Words and illustration: Paul De Valera
It seemed like a great idea. We go to Wal-Mart, buy bikes, race a trail loop and then return said bikes for a refund; the first one to do so is the winner. When I told people about it they howled with laughter or looked at me like I was crazy (a common occurrence) or said, “What if they catch you?”
What the hell? Is there a Wal-Mart jail I’m unaware of? What could they really do to us? It made me wonder how the perception of a department store was such that people thought they could somehow take you prisoner. People were afraid of Wal-Mart!
I advertised the event via flyers only; no web postings of any kind were made. My thinking on this was someone out there hiding behind their keyboard would feel the need to “defend” Wal-Mart from my evil designs. Yes, the capitalist juggernaut known as Wal-Mart needs you to protect it against the punks; I’m sure they will be grateful for that. I knew from my past two-wheeled shenanigans that happiness will be stopped if some keyboard cowboy has anything to say about it, so we kept it punk rock, DIY and on the D-low.
Many people said they would make it, that they were “down.” On the appointed day at the appointed hour, it was just my pal Greg and I. The rest of my cycling brethren were looking pretty weak at this time, but the race must go on, as they say, and two people is still a race, so off to the consumer monolith we went to get some crappy bikes.
My competitor chose a $98 hardtail and I went for the $129 Hyper full-suspension mountain bike. We quietly made our purchases adorned with helmets and water packs, ready to ride. Being that it was only the two of us with a disparate level of cycling fitness, we decided to just ride together.
Being a shop owner/mechanic I get in both of the bikes we were using fairly often—Greg’s hardtail being a particularly popular model. At a sub-$100 price it could work for a short time. My rig worked OK. In fact I cleaned a few sections of trail that I normally have trouble with— not bad, Hyper!
As our journey ended, at the 11-mile mark, the bikes were making some noises; things were not working so well by the time we were on our way back to “The Wal.”
We got to enjoy some great views and solitude that is best discovered upon a bike. The weather was typical SoCal awesome (yes, we are spoiled; yes, I am bragging). When I billy-goated to the top of a climb and waited for Greg, I said, “You need to ride more, man.” He replied, “Well, unlike everyone else, I’m here.” Good point. It was sort of a letdown that so many of my friends were cowed by Wal-Mart. Oh, well.
We were having a great time, and soon enough we were in the Wal-Mart parking lot ready to return our creaky, muddy charges, receipts in hand.
We stood in line, and people were returning things for all kinds of reasons, like wrong color, did not like it, changed my mind, etc. We saw a bike being returned because the customer rode it and got a flat tire. Based upon this we thought the return process would be slam-dunk easy.
The first manager quickly sussed us out to be the dirt bags that we are. “We’re not taking these back,” he said. Greg looked at me with surprise, but I told him that this only makes the whole experience better.
We bantered with the manager for a time: “The bikes are dirty. How long have you had them?” “Two hours,” we said. Keep in mind they have a 90-day return policy. “Why are they muddy?” “We rode them.” “Where?” “There’s a trail right by here. They are mountain bikes right?” “No. We’re not taking them back.”
So we go to the next manager. She says the same thing. We go around with the receipts; they go check the cameras to see if we bought them today. Still a no-go, and no return means they beat us, so we go to the next tier of manager and go through it all over again for the third time. Once we get high enough in the management hierarchy, they don’t have time to waste on us, so with a wave of her hand she tells them to refund our money.
We are working on getting our money back; Greg goes first, so technically he’s the winner.
I am next. While the person helping me is looking for a pen, a guy in the return line recognizes me. “What are you doing here with that bike?” He proceeds to tell everyone else in the return line what an ace bike mechanic I am.
The girl helping me has to now find another pen. The tension builds; she’s looking at me but going through the motions. She gets a second pen while the guy keeps going. What do I do? I say, “Thank you.” The girl drops my credit card on the ground. The guy keeps going, “What are you up to?” I sheepishly smile and a nervous giggle worms its way out.
Finally, after what seems like an eternity I sign my return and make for the door with that Wal-Mart jail in the back of my mind.