There are three kinds of people: those who feel morally superior to Walmart, those who feel socially superior to people who shop at Walmart, and my people -- those who see Walmart as a shopping haven.
Don't get me wrong. I have found more than a few moments of levity while avoiding cleanups on aisle 27. I have even shared a couple with you -- mostly on my visits to Bend (opposites attract; cultural spills on aisle 1).
But when a shopper needs something (and the other hoity-toity shops cannot help), there is always Walmart. I may not classify Walmart as high in its social value as Homer Simpson rates television ("Television! Teacher, mother, secret lover."), but I can almost always count on it to come through for me.
During my six years in Mexico, I have discovered, when I come north, I buy fewer things to take south to Mexico than I once did. My suitcases once looked as if I were attempting to import some of my worst shopping choices to Mexico.
I no longer need to do that. NAFTA has done it for me. As have some rather enterprising young Mexican men. One, in particular, runs a boutique grocery (Hawaii) in Melaque that caters to the northern crowd in the winter months and to middle class Mexicans in the summer months. My friends in San Miguel de Allende and around Lake Chapala tell me his stock is better than anything available to them.
That means that the type of merchandise I once muled across the border now regularly shows up on the shelves of Hawaii. What I cannot get there, I have learned to do without.
To a degree. Because, if I have some empty space in my bags, I still shop around for those exotic items that will elude the best shopper in Mexico.
It turns out they may elude the best shopper in Oregon. I stopped at several of my usual haunts in hopes of finding something "honorable" (as Auda Abu Tayi put it in Lawrence of Arabia) to haul back to the house with no name.
Costco. Safeway. Whole Foods. Fred Meyer. They all disappointed me. The special items they had once carried was occupied by a vast vacuous void.
In an attempt to convince me all was not lost, Darrel suggested a stop at Walmart. He had spotted two pound loaves of Tillamook 3 year old extra sharp cheddar cheese last week. He had me hooked at "3 year old."
I was a bit surprised that Walmart would carry such an esoteric (and expensive) product. After all, the cultural stereotype is that cheese means Velveeta within the walls of the Walton empire.
It turns out the wise Walmart shoppers had already stripped the shelves of that particular ambrosia (the Tillamook, that is; not Velveeta). So, I went searching for the other items that the High street stores failed to stock.
And I batted almost 1.000. I couldn't find any Carr's roasted garlic and herbs water crackers. But I can learn to live with the pain.
Walmart in Mexico was once one of my favorite shopping stops when I would drive to Manzanillo. I seldom go there now. Not out of any misguided political pique, but because Hawaii has cleverly utilized free market tools to fill that gap and save me a two-hour round trip.
But Walmart in Bend will undoubtedly keep me stocked with the few things I now take back to Mexico.
And what happens when I stop making these trips north -- when Darrel and Christy move south? I will do what everyone else does. Find a substitute or simply learn to deal without.
Until then, I count Walmart as a place to witness a good story and to get a good buy.