Saturday, April 12, 2008

Suburban Shopping Adventure

I had a couple of Big Box Store errands to run yesterday. Two items I'd ordered online needed returning and it was cheaper to bring them back to the store than to ship them. I also had a gift card from Christmas to a store I never shop at because there aren't any in DC or in the close suburbs. I decided to combine the two errands figuring that surely in the vast suburban expanse that surrounds Washington I'd find a town that had both of these stores. And I did. While I'm at it, I thought, in a deluded moment of pre-coffee inspiration, I'll finish off Margaret's summer wardrobe (Joseph never seems to need clothes--why is that?).
So we set off. If I could have done these errands in my city I would have, especially if I could have done them on foot. But two of the stores were determined for me. I had some discretion on where to shop for Margaret (though I hoped to use my gift card for her) but there are, sadly, few realistic options in town. Our neighborhood--defined broadly--has exactly one store that sells children's clothing. The clothes there cost more than I care to spend on myself at my most extravagant. If I were an entrepreneur I would open a consignment shop here for children's clothing. My neighbors have bags of clothes to spare. Some just give them away for free on our neighborhood e-mail list but even the prospect of free clothes is not enough to entice me to spend time on another list serve. Plenty of families have "yard" sales and I did score four sweaters for a dollar once last year but that was one lucky day out of a whole season of yard saling. I don't have that kind of time. So I couldn't shop locally but, how hard could it be? She only needed a few things.
City driving no longer bothers me. I think what gets to a lot of people is that there are so many option--so many ways you could turn. My extended family really don't like to come see us. They like us just fine but they always get lost here and they have trouble parking. I wrote a post once addressing this topic and it was well-liked. Growing up I seldom went into cities but we drove through them all the time. The freeway systems through East Coast cities are fast-moving and complicated. There are lots of merges and splits and exits on both sides of the road. I don't blame people for not liking to drive in that setting but I really don't think you can blame cities for that. Cities--many of them--are designed on a grid. New England cities aren't (so what does my family have to complain about!) and, yes, Washington has those pesky avenues that do not follow any system. But, for heaven's sake, just go to the next intersection--a mere one block away--and look at the number and/or letter signs to get your bearings. Or ask directions because there is almost certainly someone else out in a city. The suburbs, in my experience, are a different story. You can go for miles in the wrong direction --first because there aren't enough cross streets to alert you and second because there is no place to turn around. I know there are exceptions but this has happened to me more than once. I know, too, that I'm really complaining, again, about the highways and not the neighborhoods but the highways exist to get suburbanites into the cities for work. The highway system and suburban development do feed into one another but if there were no suburbs there would be a heck of a lot fewer highways.

I actually didn't get lost on yesterday's foray into suburbia. I stopped for coffee at a nice Starbucks. It lacked the atmosphere of the ones in town but at least it was easy to find a seat. I returned my online purchases without incident and moved on to the gift card store. This store was on Cherry Hill Drive or something. It was hilly, but the cherries were scarce. This annoys me about suburbs. I see developments with names like "Quail Run" or "Babbling Brook Village" and it's cute but, let's be honest, the quail left when the bulldozers arrived, and if the brook is still babbling the sound is drowned out by the roar of the traffic on the six-lane road required to get all those development-dwellers to work.
By the time I arrive at the gift card store I'm feeling a little on edge and a bit depressed by my surroundings. The kids are bored and its hot and there are too many rules and the stores are HUGE so if Joseph takes off he can really get far and I'm not even going to think about letting Margaret out of the shopping cart. She is not impressed with this arrangement and I was forced to camp out in the shoe department for awhile nursing my huge toddler in an attempt to avoid complete meltdown. I did manage to spend the gift card on sandals for Margaret and sunglasses for me. The sandals are pushing it for me in the cute department and they light up but at least Dora wasn't on them. But I'd still failed to complete Margaret's summer clothing supply and another, cheaper department store beckoned from the other end of the strip mall. Some of the newer suburban shopping centers are doing a decent job with a design that encourages customers to walk between even the big stores. This typically requires underground parking. I was not, however, at one of these centers so we got back in the car to get through the maze of parking lots. This is what really puts the kids over the edge on these trips. If we're on foot I can often do a couple errands in one shot or, if I only can fit in one because of the slower pace, it doesn't feel like time and energy wasted because we've at least gotten out doors and had a good walk. But gas prices being what they are and traffic being what it is I can't bear to get all the way to outer suburbia and come home with items left on my list. These big department stores try to have it all but you can't have it all.

So we're in and out of the car, in and out of shopping carts, loading and unloading a heavy wheelchair, going from cool store to hot car over and over. We were cranky but, darn it, Margaret needed those clothes. I threw (well, not really) both kids in the back of the shopping cart at the our last destination and zoomed to the toddler clothes section. I was optimistic because when I'd last been in this store they'd had several racks of just what I was looking for. I guess they had just what everyone was looking for because they were sold out. Okay. Fine. Margaret was attempting to dive onto the floor, taking Joseph's head with her, anyway. Back out to the car. Back onto the freeway. I put both kids down for a nap as soon as we got home. Then I went on to Amazon and completed Margaret's summer wardrobe in about ten minutes for less than I'd probably spent on gas that morning.

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