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: 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

Service Industry Racism; or, Put Down the Taco, and Piss Off


Dear Customer can really be a racist bastard when given the chance. This is not news, sadly. It’s been this way for decades, exacerbated recently by the growth of the internet, the vast availability of camera technology, and the rhetoric of Donald Trump. I don’t like to get political on here, but much of this racism has been emboldened by him and those who have not only given him credence, but have embraced him as a champion. It began here, with a reality TV star announcing his candidacy for the highest political office by calling Mexican immigrants “rapists”.

And it’s only gotten worse from there. We’ve had a resurgence of white supremacy We’ve had a rise in anti-immigrant sentimentality and policy. Racism of all kinds has seen fresh breath and renewed vigor, and it’s incredibly disturbing.

It’s also incredibly baffling. In all of my attempts at understanding, I am still no closer to any clarity as to why anyone would spurn embracing other cultures. One thing is for certain, though: Racists are perfectly happy enjoying the fruits of immigration while simultaneously condemning the same immigration that allows those fruits to prosper here. I’m not focusing on racism out in the general public, though it’s not hard to find. (For further in-depth reading, I suggest checking out this article from the ADL. And that’s just about anti-immigration, not all racism.)

I’m not here today to provide a history lesson or an in-depth analysis of the immigration reform issues in our country or prove that racism still exists in this world (It’s already abundantly clear.); I’m here to say one thing to the racists of America: Shut. The fuck. Up.

Seriously, shut up. Check your racism and privilege at the door, or don’t walk through it. What I’m focusing on in this article is racism out in the service industry. I’ve seen, and posted about, two stories this year alone in which anti-Hispanic sentiment has been captured at a Mexican restaurant. And who knows how many other incidents have flown under the radar. My point is this: You can’t have it both ways. You can’t have the foods of foreign cultures and then get up and arms when you find out it’s been prepared by immigrants.

I’m not going to point out the obvious hypocrisy is here, that we’re all, aside from Native Americans, the products of immigration. It doesn’t matter how far back it goes. We’re all the children of immigrants. This goes without saying, so I’m moving on. I will, however, point out that this fact does not go unnoticed.

The majority of this anti-immigrant rhetoric in restaurants has been flung towards Hispanics, or really anyone speaking Spanish and not looking white enough. This is not exclusive, mind you, but the vast majority have been directed at the Latino community.

To anyone with a soul, it’s sickening, a disgusting reminder of the facts of living in Trump’s America, in which immigrants aren’t people; “[They] are animals”. And Dear Customer is more than happy to oblige in furthering this message. In each of these incidents, these racists hide behind the same tired phrases that play like a greatest hits album of contemporary American racism: “Show us your passports.”; “…speak English. Not Spanish.”; “Go back to your country.”; etc. Even politicians are facing backlash for enjoying immigrant cuisine while defending the restriction of immigration and promoting a culture of racism

In this electronic age, where everyone has a video camera on hand at any given time, a lot of racists are showing their true colors, and while many of them aren’t ashamed of being outspoken in their absurdist outrage, the rest of them choose the cowardly road: They leave a note (such as the one above). It’s the grandest hypocrisy of them all, and the one I highlight today: Allowing a culture’s food to be a part of America, while prohibiting that culture’s people from becoming a part of it as well.

Some go bolder, like spray painting their hateful messages on the edifices of businesses. Honestly, if you’re going to be a racist, at least be accountable enough to do it to the person’s face. Racists haven’t traditionally operated that way, though. Why else would the KKK wear hoods to hide their identity? The internet has allowed for this perceived anonymity to continue. The good news is though that racists seem to think that that electronic white hood seems to extend to every corner of the internet, including social media (including Facebook, which really doesn’t work the way racists think it does). The cloak themselves in their First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The only difference between KKK members of previous decades and contemporary racists is that those KKK members understood the distinction the First Amendment outlines: It is the prevention of government suppression of free speech, and has absolutely no protection from public and private sector retribution. While the government can do nothing against you for saying racist things, the public is only restricted in that respect by the laws set forth by the country, state, county, and city. They can fire you from your job and ostracize you from your community, and they knew that. Nowadays, racists just don’t get that, and we can all be thankful for that. It helps us to pick them out more easily and treat them like the scum that they are.

