominates the epicenter of this solar system. The structure is carved from a massive cube of concrete, devoid of windows or wasteful ornamentation. I always picture the original Costco as a converted penitentiary. They simply tore down the watchtowers and concertina wire, and slapped a horizontal stripe around the cold gray block.
At the gaping maw that serves as the entry door to this consumer's cathedral, a gatekeeper stands with a perpetual smile and glossy ad sheets to hand out. You show this person your secret decoder ring that proves you are one of them, and he pipes you aboard with a subtle nod and a palm-full of ad sheet.
The real show begins here, under the big tent. Calling Costco a warehouse is like calling the USS Ronald Regan nuclear aircraft carrier a boat. The average Costco could hide an Airbus A380 in the deli section. It's massive ceiling towers high above you, up beyond the mercury vapor Stalag 17 floodlights, beyond the great structural girders spanning the acreage of discount stuff, up where clouds form in the thin air and Costco buzzards fly lazy circles, hunting for stragglers and small, unattended children.
Warning: Costco on a Saturday afternoon is not for the weak. As you enter, you're swept into a traffic pattern that sucks you and your giant shopping cart into a vortex that will eventually spit you back out, into the parking lot. It's kind of like traversing downtown Rome on a Vespa at rush hour. I predict that within the next twenty years, there will be an air traffic controller stationed in a crow's nest in the rafters of each Costco. Their job will be to direct field hands with cattle prods stationed throughout the facility to keep the shoppers moving.
Once you're inside, stroking upstream with the rest of the salmon, you are immediately bombarded with oversized sights and sounds. To your left, a gigantic cartoon mermaid on a vibrant 200-inch 3D screen battles a hockey goalie on the screen straddling the next aisle. And, like moths to a front porch light bulb, each screen has attracted gaping swarms of little kids and pot bellied guys wearing baseball caps, respectively. (This is where the guy with the cattle prod would come in handy.)
As you bumper-car your way down the main aisle, you can see in your periphery narrow, darker passageways, smaller perpendicular tributaries with merchandise stacked to infinity on industrial steel racks, but you can't break free of the tractor beam pulling you toward the back of the store so you just make a mental note of whatever catches your eye. You naively remind yourself to pick the item up next time, but you know it will have been picked clean by the time you return.
You work your way around the race track main aisle as it sucks you down into the belly of the beast, all the way to the back of the store, then along the back wall, and up the other side toward the one hundred and fifty seven check stands there to separate you from your money. The current flows systematically, with the predetermined geometric efficiency of a ride line at Disneyland, in a clockwise direction around the store and out. (I wonder if in the Australian Costcos it would flow counterclockwise?)
Along the way, you find aid stations handing out paper shot glasses lumped with mystery meat floating in some pastel saliva. These are placed here strategically to keep your strength up so you don't collapse and get trampled and your carcass eaten by the buzzards.
Don't try to read labels or stop to contemplate how you will utilize a 1,500 watt nose hair remover or a Sego palm the size of half a redwood buzz saw in a hundred gallon pot, just muscle them into your cart and keep moving. Aspirin? There's a handy 55 gallon drum of 4,000 milligram Turbo Tylenol in the pharmaceutical section, between the rectal Geiger counters and the portable Iron Lungs. Bread? How about eight loaves of 23 grain free-range falafel for a buck seventy-five? My wife would argue, "Sure, seven of them will grow mold before you can choke them down, but the one you do eat only cost you a buck seventy-five!" (FYI: A trip to Costco costs 150 bucks. Doesn't matter what you buy. I keep telling my wife I can't afford to save this much money.)
The butcher shop is a marvel of modern killing machines. It's like PETA's version of Armageddon. Through panoramic picture windows you can watch as your favorite animal is drawn and quartered, dissected, ground up and plastic wrapped and handed to you, all before you're swept downstream in the human current pushing you toward the next station.
And the demonstrations! Hurry, hurry, hurry, tell you what I'm gonna do. Solar powered tattoo machines/pet engravers, do it yourself vasectomy kits (Hell of a demo), Backyard Bug Discouragers (this is truly brilliant. Instead of cruelly extinguishing God's little creatures in a zapper, it uses this small trebuchet-like contraption that launches a softball-sized lump of dog crap into your neighbor's yard so the bugs go over there. (Again, Hell of a demo.)
At the end, you're dumped out into the checkout cues, cart overflowing, a thousand fellow salmon jockeying for that one magic line where the carts ahead of them are piled low enough to see over and the person at the cash register appears coherent.
Finally, you thread through one last line: a smiling cart-checker at the gaping maw that's marked "exit" (your papers are NOT in order!) and you're spat out into the mundane, disorderly world that isn't Costco.
But imagine if it was. Imagine the day when the entire country, the entire world, is run as efficiently, as productively, as Costco. No more gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands, wasting time deciding on which car to buy or which concert to attend. Simply get in the cue at the square-mile sized Costco from Logan's Run. This is the car we have today (we killed the manufacturer in Botswana for a gross of purple ones). And here are your concert tickets. There are three of them for this Tuesday's midnight show and they're all behind a large pole, but they're 75% off retail! Where do I line up?