Happy Halloween!

Halloween 2019

Hey, they’re no Superman.

Happy Halloween, comrades! I’m bringing back the special holiday comics. Last Halloween, I decided to do a group costume, having the group dress up as the cast of Futurama. I really enjoyed that idea of highlighting a show that was really influential on me, so I wanted to do that again this year with this Scrubs group costume. I’m excited by how this turned out. That drawing of Pete is one of my favorite things I’ve ever drawn. The only problem I have with it is I left out Caroline, who could have stood in for the Janitor, and I’m kicking myself over that oversight. Oh well.

Anyways, have a safe and fun Halloween!

-The Retail Explorer

McMansions; or, Big, Ugly Boxes on the Hillside

I’m a delivery boy!

First and foremost, I apologize for the lack of new content here. Adjusting to the new job has been tiring. I’ve also been getting back into editing and other old pursuits, so my time management has been, to say the very least, shit.

Now, that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s chat, shall we?

You heard correctly; I’ve been in a new job for the past six weeks, and I’ve been really enjoying it. I’m currently in logistics (kind of). To put it more accurately, I’m like Philip J. Fry with a college degree and no space ship, which is infinitely lamer than the other way around. Regardless, I get to drive a lot, and I soak up considerable amounts of vitamin E while getting lots of fresh air and exercise.

I’m sure I heard some of you just say, “ew,” and that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. Nor is sitting around in an office staring at a computer or teaching in a classroom or building houses. We all have our niches we tolerate enjoy enough to do it for forty or more hours a week for decades. Different strokes for different folks.

Bottom line is this: I actually, mostly, enjoy it. My vehicle is state-of-the-art and a true joy to drive. The routes are fairly decent (except for the country routes, but that’s another can of worms in itself worthy of its own post). The people are friendly. And the architecture is…interesting.

Our company runs nearly two dozen routes each day, but each driver has been confined to a more general area of operation to help facilitate efficiency through locational familiarity. (Are those actual industry terms? I haven’t a clue, but they sound good, don’t they?)

My area is one that has been traditionally a country town. For most of my thirty-four years here, it has been exactly that. However, as is the case with many rural towns in proximity to larger metropolitan areas (I can think of at least five in my area alone), developers have noticed the desire for cheap, available land within decent proximity of the big city where people work, and they have taken full advantage.

Not a day passes when I think of two terms: “Little Boxes” and “McMansions”. Some of you may already know where I’m going with this. I’m talking about not merely subdivisions, but of subdivisions of cheaply made homes and even “mansions”. I say “mansions” with parentheses because they are an insult to proper mansions.

Agrestic is such a great, awful name for a subdivision. It’s perfect.

Developers refer to these as “custom homes”, though I can’t imagine the customization options are all that varied as they all look EXACTLY THE BLOODY SAME. That’s where “Little Boxes” comes in. Some of you may refer to the Showtime series Weeds, a dramedy that follows the antics of a suburban widow living and selling drugs in one of these such custom home communities. (If you haven’t seen it, the first three seasons are fantastic, while the rest are lesser, though still enjoyable. I’d suggest giving it a watch.) The theme song, “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds, talks about this very thing:

“Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes made of ticky tacky

Little boxes on the hillside,

Little boxes all the same,

There’s a pink one and a green one

And a blue one and a yellow one

And they’re all made out of ticky tacky

And they all look just the same.”

And it’s so true! You pull into one of these subdivisions, whose entrance is always marked with a pair of stoneworks straddling the street and the name of the subdivision, which is always something pleasant yet boring, carved into it, and you instantly know you’re entering somewhere devoid of soul or interest.

What defines them most is the continuity, and that’s not a compliment. Each house resembles the one next to it, which is, of course, by design. It’s precisely the point. I don’t know what the hell that point is or what it accomplishes, but that’s the way it is. Each of them has many of the same architectural features and building styles as its neighbor to the extent of tedium. Yes, we get it, you like brick arches with poorly fitted concrete keystones. Move on with it.