And it’s not just customers who can be racist. No, that pendulum swings both ways. Employees and owners can be racist, too, and the retribution is often just as swift. Just ask the owner of Asher Cafe and Lounge, who posted on Facebook, “We bring people from shithole countries because shithole Democrats need shithole votes so they can turn America into a shithole.” Or the owner of Holiday Club, who posted a controversial meme insinuating that the policy of separating children from parents at U.S. border crossings is justified since they are all just trying to come over illegally, and not asylum-seekers, as it has been contended. Or the owner of Taco Cid, who allowed these ridiculously racist shirts to not only be created but to be worn by employees. Or this McDonald’s employee, who decided to call a customer a “n*****”. Or the owner of Eddie’s Steak Shed, who’s now getting deported because of the policies of Trump, for whom his wife voted.

(It’s interesting that this highlights the big hole in Trump’s immigration logic: Most illegal immigrants aren’t getting in through illegal means, such as via an unsecured border; they’re getting in legally and overstaying their visas. It also shows the major downfall in the two-party system: You can’t pick-and-choose which policies to vote for in a candidate. You pick one candidate/party or the other and accept the full package. The economy was a bigger sticking point for this woman than the harsh, racist anti-immigration rhetoric and policy. I don’t know enough about political science to go too deeply into the debate of the two-party system, so I’m moving on.)

Illegal immigration is a very complex and sticky issue. While the majority of illegal immigrants are visa overstays, there are some that do cross borders illegally. Just ask the citizens of Dillon, Montana, where the only Mexican restaurant in town is run by a woman who entered the country illegally ten years ago and has since become a pillar of her community. Or the citizens of Galax, Virginia, where a population increase of Latinos has made the disparity between Trump’s racist claims and the reality of the people as bright as day. It’s not all sunshine and enlightenment, though, as racism is still an enormous problem that is still on the rise, as Univision documents here. With as many as eleven million undocumented aliens in the country, and fifty to seventy percent of laborers being among that population, QSR paints a picture of uncertainty for the restaurant industry going forward. “The National Restaurant Association estimates that nearly a quarter of all American restaurant workers are foreign-born,” the article states, and while some look at immigration reform optimistically, and with open arms, others are not as certain. Forbes makes the argument for immigration’s merits in the restaurant industry, as immigrant populations are an enormous support column for the agricultural industry, as well as restaurants and street vendors.

It’s a complex issue, and only time will tell which way it swings. The only thing we know for sure is that racism is an appalling blight upon our society, and must be stamped out. And while there are many people out there who voted for Trump, believing that immigration should be conducted via legal channels (Honestly, who doesn’t think that this is the way it should go?) and that he was the man to do it, it is impossible to not only separate the man from his words, but it is also impossible to separate yourself from his stance.

Beyond that, there are also people in his camp that believe that no immigrant, legal or otherwise, is a good immigrant. Those are the racist pricks who are fine benefiting from immigration while condemning the practice altogether. They’re a-ok with going into a Mexican restaurant, having a margarita and some enchiladas, only to degrade the staff when they find out that they might possibly an immigrant. Their hypocrisy is massive. They’re fine benefiting, so long as the veil of ignorance remains unfurled between them and they staff that caters to their needs. As long as they don’t know the person is foreign, then everything is fine. But once that veil is lifted, how dare they exist in this country and try to be productive members of this society!

You can’t have it both ways, racists. Either embrace the wonderful melting pot of American immigration and enjoy the fruits thereof, or leave the lasagna and ramen and pizza and tacos and go have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Oh, wait.

-The Retail Explorer