Baltimore City Paper

Field Tripping: Costco Saturdays

Leave it to capitalism to make shopping a holiday. I mean, really—we’re almost at that time of year where it’s common sense to just go out and buy all the things, whether you need, or even want, the things, because it’s the end of the year, and supposedly that’s just what we do. In my line of work we call that hegemony: rule with the consent of the ruled. I totally consent to being ruled by capitalism every time I go ahead and get the large popcorn for just 50 cents more or buy a coupon for 50 percent off at the batting cages even though I’ve never even swung a bat, but hey, SALE! Capitalism’s our shared religion in this country, and most of us are steady adherents, even if we know better.

And part of “knowing better” seems to be knowing where to buy stuff and how. Now, I hardly think that we can buy ourselves out of the mess of capitalism, but given that this is the system we’ve got and it’s not going anywhere soon, I guess this is a good option. For me, that means weekly field trips to pick up the local farm share, avoiding the places I know don’t pay their workers anywhere near a fair wage, and tipping a lot all the time, because that’s a simple way to redistribute some wealth while I’m out there. And this past weekend, it meant going on a field trip to do something truly outrageous: join Costco.

Costco is known for their good employment policies, or at least that's what I've heard. But if I'm being real, I only thought to join when I saw a coupon that gave you, upon joining, 30 rolls of toilet paper, a free apple pie, and a rotisserie chicken—and no, I'm not making that up. I didn't pay for that coupon, going through one of my many I'm-not-falling-for-this-buying-stuff phases, but it was in my head, like a mantra: JOIN JOIN JOIN MEMBERSHIP CARD SALES DEALS JOIN. And since the ladyfriend and I were out in the suburbs anyway, for dance lessons also purchased by coupon, we figured what the heck, let's do this. That's right, we joined Costco on a Saturday afternoon in Columbia—if you've been there on a weekend, you know this is a serious feat.

Our voyage started in the parking lot. That place was packed. The line to get Costco gas—about 20 cents a gallon cheaper than the stuff in my area of Baltimore City—required several safety-vest-clad men to coordinate. We didn't find a spot for our car until the end of the last row, and the ladyfriend's insistence on backing in (don't get me started) led to a few extra turns to squeeze ourselves in among the crowd of minivans and SUVs. We took our long walk to the front, and I kept offering to turn around. We don't have to do this, I said to her, we can just go to Trader Joe's and get a bunch of snacks and call it a day. Nope, we were here, there was no turning back.

It was a short wait to get our membership, and I smiled that big I’m-gonna-save-big smile for the family card. That was the easy part. Then we had to navigate the main warehouse floor without losing each other. And getting lost in this place looked easy—a stray wandering to see if they’ve got the printer cartridge your work printer uses and you could fall into the abyss. My eyes went straight to the ceiling—nary a light bulb out, what is this magical place?—and then to the ladyfriend’s. I’m going to be over there in women’s socks and underwear and I’m not moving until you are there too. And this is how we would travel the store: eye contact, patience, and leave no one behind.

This turned out to be easy, because somebody (not me) insisted on going up and down each aisle one at a time. There was a long circle around some fine handmade Polish ceramics that were oddly plopped down between the space heaters and the Fine Cashmere Infinity Scarf section, because it turns out we need a butter dish. $60 was way over anything I intended to pay at Costco, though, so we turned it down and moved on, and I thought to myself, that's the thing, here I am and I still don't want to pay what you'd have to pay to get something that's crafted by a craftperson. Machine-made mass production or bust! Don't think too hard, just move on, just go to the next aisle, hey, we totally need a flashlight—grab that one.

We made our way around the store like this, tossing in a four-pack of knee-high socks here, a 48-pack of granola bars there, until we reached the produce section. We took turns leaving the cart to check out the goods. I came back with a platter of a dozen giant honey crisp apples, she came back with a whole lot more. We thought so hard about it all, put back the several pounds of mushrooms, picked up the six-pack of pomegranates the size of baby heads, and went back and forth about more French green beans than I knew you could even buy before deciding to get them. That was probably a bad decision, but a lot of bad decisions are made at Costco. 
At least we decided no on the three-pound container of sour cream. Sure, it’s our favorite kind of sour cream, and it was only a few cents more than 12 ounces at the local grocery store, but seriously, can we really buy THREE POUNDS OF SOUR CREAM AT A TIME? There’s something gruesome about that proposal, but there’s a whole lot that’s gruesome about capitalism, what with its exploitation and alienation and world-ending logics, so aren’t we just splitting hairs here? We’ll get it next time was the final decision and then we made it through the line and the next line and escaped Costco. But I’m already thinking about our next trip—I mean, how much do we need to save to make the price of membership worth it? World-ending logics, like I was saying.