The majority of these subdivisions are average sized custom homes (basically anything under 3,000 square feet and at most a two-car garage), but there are many that are much larger homes, which Kate Wagner has wonderfully dubbed “McMansions.” They’re essentially custom homes on a much larger scale, attempting (poorly) to emulate older, properly designed and constructed mansions, but with terrible architecture and cheap materials. I cannot do justice to what an abomination to the landscape these homes are, so please, check out her website: https://mcmansionhell.com/. It is nothing short of glorious. I suggest beginning with the “McMansion 101” section for a proper education on why these fail so spectacularly.

But that’s what I do every day: I drive around, delivering to all of these custom homes, as I marvel at the extreme architectural monotony and wonder why the hell anyone would ever consider such a thing desirable.

Oh well. Not my circus or monkeys. It’s their world. I just deliver in it. Anyway, until next time, comrades. Be good to one another.

-The Retail Explorer

Road Trip; or, Minneapolis or Bust

For those of you who don’t pay attention to U.S. college athletics, my alma mater, Texas Tech, played in its first ever Final Four in men’s basketball. If you need more info, here’s a bare-bones: Every year, the top 68 teams battle it out in the NCAA tournament through seven grueling rounds of competition, with the last four teams standing being referred to as the Final Four. Prior to last season, Texas Tech had only ever been to the Sweet Sixteen (one of the final sixteen teams left). Last season, we made it to the Elite Eight, before losing to eventual champion Villanova. This year, Texas Tech was picked to finish seventh in our conference. We not only won our conference, but we also made it to the Final Four. So, you could see how our excitement was intense. We decided that we may never see something like this again, and set sail for Minnesota, the site of the 2019 Final Four.

From our area, it ended up being about a fifteen-hour drive, broken up with a stop in Kansas City for the night. You may say, “omg that sounds torturous!” And you’d be right…partially. Oklahoma was quite lovely, really, as was Kansas. Missouri and Iowa, on the other hand, felt like they lasted about two to three times as long as they actually did. But Minnesota provided a nice respite.

Well, the Final Four didn’t turn out exactly as well as we’d hoped. Tech ended up finishing second in the nation after an emotional, hard-fought game. Not bad for a team considered an afterthought before the season began. I’m so incredibly proud of them.

As I write this, we’ve one leg of travel left to complete, from Kansas City to home, and I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell this has to do with anything retail. What’s the one thing you encounter more than anything on a long road trip?

Rest stops.

Let’s talk about rest stops. After having driven through six states, here’s my ranking: Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Iowa. Yes, I’m sure you’ll say I’m biased, but Texas’s rest stops are top-notch. Have you ever seen the rest stops on the state border? They’re borderline palatial, massive welcome centers surrounded by the six flags of Texas.

And then there’s Buc-ee’s. I’ve seen supermarkets smaller than Buc-ee’s. It pretty much is a department store with gas pumps and incredible bathrooms. They even sell, no joke, furniture there. Anything you want, they probably have it.

Beyond that, Oklahoma had fantastic gas stations. My favorite was OnCue. Expansive, clean, and stocked with every manner of drink and snack you can imagine. I found a fantastic lemonade there that I still haven’t found since I left Oklahoma. The staff was incredibly friendly as well. You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma.

I don’t have an explanation for why Iowa’s ended up lacking. They were smaller, older stations usually, and I guess that’s the biggest difference. I’m not sure why this is the case. That’s just how I found it. I’m not going to go into much detail as to why or critique any of this any further. I just find the differences fascinating.

While I’ve enjoyed this trip across the country, I won’t be disappointed to leave some of this behind. The best parts have been the friendly people I’ve met along the way. The facilities, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag. I wish I could explain why. Perhaps some reflection will help provide some illumination. Until then, we’ll see you down the road, comrades! Next stop: Home!

-The Retail Explorer